During a culturally and spiritually enriching Birthright trip to Israel, Jewish students from the College scaled mountains, swam in the dead sea and made lifelong friendships in a meaningful foreign experience over Winter break.
Birthrights, which are paid for in part by the Israeli government and private donors, are available to all Jewish people aged 18-26 for a variety of benefits.
“It’s different for everyone,” College Chabad rabbi Kivi Greenbaum said. “Some people are learning about their (Jewish) history in Israel, some people learn about their culture, some people learn the Israeli culture — the lifestyle, politics, the danger of living there. They learn anything and everything.”The trip offered numerous lessons, from what it is like to be in a highly militarized country to enhancing spiritual and cultural roots students might not otherwise have had first-hand.
“The thing about the trip that I enjoyed the most was having the opportunity for experiences that I would never had had otherwise,” sophomore special education major Carly Kalman said. “For example, doing shabbat at the western wall was an amazing opportunity I would have never done by myself.”
There were 12 College students in the 37-person Birthright group, which became tightly knit during the course of the trip.
“I had an amazing time,” Kalman said. “We went with a bunch of people from (the College), so I wasn’t sure that I was going to be able to meet other people. But I was very happy that by the end of the trip everyone in the group was super close.”
The trip featured personal growth, and is a way for students to make friends on an unforgettable 10 days.
“You make new friends really quickly,” Greenbaum said. “It’s a positive life experience. People are sometimes able to come out of their shell, able to make friends quickly and are able to gain some self-esteem and confidence.”
Many students grew spiritually as well, after being re-connected with the Jewish homeland of Israel.
“I definitely made friends and many amazing memories,” Shapiro said. “But going in as someone that was not religious at all and knew almost nothing about the religion or what I was getting into, I’ve definitely learned a lot more about my faith, and I’m definitely interested in learning more. From all of the activities we did each day, I felt more and more connected with my religion and Israel as the days went on.”
Regardless of the personal or spiritual growth, the Birthright trip featured extroadinary excursions into the country.
“We got to scale the mountains (at Mt. Arvel) without any harnesses, just little ropes along the wall,” Shapiro said. “I’m not the biggest fan of (heights) but the views were incredible, and just being able to look back up after finishing the climb and being able to say ‘I did that’ was a great feeling.”