This winter break, Jewish students at the University of Connecticut (UConn) are being offered the chance to take a trip free trip to Israel.
According to the UConn Hillel House website, there are two trips a year, one in the winter and one in the spring. The winter trip spans 10 days in late December and early January.
The trip is free to students, but requires a $250 deposit for registration. The deposit is refundable upon return from the trip.
Julie Abramowitz, a third semester political science major, said the trip was a “once in a lifetime” chance that made the conflict in Israel feel more real.
“Going there kind of opened my eyes,” Abramowitz said. “You see it on the news, but until you’re there in the middle of it, talking with people who deal [with] it from like day to day life, is just such a completely different experience than just hearing a reporter talking about it.”
Scott Selig, the Executive Director of UConn Hillel, said students must be between ages 18 and 36 to participate in the trip to Israel.
The Hillel House website says the trip is open to any student with at least one Jewish parent, or any student in the age range who has successfully converted to Judaism.
“It’s an unbelievable opportunity to have a free experience, in a country that has thousands upon thousands of years of history,” Selig said. “It’s a great opportunity to really bond with other UConn students.”
Selig addressed the security concerns which some students and families may have about the trip.
“Safety is all relative,” Selig said. “I’d walk in the streets of Jerusalem at three in the morning, and never felt like I was gonna be mugged.”
Selig said students on the trip would be protected from possible danger by private security officers.
“The security is unbelievably professional,” Selig said. “The security officer that’s assigned to each bus gets a briefing every morning on what’s going on regionally.”
Shelly Silver, a fifth-semester speech, language and hearing major, said she felt safe when she went on the trip.
“A lot of people… are like, ‘Oh, like, my parents don’t know if they want me to go, it’s not safe’,” Silver said. “[But] I honestly felt safer walking the streets there than I did walking around campus.”
First-semester chemistry major Sarah Karasik has not yet attended a Birthright trip but plans to attend this year’s winter trip.
Karasik said she feels like the experience will deepen her faith.
“It’s an opportunity to see another country for free,” Karasik said. “[And] I feel like it’ll make me be more connected to [my religion].”
Third-semester biology and human rights double major Gianna Michaelson recommends the Birthright trip to any Jewish student who has not yet gone on one.
“Everyone I talk to, like whenever I see freshman Jewish people, one of the things I say is, like, you have to go,” Michaelson said.
Michaelson said she enjoyed spending time in Israel.
“Julie and I stayed an extra two weeks, and that was like, really fun,” Michaelson said. “We wanted to stay longer, we didn’t want to leave.”
Interested students can contact Tom Barkan at the UConn Hillel House.
Sachin Menon is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.