Jewish group expands trips to Israel for Rutgers students
Birthright Israel, a group that helps Jewish students travel to Israel, is ramping up outreach at Rutgers and other college campuses with large Jewish populations.
This outreach program is being picked up at college campuses with large Jewish populations that have a traditionally lower rate of Birthright participation — including Rutgers, which is ranked first in terms of its Jewish-student population among public universities, according to edsmart.org.
Birthright is a 10-day trip in Israel with an itinerary that includes educational portions like visiting local historical sites and attractions, as well as recreational activities including a camel ride, rafting and swimming in the Dead Sea, according to the Birthright website.
Rutgers Hillel, a Jewish organization on campus, offers Birthright to students who have at least one Jewish parent and identify as being Jewish, said Liel Zahavi-Asa, the Birthright coordinator for Rutgers Hillel. Registration opened in February and remains open until the trip is full.
The organization has increased its recruitment on campus by placing advertisements on bulletin boards in residence and lecture halls, having recruitment tables during school fairs or events and advertising as far out as the New Brunswick train station, she said.
Rutgers Hillel prides itself on accepting all denominations of Jewish people. From the unaffiliated to the ultra religious, all are welcome, Zahavi-Asa said.
This mixture of different levels of religion is what makes the trip special because it allows people to see Israel through their own perspectives, as well as the perspectives of others who could be more or less religious, she said.
Alexander Golden, a School of Arts and Sciences senior, went on Birthright with Rutgers Hillel this past winter in order to be exposed to the cultural elements of Judaism and Israel that he learned in Hebrew school.
Golden’s trip this past winter break took 80 Jewish Rutgers students or affiliates on the trip. Since returning, Golden has become a recruiter for Birthright and Hillel, and said he hopes to encourage other students to go and enjoy everything the trip has to offer.
“You’d think that getting a free trip to Israel, a country that’s on a completely different continent and has so many geographic and cultural offerings, you’d think that someone would want to go. But it’s actually very hard because everyone thinks there’s a catch,” Golden said.
Recruiting college students to join things can be hard, as most students tend to walk past the different tables and advertisements around campus, Zahavi-Asa said. It has become more of a “who you know” and “tell your friends” recruitment style.
“It involves a lot of engagement. It’s a lot of friends bringing and telling friends. A lot of grassroots work on the ground and having new people sign up that way,” she said.
The message trying to be sent is quite a simple one. Come meet other Jewish students on and around your campus and spend 10 days with them on a free trip to your homeland, Golden said.
Ido Mahatzri, the Jewish Agency Israel fellow for Rutgers Hillel, is also a Birthright staff member and joined Golden this past winter in Israel. A lot of students who go on Birthright have never been to Israel, so educating them about Israel is a fun part of the job, he said.
“I think that the two times a year that I lead the trip are the 20 days that I really like all over the year because most of the time it’s students that don’t have any background with Israel” Mahatzri said. “To experience with them those 20 days, it’s amazing for me.”
It is important to the staff members to have students shape opinions about Israel as well as being as diverse as they can be by showing them Israel from different perspectives, Mahartzi said.
“They should come, buses are filling up fast and applications are going to close soon, so they should take advantage of this trip especially since it’s in the summer” Golden said. “I would really stress that there really isn’t any catch for this trip.”