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Birthright is an opportunity for American Jewish youth to experience Israel

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Leah Merrall
The Western Wall, one of the most ancient landmarks in the world and a religious destination, attracts visitors on Thursday, January 1, 2015. This renowned location is one of the famous places in Israel that students on Birthright get to experience up close.

To the average college student, the opportunity to travel over 7,000 miles across the globe is, in reality, financially unrealistic. With airline prices as high as they are, transatlantic flights are unobtainable to many.

However, young Jewish students have the unique chance to travel all the way to Israel for absolutely no cost. The reason? Birthright Israel.

Birthright Israel is an organization that finances 10-day trips to Israel for Jews between the ages of 18 and 26. According to its website, Birthright Israel was founded in 1999 by philanthropists Charles Bronfman and Michael Steinhardt who shared the belief that all young Jews should be able to visit their ancestral homeland. Since then, over half a million young Jewish adults have been able to experience Israel for free.

The UA Hillel Foundation has its own Birthright Israel trip that takes students during either winter break or the summer. Most of the students who go are UA students, but students from other schools can go as well.

Related story: Hillel Foundation brings Israel to Arizona with annual IsraelPalooza

“The UA trip is special because it takes different UA students and really tries to build a community, so that when they come back from Birthright they know people that were on the trip, they had this amazing time, they can really connect and build on that, on something so special,” Pincus said.

The UA trip is also unique because it focuses on Tucson’s partnership cities in Israel: Kiryat Malakhi and Hof Ashkelon. There, students have the chance to engage in community service with organizations in those cities.

There are a number of different Birthright trips to choose from, including national trips with organizations like Israel Outdoors or Israel Free Spirit. However, campus trips like the UA Hillel Foundation’s can be unique.

“I chose to go with UA Hillel mainly because I didn’t know too many people in it,” said UA birthright alumna Tamar Kaplan. “So I thought it would be a good opportunity to get to know people a lot better so that I’d know people when I’d go back.”

Despite all of the perks of going on a free, 10-day trip, many find that safety is a big concern.

“The Middle East is always in turmoil, especially now with the problems arising,” Pincus said. “Israel is one of the safest places in the Middle East and one of the most well-developed, but there is always concern because of the past history with Israel and the fights and it’s not getting any better, sadly.”

More: Youth see Israel conflict up close

To address these concerns, Pincus said that she talks to students about the safety precautions put in order on the trip. For example, students do not take public transportation, they have a security guard with them at all times and the staff can change the itinerary if they need to. Pincus said that the Israeli government knows what is going on and is in constant communication with birthright trips.

A handful of Israeli soldiers assimilate into the group, giving students the opportunity to get to know people their age, but with a completely different background. These soldiers are also highly trained if something bad were to happen.

Pincus especially emphasized the importance of experiencing Israel as a young, American Jew.

“It’s one thing to grow up Jewish in America, but it’s another thing to go to a place where most people are Jewish and you really feel connected to the land and you’re not a minority anymore,” she said.

She added that even people who were not raised Jewish can still find value in the trip just by getting to experience the country. From there, those students can make their own decisions on how they wish to consider Judaism in their lives.

The chance to go on a free, 10-day trip to Israel is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for young Jews across the world. The UA provides that opportunity and allows students to form a small, tight-knit community within their school.

“I would definitely recommend this trip for people,” Kaplan said. “It’s a completely free opportunity to go to this amazing place that you might not get to experience otherwise, and it just gives you an opportunity to meet new people and go for this incredible spiritual, emotional, memorable journey together.”


Follow Leah Merrall on Twitter.


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