Students participate in birthright Israel trips over winter break

Kathryn Nicolai, News Editor

Over winter break, 16 University students spent their vacations visiting Israel as participants of Birthright Foundation’s free 10-day heritage trips. The students traveled together with Rabbi Chana Leslie Glazer across Israel from Dec. 19-29 as a part of a larger travel group consisting of 42 American students from schools across the country, including Texas A&M, Florida State, and Lycoming College, as well as seven young Israelis and both an American and Israeli trip leader. This was Glazer’s third trip as a North American co-leader.

Daniel O’Neil ’20 decided to go on the Birthright trip in order “to learn more about [his] Jewish heritage and [to] have a fun time exploring the country.”

“The itinerary was designed to have a balance of history, religion, culture, nature, and opportunities to explore on our own,” Hillel President Jake Rubin ’19 said.  “A lot of our learning came from discussions on what Judaism meant to us as students and how we connect to the state of Israel.” This was Rubin’s second time in Israel. He felt that going on Birthright with other University students and friends would add to the overall experience.

The group visited the Golan Heights, where they saw the Sea of Galilee, the Syrian and Lebanese borders, as well as the city Safed, which is a spiritual center known for its artisans. In Tzfat students learned about the Kabbalah, the spiritual wisdom of Judaism. Students explored open air markets, Israel’s Independence Hall, and the LGBTQ+ community in Tel Aviv, which is nicknamed “the gay capital of the Middle East.” Shabbat, observed between Friday at sunset and Saturday night, was spent in Jerusalem, where students visited the Western Wall, the Holocaust Museum, and the marketplace named “The Shuk.” Other highlights from the trip included swimming in the Dead Sea, riding camels, and sleeping in a Bedouin tent.

Glazer describes each trip she has co-led as “amazing.” “There’s only one place in the whole world that’s a living Jewish society — and that’s Israel. Seeing that changed me the first time I went to Israel, and I know it means a lot to our students as well,” Glazer said.

The most inspirational portion of the trip for Sam Ritter ’20 was “taking a trip to the Western wall on Shabbat.”

Rachel Cohen ’20, Will Greenburg ’20, and Julia Stern ’20 are among others who participated in Birthright with different groups over winter break, and all reported positive experiences.

The most worthwhile aspects of the trip for Cohen were hiking Masada at sunrise and “getting to meet so many different people from across the country and across the world, especially getting to know the Israeli soldiers so well.” Cohen encourages everyone who qualifies to go on Birthright “regardless of ‘how Jewish’ you think you are.”


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