Growing up in Kansas City with one Jewish parent and one non-Jewish parent, Sagan Zavelo always enjoyed Shabbat services, but never knew how much more his heritage had to offer. Then, as a student at the University of Kansas, he traveled to Israel with Birthright.
“Israel was incredible. The culture, the people and the openness all really appealed to me,” says Sagan. “I suddenly realized that I wanted my Judaism to be more than just about going to synagogue, and I knew I needed to return.”
After graduating from college with a degree in communications, Sagan enrolled in the Masa Israel-accredited Oranim Tel Aviv Internship Experience. While living in Tel Aviv alongside peers from around the world, Sagan interned at Parents Circle – Family Forum, a grassroots organization of bereaved Palestinians and Israelis that promotes reconciliation as an alternative to hatred and revenge. There, Sagan wrote grants and created potential programs to engage the community to support peace. “Interning at the organization really gave me a good understanding about the conflict and Israelis’ diverse views on it,” says Sagan.
Also while in Israel, Sagan got involved in an American football club of both Israelis and Americans. “This gave me a solid group of friends,” says Sagan. “I not only played football with them throughout my months in Israel. I also spent the holidays and Shabbat with them.”
Being in Israel gave Sagan the opportunity to more openly enjoy his Judaism than he was previously able to. “While I never felt like I had to hide my Judaism in the States, I was very happy to be around people who shared my identity and interests,” says Sagan.
Now back in Kansas City, Sagan works for the Kansas City Chiefs football team. “I love my job, but I can’t wait to return to Israel,” says Sagan. “Going on Birthright and then taking part in my Masa Israel program gave me a connection to Israel that changed my life. These are opportunities that other Jewish young adults should not pass up.”