Exploring their heritage and Jewish faith beyond campus, Hillel members Micaela Carney ’18, Gavin Gross ’19 and Danielle Moyer ’18 traveled to Israel for a traditional Birthright trip, a free rite of passage meant to create connections within the global Jewish community.
“One of the most rewarding parts of my experience was meeting other Jewish teens from around the globe and learning about their perspectives about Israel and Judaism,” says Carney, a double major in education and Spanish and Hispanic studies. “Though the Middle East has its challenges, conflicts and issues to work on, Israel is an amazing country and visiting helped me connect to my roots and understand the power behind thousands of years of traditions.”
The three traveled to various cities throughout Israel, hiked through the waterfalls of Golan Heights, rafted on the Jordan River and participated in group discussions about identity.
“I became more proud to be a Jew and my appreciation of Israel itself definitely increased. I wasn’t aware of how special a place it truly is,” says Gross, a double major in economics and Asian studies who traveled to Israel with his twin sister Ciera.
“Birthright is often a transitional moment in shaping students’ Jewish identity. It gives them a sense of belonging to something much bigger than the communities they come from, and that is both a source of comfort and of pride,” explains Abbe Center Director and Hillel Adviser Julianne Miller. “They come back feeling like they know so much more about Judaism and Israel. They are often exposed to issues they didn’t know existed or didn’t know much about – but they also have the tools to think through those issues in a way that they didn’t have before.”
For Moyer, the experience connected a variety of people with different interpretations of faith and culture. “For me, it was rewarding to meet people from so many different backgrounds and Jewish lifestyles. We had a whole range of people— everyone from conservative Jews to people who didn’t really practice much,” explains Moyer, an anthropology major. “As someone who doesn’t practice very much, I felt like it was a very welcoming atmosphere that emphasized that there is no one good way to be a Jew. When I didn’t know certain prayers, there was no judgement. It was cool that everyone was connected but we were also different.”
On campus, Moyer is a programming assistant for the Center for Global Education, a teaching fellow for Anthropology Department, and a regular performer in dance recitals like Koshare. She previously served as a chemistry teaching assistant.
Gross is a Student Trustee and a member of club soccer, the Mandarin Language Exchange, Finance Society and the Kappa Alpha fraternity. He is studying abroad in Nanjing, China this semester. The recipient of the Huayu Enrichment Scholarship from the Taiwan Ministry of Education, he spent the summer of 2016 in Taipei participating in the International Chinese Language Program.
Carney served as last fall’s Orientation Coordinator, the William Smith 2018 Class President and a Reunion student leader. She is a member of Hai Timiai, the William Smith honor society, and a former Laurel Society member.