Nearly every Birthright Israel participant tells us that the sunrise hike to the top of Masada…
Staffing Birthright Israel trips are the most rewarding aspect of my job. My desire to pursue Hillel work stems from prodigious positive memories formulated during 13 years of attending a Yeshiva day school. Over the course of ten days Birthright Israel trips are able to successfully create more positive memories and enable growth for students in ways in which Jewish professionals strive to emulate throughout the academic year.
When students ask me about Birthright Israel and what they can or cannot expect out of the experience; I tell them it is an opportunity to explore self-identity, culture, and establish new lifelong friendships. I’m grateful to have witnessed numerous firsthand accounts of the deep growth my students have progressed as both Jews and young adults during our shared experiences in Israel.
Why Birthright Israel Is Important for College Students
I believe students are deeply interested in finding meaning during their college experience. Students travel on Birthright Israel trips with varying degrees of self-confidence, knowledge, and familiarity in relation to their Jewish identity. Birthright Israel trips provide an immersive experience for participants to personally explore and connect to the people, values, traditions, culture, and land of Israel. From my experience leading three Birthright Israel trips, students are willing to formulate meaningful relationships. Within a few days, each of my groups successfully transitioned through their norming stage by establishing group norms, rituals, and social activities to enrich inclusivity, socialization, and cultivate safe learning environments. The combination of sharing continual new experiences, reflection, and adapting to change culminates in countless new formed friendships and positive Jewish memories.
Empowering Jewish College Students
Throughout trip experiences, my co-leaders and I craft intentional opportunities to enable and empower students to find meaning for themselves and their Jewish identities. I will never forget certain times in which my students demonstrated conspicuous growth in the midst of their journeys in Israel. In 2018, I led my third Birthright Israel trip and on a scorching hot day, we traveled to Mount Herzl, Israel’s national cemetery. The Tour Educator began to discern Yitzhak Rabin and Theodor Herzl, one of the many individuals who sacrificed their lives to protect and advance Israel’s standing as the Jewish nation. Suddenly, one of my students with tremendous audacity and courage vocalized his story of experiencing antisemitism while at public school during his childhood. This moment of vulnerability in a supportive environment empowered him to grow and develop Jewish self-confidence upon returning to campus.
Trips Foster Self-Confidence
I recall one of my students volunteering his time to help craft a Friday evening service for his peers to celebrate Shabbat in a meaningful and fun way. It is important to highlight that my student stretched outside of his comfort zone in order to pursue a Jewish cause and deepen community.
Lastly, I reflect on times I spent musing under the stars in the Negev while students placidly contemplated life’s big questions. I vividly recall feeling an authentic connection to the land of Israel and God’s promise to Abraham to multiply his descendants by the stars in the sky. It is these moments that indubitably leave me to believe that Birthright Israel serves as a strong pipeline in fostering Jewish identity and self-confidence in young adults.
Students begin their ten-day journey to Israel with deep curiosities and indifferences regarding their relationship to Judaism and return with lifelong friendships, memories and learning. It’s with great pleasure and joy that I have seen hundreds of students return to campus life and suddenly transform into active participants in the Jewish community.