Kent State students connect with Jewish heritage through Taglit-Birthright trips

Ben Miller

While many Kent State students and faculty have heard about traditional study abroad trips to places such as Florence, Italy or Geneva, Switzerland, not everyone has heard of Taglit-Birthright—a Jewish organization that provides college students ages 18 to 26 the chance to go to Israel at a relatively low cost.

Daniel Weisman, senior music major, said he is currently considering taking the trip in summer 2014 to strengthen his faith and treat it as a rite of passage. Weisman said he has heard stories from a number of his friends who have taken the trip before.

“You hear amazing stories from students who have studied abroad or from students who simply travel often,” said Chaya Kessler, Jewish Studies Program director, “But a [Taglit-Birthright] trip takes you to sacred sites and provides the chance to spend night out on the town having fun. It’s truly a life-changing experience.”

Kessler said Hillel at Kent State University tries to host a trip every year. Kessler said she led the summer trips in 2011 and 2012 and was scheduled to lead the trip in 2013, but she said this summer’s trip was cancelled due to low applicant numbers.

“We are required to register 20 students [for the trip] through HAKSU [Hillel at Kent State University],” Kessler said.

Hannah Servedio, sophomore communication studies major, said she made the Taglit-Birthright journey in December 2012. Servedio said she wanted to travel to Israel ever since she was a kid but decided to wait until she was older because of Taglit-Birthright’s application requirements. She said the trip only costs $3,000 for a round-trip flight, which she said was a deal.

“I believe Birthright to be an incredible program, and now, I encourage everyone [who] is eligible to attend,” Servedio said. “Some people went to drink, others went to enhance their Jewish identity, but every single person I know [who] has been [there] loved the trip.”

Eligibility for the trip is restricted to young Jewish adults, ages 18 to 26, who have never traveled to Israel before or have never lived in Israel past the age of 12.

“Groups [for the trip] are comprised of 40 participants,” said Einat Baldermann, field and education coordinator for Taglit-Birthright Israel Program with IsraelExperts. “Participants travel together throughout the 10 days predominantly together and rarely are independent from the group for security reasons.”

Baldermann said costs for the trip cover round-trip airfare, hotel accommodations, transportation and at least two meals per day for a participant’s 10-day trip to Israel. She said other associated costs such as admission tickets to historical sites are also included, but gratuities, personal purchases and travel insurance are not.

“Not everybody is eligible for this opportunity,” Baldermann said. “Applicants must have at least one Jewish birth parent or have completed Jewish conversion through a recognized Jewish community.”

Baldermann said that Taglit-Birthright can fund an individual’s trip through donations from organizations such as the Jewish Federation and the Jewish Agency for Israel.

“I know people throw around the term ‘It [the trip] changed my life’ loosely,” Servedio said. “But for me, it is so accurate.”

Contact Ben Miller at [email protected].