Several Penn students traveled to Israel this summer as part of Birthright Israel, an educational organization that offers free ten-day trips for young adults to explore their Jewish heritage.
From May 10–21, Penn students visited various historic sites around Israel and learned about their Jewish identity. This year, Birthright Israel partnered with the Building Israel Connections Engagement Project to offer visits to a cardiac healthcare facility and military base.
Birthright trips are open to young adults who have at least one Jewish parent and have not been on an organized program to Israel for more than four months, according to the Penn Hillel website. The trips are funded by individual donors, Jewish organizations around the world, and the Israeli government.
The students spent four days in the northern part of the country, three days in Jerusalem, and the remaining time in southern and central Israel. The locations they visited include Tel Aviv, Golan Heights, the Dead Sea, Yad Vashem Holocaust History Museum, and the Western Wall.
“Getting to see the Western Wall on Shabbat and [praying] where so many Jews have prayed for centuries was truly special, and I am so grateful that I got to do it with some of my closest friends,” College senior Alex Ross said.
BICEP, a collaboration between the Birthright Israel Foundation and the Seed the Dream Foundation, provides itinerary enhancements to Birthright Israel trips. In addition to funding several events and speakers at Lubavitch House at Penn throughout the year, the organization supported students' visit to the Save a Child’s Heart facility during their trip.
Save a Child’s Heart is an Israeli organization that offers cardiac healthcare to children from across the globe at a facility in Holon, Israel, where they are housed and treated for free.
“Save a Child’s Heart was really inspiring,” College sophomore Morris Hakim said. “Not only did we get to learn about an Israeli organization saving lives around the world, but we got to spend time with the kids and their parents and see the difference that [the foundation] is making.”
College junior Andie Goldmacher grew up hearing about the Birthright trip from family members and the Jewish community at Penn. She said that she appreciated meeting people on the trip who were not from Penn, describing the friendship she formed with her roommate, who was from Israel.
“I hope to see her again one day,” Goldmacher said. "It was really awesome; how open they were with their life experiences."
Limited spots on Birthright trips across the globe made the trip especially meaningful for the students, according to Campus Rabbi and Associate Director of Lubavitch House Rabbi Levi Haskelevich, who has been chaperoning Birthright trips since 2000. Despite his many years with the program, he said that every trip offers an opportunity for a new experience.
“There's always another angle, something new I haven't done," Levi said.
College junior Amanda Pantzer said that the trip offered a meaningful way to connect with her heritage.
“I thought it was an incredible opportunity to learn more about Israel and its culture, as well as Jewish religion and values,” she said.
Birthright Israel will offer another trip this winter, from Dec. 25 to Jan. 5.