“Want to get away?” The catchy airline slogan that aims to lure people into hopping on a jet and escaping to some distant paradise connects with almost everyone. Unfortunately, many people – including most college students – find it difficult to afford such tempting trips. What about when the question is: “Want to get away FOR FREE?” Two WCU students recently had the opportunity to answer “yes” by participating in Hillel’s “Birthright Trip,” which provides a free ten-day trip to Israel for Jewish students who have never been to the Middle East.
According to Edy Fink, Program Director for Hillel in Philadelphia, the trip offers students around the U.S. the opportunity to take an organized, peer-related trip to “explore Israel via bus with other students from their campus communities…learn about their backgrounds and to see their roots.”
Todd Demsky, a senior in the School of Business & Public Affairs, was one of the WCU students who took advantage of Hillel’s offer. Demsky visited Israel in early January with approximately 30 other students from around the country. “Israel was absolutely one of the greatest experiences in my life to date. It was a chance to see another nation’s perspective and how life in the U.S. is so advanced and how we take a lot of freedoms for granted.”
“[The] Birthright [trip] was the greatest experience of my live,” said Marissa Levin, a WCU sophomore. “The experience kind of gives you a new perspective on life – and I don’t mean just religiously.”
The Birthright trip provides an “educational, cultural, social, emotional and life changing trip” where students travel under the supervision of educated tour guides, according to Fink.
A large portion of the itinerary is dedicated to religious and historical activities. A prayer trip to the Western Wall, climbing the historic Mount Massada and visits to the Golan Heights and archaeological sites are among the program’s highlights.
But, as Demsky points out, the trip also has social aspects. “We also had chances to party, whether it was at the hotels or going out to clubs or bars.”
According to Fink, students also have the opportunity to volunteer with organizations, including the Israeli Red Cross.
The students also spent 24 hours with a small group of Israeli soldiers. “We got to get an idea about what their lives are like and how they feel about their country,” said Levin.
Both Demsky and Levin came back from the trip with Israel and many other countries around the world have laws that require young adults to provide a term of military service. Demsky noted, “We do not have to fight for our land every day nor do we have to worry about being attacked every day. We also do not have to enlist in the army and risk our lives like 18-year-old Israelis have to.”
“They don’t get to make the choices we do. [It’s] a whole new perspective on life,” said Levin.