B’shert is the only word for our Winter 2021 trip Birthright trip to Israel. Hours after take-off from Miami to Tel Aviv, Israel reinstated their travel ban for all Birthright buses. This meant we were one of only three Hillel Birthright buses that made it to Israel this winter!
After combining with University of Miami Hillel, we brought 27 Jewish students together to make new friends, explore connections to Israel, and delve deeper into their Jewish identities.
When last-minute changes to COVID protocol meant quarantining on arrival, we lightened the mood with nostalgic summer camp activities and ice-breakers at our Kibbutz near the Golan Heights. We created a strong bond that only grew throughout our trip.
We were joined by nine Israeli soldiers in Safed amidst the celebration of a Bar Mitzvah in the street. Israeli and American participants explored the differences between their Holocaust education, Shabbat observances, and early career exploration. Our conversations reflected Hillel’s pluralistic approach to Judaism, and led many to the conclusion that there is no such thing as “not Jewish enough.”
While in Jerusalem, we visited the Kotel (Western Wall) and brought in Shabbat together. Before entering the Kotel, students reflected upon the blessings they wished to leave in the cracks of the Wall while others wrote letters-to-self to be read at the school year’s end so that in future they could look back on this pivotal moment see the progress they had made. As Shabbat marked the halfway point of our trip, students had the opportunity to become a B’Nai Mitzvah and/or join the Hebrew naming ceremonies, further sanctifying their personal growth and symbolizing their connection to the Jewish homeland.
Our Birthright Israel experience felt a lot like the story at Masada. The story of resistance reminded us all that despite the odds, FSU Hillel’s trip to Israel was b’sheret. Posing proudly for photos with the Israeli flag atop that ancient fortress overlooking the vast Dead Sea, I was awed by the symbolic resonance with all that our students overcame to make this trip happen.
Now back at FSU, our students are working on initiatives that will welcome Israeli food, culture, and people (virtually) to our Hillel and the FSU community. We will reunite to reflect on our time together and remember the unlikely triumph of making it to Israel this Winter. Intellect, compassion, and ahavat am (eternal love) for Israel shine brightly in all of our participants, and I am confident that each one will be vital to cultivating and creating the Jewish future at FSU and beyond.