Over winter break, 40 Jewish students at the University of Kansas went on the trip of a lifetime. For 10 days, these students traveled all around the state of Israel on KU Hillel’s winter Birthright trip.
Birthright Israel is an organization that offers a free trip to Israel to young Jewish adults from all over the world between the ages of 18 and 26. The trip that I went on with KU Hillel was an amazingly meaningful and deeply spiritual experience and it made me understand why it is so important for Jewish youth to have this opportunity. I had been to Israel before, when I was 14, so I thought I had seen everything we were going to see and done all of the touristy things we were going to do. I could not have been happier to be wrong.
Israel, though it is roughly the size of New Jersey, has so much culture and depth that it would take lifetimes to see all of the amazing things the country has to offer. Consequently, trying to experience an entire country’s complicated history, religion and culture left me more exhausted and gratified than I have felt before in my life.
I was able to see the borders to Lebanon, Syria and Jordan by the end of our second day there. We hiked beautiful waterfalls, experienced the holiness and history of Jerusalem, got a look into the unique Bedouin culture that thrives in Israel’s vast desert, and were astonished at the progressive, innovative technology-centered culture in Tel Aviv.
One of the most amazing things about Birthright is that every participant signs up for different reasons and leaves with something special and unique. Some sign up to experience the culture and religion, some sign up to meet new people and some sign up to travel to a new and exciting place with their best friends.
“I went to Birthright to experience the amazing culture of Israel and learn about my Jewish religion that I am so passionate about,” junior Logan Miller said.
I went for many reasons, but the primary motivator was to meet new people. Of course I was ecstatic for the opportunity to return to such a beautiful and enigmatic culture and land. But more than that, I wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone and meet more Jewish students from KU like me.
Not a day goes by that I am not infinitely grateful for the opportunity to have this experience and meet so many amazing new people. These are people that I see at school and might never have gotten to know had it not been for this trip. Some people were fast friends, and some are people I never would have guessed I’d make connections with. To have shared such a salient and significant experience with people and be able to see them often and have that connection and shared memory is a powerful and wonderful gift.
I am more connected to my Judaism than ever, with a reenergized desire to be a leader in my Jewish community. Being so independent so far from home while having people with me who I know I can rely on was an empowering thing. I have more confidence in my knowledge and ability to bring others into this amazing Jewish community we build for ourselves at KU Hillel and into my own Jewish life. I have intensified my own desire to learn more about my own Judaism and about Jewish culture, religion and community.
Everyone takes something different away from a Birthright trip. Some form lifelong connections with the holy land.
“No matter what happens to me throughout my life, I will always have a piece of Israel with me and whenever I wish to return, a home to go back to,” Miller said.
“I was able to form friendships I never would have imagined I would have gained from such an experience,” sophomore Abbey Greenberg said.
I took a piece of everything I set out to find on this trip back with me. Birthright Israel gave me the opportunity to have once-in-a-lifetime experiences, push myself out of my comfort zone, meet some incredible people, and understand more about who I am as a Jew. Most importantly, it gave me a home not only in Israel, but in my own backyard at KU Hillel. Because of Birthright, I have this incredible community and Jewish family that will last a lifetime.