Over winter break, Hillel, the University of Richmond’s Jewish student organization, announced its first Birthright Israel trip designed specifically for students at UR and George Mason University.
Taglit-Birthright Israel, commonly known simply as Birthright, is a program that annually provides over 48,000 young Jewish adults the opportunity to go on a free 10-day trip to Israel. In the past, Jewish students at UR have been encouraged to apply for this trip through Birthright Israel. This year, UR students have the option to participate in a specialized trip provided by Hillel International.
One student is already confirmed to go on this year’s trip, Josh Jeffreys, interim Jewish life advisor at UR, said. Registration for the trip opened on Tuesday, Jan. 30, at 9 a.m. and students have until the first week of March to submit their applications.
“We have close to 15 students who have expressed interest and plan to probably apply,” Jeffreys said. “What I’m most excited about for the students is that they get to spend 10 days, the whole time in Israel – a foreign country – with classmates, and not people they might not ever see again.”
This year’s trip will depart on May 23 and return on June 4. Since students cannot select their travel dates, some are unable to register this year but hope to do so in the future.
Michael Paul, a sophomore involved in Hillel since his first semester at Richmond, said he hopes to go on his Birthright trip next year during winter break with his sister, Lindsey.
“I think the main reason that anyone would go on Birthright is that you can connect more religiously and more culturally when you’re actually in Israel,” Paul said. “It’s a holy land. It’s the home of our Jewish people, and there’s just something you can get out of that, that you can’t get anywhere else.”
Last year, UR sent 12 students on Birthright, which was the most it has sent in a very long time, Jeffreys said. There are currently nine spots available for this year’s trip.
Madeline Miller, the junior outreach coordinator for Hillel, said she has been to Israel twice but believes the Birthright trip would provide her with a new perspective. Miller said she was looking forward to meeting new students while on Birthright.
“Since college, I have kind of re-defined my own religion, because I haven’t had a Jewish education like I’ve always had and I’ve gotten services on my own terms,” Miller said. “I think it’ll be an interesting experience because it’ll be my trip to Israel with my own new form of Judaism that I’ve developed through college.”
Participants must identify as Jewish and have at least one Jewish birth parent, according to the application guidelines. Those who have visited Israel for a period longer than three months since age 12 are not eligible. U.S. participants must be between the ages of 18 and 32.
Many students in Hillel were interested in planning UR’s own Birthright trip, Lindsey Paul, a sophomore Hillel member, said. After discussing it with the coordinators of the program, the decision to organize this year’s trip was made, Paul said.
“It would provide a context for the way we live our Jewish lives here and how that connects to the way people in Israel live their lives,” Paul said. “I think it would foster a lot of excitement around Judaism on campus if we were able to go to Israel and come back, having met Israelis and having seen these places that we’ve heard of and talked about.”
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