After a 10-day trip of touring everywhere from the Golan Heights in Northern Israel to Tel Aviv, students in Temple Hillel are struggling to readjust to American life. During a recent trip to Israel, 18 Jewish students from Temple traveled along with students from the University of Hartford through the Taglit-Birthright Israel.
Founders of Birthright created the program to send young people to Israel to strengthen their Jewish identities and end the division that exists between Jewish communities and Israel.
For junior education major Erica Isaacson, the trip served its purpose.
“I have been waiting so long to go to Israel not only because I am Jewish, but because I wanted to experience what everyone has always talked about when they come back from this country,” Isaacson said.
The trip is free for Jewish people between the ages of 18 and 26 thanks to donations from private philanthropists, the Government of Israel and Jewish communities.
Although every Birthright trip is different, participants always make their way to Jerusalem’s Old City, the birth place of Judaism.
Every trip also includes Mifgash, which means “encounter” in Hebrew. During Mifgash, a group of Israeli soldiers joins the trip for a few days.
Before participating in Birthright, students must go through interviews and orientations.
Sarah Beth Feinberg, engagement associate of Temple Hillel, said she enjoyed seeing her favorite sites.
“My favorite places are still the same: Safed and the Western Wall. What made the trip unbelievably different was watching my students falling in love with those places,” Feinberg said.
Although this was Feinberg’s fourth time in Israel and second Birthright trip, it was the first one she and Temple Hillel Director Phil Nordlinger staffed.
Students were eager to learn and get to know each other, so they made this trip special, Feinberg said.
Brandon Pyser, a sophomore early education major at Bucks County Community College, learned how important it is to take everything in.
“Our tour guide told the group, ‘It’s OK if you take pictures, but sometimes, the best pictures that you take in life are taken with your eyes and not your camera lens,’” he said.
Visiting Israel was a life changing experience for many of the students who attended the trip.
Pyser plans on reviving the Hillel organization at his college because of everything he saw and learned on the trip.
“Too many times during the trip, I found myself speechless, and by the end of the trip, I found myself connected to the State of Israel and even more as a Jew,” he said.
Feinberg said she is excited to use this trip to further explore Judaism with Temple students in new ways.
“I relate to Israel through a sense of peoplehood and the history of the people. I can now bring that [relationship] back to campus differently as a staff member,” she said.
For students interested in attending a Birthright trip, Summer 2009 registration opens on Feb. 19, 2009, at 9 a.m. Visit templehillel.com/birthright for more information.
Lauren Herman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.