The program sends thousands of young Jewish adults from all over the world to Israel as a gift in order to diminish the growing division between Israel and Jewish communities around the world; to strengthen the sense of solidarity among world Jewry; and to strengthen participants’ personal Jewish identity and connection to the Jewish people.
A new addition to the program this year is students who have previously been to Israel before the age of 18, on a peer-organized trip, are now eligible to also go on Birthright. KU sophomore, Sarah Herman described her excitement as, “I’m ecstatic to be going back to Israel for my fourth time on the upcoming KU Hillel Birthright Israel trip, since Israel is the place I feel particularly connected to my Judaism. I am really excited to experience Israel with people who may not have been before.”
The trip will take place from January 5-16. For a portion of the trip, eight off duty Israeli soldiers from the Israeli Defense Force will join KU Hillel to travel around Israel. These soldiers are also between the ages of 18 and 26, and many have never had the opportunity to explore their own country.
“I'm very excited to go back to Israel most of all,” said KU junior, Jason Finkelstein. “I've been given a special opportunity to travel Israel with not only the amazing students and staff of Hillel, but also to travel and bond with real soldiers. It's going to be an amazing 10 days!”
Allowing young adults that come from such different backgrounds to connect and experience Israel together is truly a unique and special opportunity. Both KU Hillel students and the Israeli soldiers will be exposed to the cultural differences of what it is like to grow up in the United States compared to Israel.
“I am excited to bond with friends I have made here at KU and other Jews I’ve had the opportunity to meet at Hillel, but haven’t had the chance to really get to know them yet,” said KU sophomore, Dani Malakoff. “I am also really excited to connect with other Jews who’ve had completely different experiences than my experience as a Jew in Texas, where there are only three Jewish families in my town and a church on each block. I truly think Israel will enhance my inner Jew and help me figure out how I can incorporate Judaism into my everyday life.
Throughout the 10 days, students will travel to a variety of historical, cultural, and religious heritage sites, including Jerusalem, the Dead Sea, Masada, Tel Aviv, and the Western Wall.
Prior to the trip, students participated in two pre-trip sessions. These sessions allowed the students a chance to meet the other participants of the trip before heading to Israel.
Some of the sessions focused on the history of Israel, while others focused on what to pack and what to expect while in Israel. Rabbi Neal Schuster, KU Hillel’s Senior Jewish Educator, and Melissa Kingston, KU Hillel’s Program Director lead these sessions, as well as will be leading the trip in January.
“This will be my sixth Birthright trip, and people sometimes ask if it gets old, doing the same trip over and over again,” said Rabbi Schuster. “But it doesn't get old and I don't get tired of it, because I don't think about it as, where we go, what we do, places we see. I don't look at it through the lens of the itinerary; I look at it through the eyes of the participants. Every year I get to experience Israel for the first time again, seeing it through their eyes, through their experiences. That's part of what makes it so energizing."