GW Hillel, a center for Jewish student activities, is offering 60 students an all-expenses-paid trip to Israel in January.
Birthright Israel 2000, a partnership among the Israeli government, private philanthropists and Jewish federations, will fund the trip.
Sponsors have given these three Birthright partners about $210 million to send young Jews to Israel over the next three years, said Simon Amiel, executive director of GW Hillel.
This year the partnership will pay for 7,500 Jewish students ages 18 to 26 to participate in an Israeli pilgrimage, he said.
It is the birthright as a young Jewish person to be given the opportunity to go to Israel, Amiel said. These federations feel so strongly that it is indeed a right as an individual to not merely experience Israel physically, but to connect to your heritage, religion and culture.
Amiel said the Torah commands Jews to visit Israel and travel to Jerusalem.
There are 613 commandments in Judaism, both positive and negative, he said. The idea of being in Israel fulfills many of these commandments. In essence, you aren’t just doing this to follow . a commandment, but finding where you came from and witnessing where Israel is going with its future.
But the trip is designed for more than spiritual exploration, Amiel said.
It is a well-rounded, 10-day trip, where you can meet 59 other GW students who you may never have met before, Amiel said. You will have a fantastic experience and make new friends.
Avi Liss, a GW senior who traveled to Israel with Hillel last year, heard about the trip from friends and advertisements around campus.
I just filled out the application, went to the information meeting and by mid-October, I received a phone call saying `Congratulations, you’re going to Israel!’ Liss said. Before I knew it, it was January first and I was in a huge plane on my way to another country.
He said the trip was memorable.
You spend your life going to temple and praying, Liss said. But what are you really praying to? Then all of a sudden it is Friday night and you are praying where it all took place and the Wailing Wall is right there in front of you. The Wailing Wall is the western wall of the historical Second Jewish Temple, which was destroyed by the Romans nearly 2,000 years ago.
You’re in Jerusalem – the center of it all. Your faith makes sense and everyone around you is there for the same purpose, to experience their faith and to just have an incredible time. I met my best friend in the world there, Liss said.
Karen Krantweiss, director of student activities at Hillel, said she participated in a similar trip in college.
My college trip to Israel was a pivotal moment in my life, she said. Experiencing Israel as a young adult readying herself to enter into reality, was just amazing, quite different from when I was a teenager. It truly was a rite of passage.
Liss said she encourages Jewish students at GW to experience Israel for themselves.
If you are at all curious about Israel, apply, she said. Even if you aren’t interested in Israel, apply, he said. Go and see … it places everything in perspective.
Samuel Caplan, president of the Jewish Student Association, has also been to Israel. He emphasized the positive aspects the trip can have on Jewish students.
It is one thing to read about your heritage in a textbook, but it is another to go and experience it and to feel yourself be a member of a really strong community, he said. Birthright (Israel) is clearly the best thing that has happened to our collegiate community since I have been at GW.
Liss described the activities on his trip, which included visiting a Kibbutz, or Jewish commune, and swimming in the Dead Sea.
They had us going everywhere, he said. There was stuff going on all day long. We went from the east of Israel to the west and from the north to the south.
Applications for the trip are due Oct. 5 by 8 p.m. and are available on line at www.israel2000.org.