Hillel student travelers recapture Birthright, leadership trips to Israel

Alyse Riffer, Reporter

Thirty national Hillel members traveled to Israel for a Birthright trip this winter, including 15 of Kent State’s students. The group departed from Chicago on Dec. 28, 2022, and returned home on Jan. 8.

Birthright is a non-profit organization that facilitates free trips for Jewish students between the ages of 18 and 26.

Along with Hillel at Kent State were various other college students from Minnesota, Purdue, Cincinnati and other schools. Israeli soldiers also joined the group as participants for five days.

“It’s every Jewish person’s birthright to go to Israel,” Hillel Student Life Coordinator Jocelyn Feldman said.

The Birthright trip is an opportunity for Jewish students to explore their personal and religious identities among others within their community.

The student travelers took on many new activities and events during their 10-day trip, including hiking the Masada, praying at the Western Wall, floating in the Dead Sea, sightseeing in cities such as Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and paying respects at Yad Vashem – the Holocaust museum. The students also sampled olive oil at a factory, went wine tasting and also went on a graffiti tour.

Sophomore early childhood education major Hannah Appel said the trip completely surpassed any expectations she initially had.

“I experienced things that I’m grateful for, like seeing the Western Wall and being able to put a note in and pray there and going to Yad Vashem,” Appel said. “It was just different but so special, and I feel like it changed me to have more of an open mindset, to say ‘yes’ to experiencing new things, and it was such a good opportunity and I would recommend it to anybody thinking about it.”

Junior human development and family studies major Jordy Goldstein also traveled with Hillel. She said she didn’t go to Hillel before going on the trip, but she has been attending more recently because she has created strong connections through the organization.

“My big takeaway from the trip is all of us are Jewish in different ways, and I think it’s really unique

Sophomore early childhood education major Hannah Appel (left) and junior human development and family studies major Jordy Goldstein (right) on the Birthright trip to Israel. The trip was through Hillel at Kent State and was Dec. 28, 2022 to Jan. 8. (Photo courtesy of Hannah Appel)

that all of us can go on this trip together even though we all celebrate our Judaism in completely different ways,” Goldstein said.

Feldman graduated from Kent State in May 2022 as a psychology major and has been working as Student Life Coordinator at Hillel in Kent since July 2022. She staffed this winter’s Birthright trip to Israel.

“The last night, we always have a … wrap-up conversation of what people took away,” Feldman said. “I just remember hearing people say how they’re so glad that they went on this trip by chance because they met all of these great people.”

A b’nai mitzvah was held for students to reaffirm their bar or bat mitzvahs and also allowed students to have their first one.

The next Hillel Birthright trip departs May 11 and will end May 22. The cutoff for applications will be Monday, Jan. 30. There are 10 available spots left.

Though a Jewish organization, Hillel also welcomes non-Jewish students with open arms.

“This is for anyone to be themselves,” Feldman said.

In addition to the Hillel Birthright trip, Hillel Student Life Director Michael Pollak accompanied 19 Kent State students to Israel for a student leadership trip over break from Jan. 3 to Jan. 13. Pollak graduated from Kent State in 2016 with a major in criminal justice.

Eligibility for students to go on this particular trip includes being an undergraduate at Kent State while maintaining a leadership position of some kind.

“We really strive to be diverse, that’s such a big thing … they need to be really involved everywhere,” Pollak said.

The student leadership trip accepts both Jewish and non-Jewish applicants. This recent trip took 14 non-Jewish students and four Jewish students to Israel for an educational experience.

Along with exploring the country, students have the opportunity to listen to multiple speakers each day in order to form their own opinions on certain issues and topics.

“We all have our own narrative, and we want to make sure that you hear everyone and stay open-minded … there’s no wrong answer unless you’re not listening,” Pollak said.

During the trip, students stayed in cities such as Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, and even spent the day in a kibbutz, which is a shared, contributory community.

While embarking on this educational journey, students also experienced fun adventures such as off-road jeeping at the Syrian border, wine tasting and shopping in outdoor markets, also known as shuks.

Pollak hopes to return to Israel with the student leaders next year.

Alyse Riffer is a reporter. Contact her at [email protected].