UF Birthright: A Window To Israel
With the beginning of Summer brings a new season of Birthright trips that my friends participate in or staff for. Seeing all of the pictures of their travels brought back memories of my UF to Israel Birthright trip, and made me stop and think about how going on that trip gave me so much more than just a free 10 day trip to Israel.
Growing up in Orlando, there was not a huge Jewish community. However, my mom sent me to the Jewish Community Center preschool, I went to the Hebrew Day School, spent Wednesday afternoons and Sunday mornings at Hebrew and Sunday school, and I was actively involved in the conservative youth groups throughout high school.
When I came to University of Florida, for the first time in my life, most of my friends were not Jewish and weren’t even connected to their own religion. During my freshman year, I lost something that I didn’t even know was that important at that time – my connection and involvement with Judaism.
I truly am a believer of everything happens for a reason, and this especially is one of those cases. Early last summer I opened one of the UF Hillel newsletters and saw a posting stating that UF Hillel was looking for interns for Fall 2017. I applied on a whim for the Creative intern position, for graphic design and marketing work. I am an Elementary Education major with no formal schooling in graphic design or marketing, however, the Marketing Director saw potential in me and gave me the opportunity to work on marketing campaigns, design print materials, and explore and develop a completely different realm of creative interests, plus the bonus of creating new friendships and celebrating holidays with other Jewish interns.
I was also lucky enough to go on the UF Birthright trip with two of my friends from Orlando who were also UF students. Not knowing anyone but the two of them was scary, but was also a blessing in disguise. During those ten days, I made some of my best friends and reconnected with my Jewishness.
It is a difficult time to be Jewish on college campuses and an even more precarious time for Israel. My generation in particular have perceptions of Israel based on what they read or hear. While I understand why people have certain ideas about what Israel is and the culture is like, having gone on a UF Birthright trip, my view of Israel comes first-hand and is one that is completely different than the commonly painted picture.
My picture is painted from the stories shared by the Israeli soldiers we spent five days with, from speaking with the people who work at the Kibbutz we stayed in, and from listening to the varied guest speakers throughout the trip. For me, they are my source for the truth.
My experiences at UF Hillel and on UF Birthright have for me, and for so many others, given a window into Israel and was the lifeline I needed to revive my Jewish connection today and into the future.