Hi, I'm Anna Jo Blakesley. I am 23 years old and have lived in the San Diego area my entire life. In 2014, I graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Dental Hygiene from West Coast University and now I’m a dental hygienist.
My brother, Sam, and I grew up in an area of San Diego where Jewish youth were few and far between. I was lucky enough to travel to Israel when I was thirteen with my Rabbi as part of preparation for my Bat Mitzvah. I was anxious, and nervous because of what I knew about the situation in the Middle East. Contrary to my beliefs, I had a great first experience, which made me want to do more. I attended Camp Ramah in Los Angeles for years and connected more to my Jewish roots. Unfortunately, as I grew older, and life moved on, I lost touch with the Jewish community. Even though I had not been part of the Jewish community, I always knew I was going to go on Birthright with my brother.
When it was time to make the decision to choose a trip, we first went to our cousins to ask them what their thoughts were. They went on a national trip and told us that even though they had a great time, we had lost touch with most of their fellow participants. This is why we chose to do a community trip. We wanted to have that special network of friends when we returned from Israel. We knew that going on the San Diego community trip would widen our horizons and reconnect us to the Jewish community.
The San Diego Community Birthright trip far exceeded our expectations. We always knew it would be fun, but we had no idea how special and life changing this experience would be. Not only did we develop personal and spiritual connections towards the state of Israel, but with each other and the rest the participants on our bus. We now had our new Mishpacha (family) to rely on.
Sam is still traveling around the world but since coming home, my interest in becoming more involved in the Jewish community has sparked. I have attended multiple NextGen events with my fellow Birthright participants while also meeting other young adults in the NextGen community. I am excited to continue on the path of my Jewish exploration here in San Diego.
I am extremely grateful for the Jewish Federation, a generous donor, and the Birthright Foundation, for giving me the opportunity to truly make long lasting memories and friendships that I will cherish for forever.