A Mensch's Guide to Campus Activism


Many tours, one homeland

 Lauren Mangurten 
By Lauren Mangurten

As a young adult, there are numerous ways to see Israel, and some of them are even free. Regardless, the travelers find their trips to be meaningful and memorable.

Liz Friedman, a sophomore at Tufts University, went on a Chicago Community Project/ Shorashim High School Summer Program in the summer of 2006.

According to its Web site (www.shorashim.org), Shorashim is a non-profit organization committed to bringing North American and Israeli Jews together.

Friedman attended the trip for high school students. She said half of the participants on the trip were from Chicago and the other half were from Kiryat Gat, Israel. Many of the American participants were going to be seniors in high school, and the Israeli participants were preparing to enter the army.

She said the Americans traveled to Poland for five days to tour the concentration camps. They then flew to Israel, where the Israeli group members greeted them with singing and dancing.

When Friedman arrived in Israel, she saw it as a place very alive with Jewish culture.

“It was just the most amazing feeling coming from the places of total death and destruction,” she said.

The group toured Israel for about four-and-a-half weeks, she said.

Friedman was in Israel at the beginning of the war against Hezbollah. She said her group was near the border of Lebanon, and they heard the first machine guns and bombs of the war.

Participants on a birthright israel trip enjoy a jaunt in the desert.

Many tour groups left Israel, but hers decided to stay, Friedman said. The group altered their itinerary and traveled south. The American participants were stunned by the onset of the war, but violence was not out of the ordinary for the Israelis, Friedman said. Friedman said she was completely happy with her trip.

“I really felt that Israel was a second home for me,” she said. “I just felt so much more spiritual as well, especially on Shabbat.”

The American participants each went home with an Israeli participant for a Shabbat and the rest of the weekend. Being Jewish gave her a strong link to the family she stayed with for Shabbat, she said.

Friedman said she was the only Jewish person in her high school of 800 in Naperville, Ill., where there were strong anti-Zionist and anti-Israel sentiments.

Experiencing Israel with her Jewish peers led her to realize “what an important thing [Israel] is for us to have and keep safe and cherish,” she said.

It is important for other young adults to go on an Israel trip, Friedman said.

“Find a trip that’s right for you,” she said. “If you only want to go for a week, go for a week, if you want to go for longer, go for longer.”

Many students travel to Israel on free, 10-day Taglit-birthright israel birthright trips while in college. According to JUF, the founders began the program to bring young adults between the ages of 18 and 26 to Israel to diminish the growing gap between Israeli Jews and Jews from other parts of the world. The trip is funded by the Israeli government, local Jewish communities (North American Jewish federations through the United Jewish Communities, Keren Hayesod, and the Jewish Agency for Israel) and private philanthropists through the birthright israel Foundation.

Jesse Menachem, a senior at Indiana University went on a birthright trip in the winter of 2006. Menachem said the trip exceeded his expectations. He had fun with the people he met and enjoyed touring the country.

His dad goes to Israel on business trips occasionally, and was in Israel on a business trip during Menachem’s birthright trip, Menachem said. His father was able to meet up with him in Jerusalem at the Western Wall, enhancing the significance of being at the Western Wall for the first time.

“Other than that, just from growing up and learning about Israel, I knew most of the sights, vaguely,” Menachem said. “But it definitely helped to learn more about them with our tour guide.”

After touring during the days, the group had the opportunity to visit bars and clubs at night.

There were about seven Israeli soldiers who joined the group half way through the trip and stayed for the remainder of the trip, Menachem said.

“It was just a great experience conversing with them,” Menachem said.

Menachem said he could have signed up for a trip with many other students at his school, but he wanted to meet new people.

There were students on his trip from all over the country, and he enjoyed meeting people with different opinions and religious beliefs, he said.

“I don’t think it’s really necessary to go with someone you know well,” Menachem said. “Just meeting new people is a great way to go about it.”

On the other hand, some students prefer to travel with others from their communities.

The Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago gives Shorashim additional funds to run Chicago community trips, said Paula Harris, assistant vice president of Interdepartmental Projects. The Chicago trips accommodate students from the area and demonstrate the Chicago Jewish community connection in Israel.

David Spett, a senior at Northwestern University, decided to go on a birthright trip with a number of students from his school.

“I liked having time to get to know other Northwestern students,” Spett said.

He said he knew two or three participants going into the trip, and the trip gave him the opportunity to make friends he could stay in touch with easily when he returned to campus.

Spett said the provider of his trip was Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Life on Campus. Hillel campus staff members were the American trip leaders for the group.

“I learned a little bit about the country and what it’s like and the things to see and do there,” Spett said. “I learned a little about the people and the culture that you can’t get from reading a book or newspaper.”

He learned that Israelis do not let violence and terrorism govern their lives, he said. Spett also said the speakers and tour guide gave him a better understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Spett said he roomed with an Israeli soldier, and conversing with the soldiers helped him learn about Israel on a personal level, in a way he could not from the speakers and tour guides.

“I would encourage all Jews to go,” Spett said. “I think it’s a great opportunity … They should just go with an open mind and experience as much as they can.”

Posted: 10/22/2007 08:58:03 AM

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