Jay Lewis, Executive Director of KU Hillel, explained that students chosen have a strong connection to Israel and seek to enhance the Jewish community. During the trip, participants will learn more about Israel by engaging in discussions about current conflicts and events, as well as participate in service and volunteering projects throughout different communities in Israel.
Seven years ago, the Israel and Overseas Committee of the Jewish Federation of Greater Kansas City funded the first ILM trip and has been partnering with KU Hillel to do the same ever since.
“The first trip was extremely successful, but it’s something that I thought the Jewish Federation would only be interested in funding every couple of years,” said Lewis. “To my pleasant surprise, they wanted to fund it the next year and every year since. Graduates of this trip come back and strengthen the KU Jewish community.”
Lewis also explained that the Israel and Overseas Committee primarily works within Ramla, a city in central Israel, to have a direct impact and make a difference within that particular community. Throughout the trip, student leaders will participate in service projects and meet leaders in the Ramla community in hopes to promote the relationship between Kansas City and Ramla.
This year, KU Hillel has paired up with the Entwine division of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) to provide an insider trip to Israel. Lewis explained that the JDC serves as an, “international arm” between the United States and Israel and is another important partner in making ILM possible. JDC works with the Israeli government on national and local levels and partners with the non-profit sector to address unmet and under-met social needs.
“Anywhere in the world that there are Jews in need, the JDC has staff and a whole infrastructure to start programs and funnel resources to those countries,” said Lewis. “They do amazing work in Israel and around the world to serve the local communities needs. After traveling with JDC for our European Leadership Mission (ELM) last year to Bulgaria and Romania, I was so impressed with the organization and the educational materials they provided for the trip that we elected to contract them to make them our trip provider for this year as well.”
Throughout the trip, students will interact with the Jewish community leaders, peers and children while volunteering at many of the projects that the Jewish Federation supports. ILM is a way for students to see the issues first hand that Israeli’s are facing and then bring back what they have learned to KU.
Before the trip, students participated in four pre-trip sessions. These sessions allowed students a chance to meet the other participants of the trip, learn more about the JDC and Kansas City’s partnership community, Ramla, as well as prepare them to better understand the goals of the trip.
“I am expecting to leave this trip with a very unique twist added to my Jewish identity,” said Daniel Tabakh, a KU Senior from Leawood, KS. “I am excited to go because I feel like this trip will bring on a very personal and intimate relationship with Israel beyond Birthright.”
Pearl Sonnenschein, a KU Junior from Overland Park, KS said she applied for ILM because it is going to be a more intensive trip compared to a traditional Taglit-Birthright Israel trip.
“I'm looking forward to going on the trip because I want to get a more in-depth experience of Israel and I hope it will put more into perspective with regards to the conflict,” said Sonnenschein. “Israel is more than just a country in the midst of a war, it's a place where people work together and constantly strive to create a better place, and I want to be a part of that.”
Lewis along with Carly Stein KU Hillel’s Assistant Director, and Jen Berman, JDC’s Program Assistant and KU Hillel alum, will lead the trip to Israel departing on January 7 and returning January 18.