Birthright trips offer Jewish students connection to history, culture

Swimming in the Dead Sea, camel-riding through Israel and Shabbat in Jerusalem are just a few of the activities students can expect on a free 10-day “birthright trip” to Israel this summer.

Forty Jewish students are selected every year to participate in this trip, which is organized by Hillel and sponsored by Hibba Israel InTouch, a Jerusalem-based nonprofit organization.

Hibba Israel InTouch receives their funding from Taglit-Birthright Israel, an Israel-registered charity that provides these trips as “gifts” to Jewish youth between the ages of 18 and 26. These birthright trips give students the opportunity to strengthen their connection to Jewish history and culture, and to solidify their personal Jewish identities.

Junior Lauren Camac went on her birthright trip this past winter break. Camac said that she had heard about the trips when preparing for her bat-mitzvah, but it became a reality after arriving at UM.

“I would always hear people talking about the trip and they all said that it was one of the most life-changing experiences of their lives, so I wanted to experience it too,’’ she said. “When I returned from my birthright trip, as soon as I landed in JFK, I knew I was going back to Israel.”

Camac is one of hundreds of Jewish students who have had this experience thanks to Hillel. Freshman Seth Furman went on his birthright trip this winter break as well. Because he is relatively new to the university, Furman didn’t know any of the other 39 UM students on the trip, but he now considers them to be family.

“My connection to Israel was only from what I got out of news, books or from people who had traveled there,” he said. “I never had a personal one-to-one connection. But now that I’m back in America, I can definitely say that I feel like Israel is a part of me.”

Hillel, one of the University of Miami’s religious organizations serving students of different faiths, promises “a warm and welcoming environment for all Jews, whatever your background or affiliation.”

The birthright trips fall under the organization’s “Keep Israel Strong” program, which offers birthright trips over both summer and winter breaks, alternative Spring Break trips to either Israel or Haiti, holiday celebrations, and a database of Israel-based internships.

“‘Keep Israel Strong’ is our current agenda that we are working on, with many different kinds of projects falling under this umbrella,” said Roiy Frenkel, an Israeli Fellow at Hillel. “The free birthright trip is the most popular aspect of the agenda right now, but the alternative spring break trips, which although aren’t free are highly subsidized, are quickly gaining in popularity. ”

Frenkel said that one thing he has noticed is that, after students attend their birthright trips, “they want to return to Israel as soon as possible.”

For example, upon returning to the university from her birthright trip, Camac began applying to internships through Hillel. She recently received the good news that she was accepted into the summer 2012 Career Israel internship program. This program, which offers her an internship with a marketing firm in Tel Aviv from June 3 to Aug. 9, fulfills her goal of returning to Israel.

Furman, who was also offered an internship in Israel this summer, is still deciding. However, “no matter what, I will find a way to return to Israel by the time I graduate” he said.

For more information on birthright trips, visit