While many students will ring in the new year at home, Rebecca Ditchek ’13, Brianne Ellis ’13, Emily Hamburger ’13, Jenna Lohre ’12 and Stephen Wolff ’12 will be retracing their ethnic roots in Tzfat, Israel, as part of a collaboration between HWS Hillel, the Abbe Center for Jewish Life, and Livnot U’Lehibanot, a program that facilitates exploration of Israel and Jewish heritage through hands-on experience.
Since the renovation of the Abbe Center in 2007, Jewish life on campus has witnessed an irrefutable growth in participation in all of its programming from Friday night Shabbat dinners to the annual Hanukkah party – Fried Food Fest. Now, Hillel intends to expand its programming abroad.
“We started planning this trip this past May,” says Hamburger, co-president of Hillel. “We wanted to get a group of HWS students to Israel.”
While all of the members have travelled to Israel before, this is the first time Hillel will embark on such a trip. “This is an exciting and important endeavor in which we hope to foster a connection between HWS Hillel and the land of Israel,” says Lohre, co-president of Hillel, who notes that she is proud and honored to be part of the inaugural experience.
Lorinda Weinstock, director of the Abbe Center for Jewish Life and advisor to Hillel, helped organize the trip in an effort to provide students an opportunity to go to Israel, and to give back to the country. “Through the years, I’ve heard many students who have been to Israel on Taglit-Birthright Israel or high school programs express the desire to go back to Israel, and to have a more intensive experience. We hope that the Livnot experience will give students that chance to explore their Jewish identities in greater depth.”
While in Israel, the members of Hillel will participate in Livnot’s Northern Exposure program, a one-week adventure of seminars, hiking and community service aimed at deepening their connection to their Jewish heritage.
“I decided to participate in this program because it combined my two favorite things: helping others and Israel,” says Ditchek. “After visiting Israel over the summer, I now consider it a home away from home. Being able to contribute and make a small difference in Israel is an amazing opportunity.”
Temple Beth-El Rabbi David Reiner will accompany the five students. They will participate in a different community service activity each day, in such diverse areas as building excavation, community preservation and helping the needy. After completing their community service placements, the group will head to Jerusalem for their final day.
“We hope to all gather at the Western Wall to be able to have personal and group reflection on our program and our time in Israel,” says Hamburger. “We also hope to meet up with HWS alums who are currently living in Israel.”
Wolff, who has previously participated in a one-week long community service experience with Habitat for Humanity, is looking forward to returning to Israel.
“I hope to have a positive impact on whatever organization or people we are helping,” says Wolff. “I also want to have fun, meet some new people and hopefully make some new connections in Israel.”
In the future, the students hope to make the trip an annual event.