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JNF Wire: Discovering Israel with Americans on Birthright Israel: Day Five

January 18, 2016
Adam H. Brill, Director of Communications
212-879-9305 x222
Discovering Israel with Americans on Birthright Israel: Day Five
By: June Glazer
Boirthright Pic1.jpg

Winter is Birthright season in Israel.  For this season alone, some 16,000 young adults from countries around the world will have visited the country, thanks to the gift of a free trip that, since the inception of Taglit-Birthright in 1999, has enabled some 500,000 participants to visit their ancestral homeland, many for the first time. 

On Birthright Israel: Shorashim – Ultimate Adventure with Israelis & JNF, forty-nine young professionals from throughout the U.S. were among the participants for this season and arrived in Israel on January 6 for their free 10-day trip.  As with all Birthright Israel trips their itinerary was crafted with the aim to strengthen bonds with the land and people of Israel. 

“This particular group’s age ranges from 22 to 26, and is referred to as a ‘national trip,’ meaning that participants come from around the country rather than from one school or one community,” said Jeff Gates, a staffer from Omaha who helped lead this trip.  “We have people who come from a range of backgrounds and traditions, from Sephardic to Ashkenazic, traditional to secular. It’s a group as diverse as American Jewish life itself,” he said.  

Itinerary highlights for Gates’s group included an opening ceremony at Ofir Lookout, a Jewish National Fund (JNF) project in the Golan Heights that takes in the vistas of Lake Kinneret and its surroundings. The group also spent four days in the Golan and the North, and visited Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, the Dead Sea, the city of Sderot, and Kibbutz Sde Boker, where Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben Gurion, and his wife, Paula, are buried.      

In Tel Aviv, participants visited Independence Hall, the place where Ben Gurion proclaimed the establishment of the Jewish State in 1948, and one of the national heritage sites supported by JNF.  It was the group’s official introduction to the city, and to the history that unfolded at the former Tel Aviv Museum of Art.  

“The trip has been great so far,” said Sam Student, 22, from Marlton, New Jersey.  An IT technician, this was his first trip to Israel.  “We’re traveling with seven Israelis on our tour bus, which is wonderful because they share details and experiences from their own lives with us. For example, we’re seeing Tel Aviv through their eyes, and it’s really helping me connect.”    

For 23-year-old Zach Miller of Manhattan, arriving in Tel Aviv was a homecoming of sorts. “I have family here, so I’ll be extending my stay for a couple of days at the end of the trip to visit with them,” he said. While this was his second time in Israel, Miller says that only now is he beginning to understand why the country means so much to the Jewish people. “It’s not just about the fact that Jews live here, but it’s also about why they live here, and that their history here goes back thousands of years.”

“We had a great discussion yesterday about what it means to us to be Jewish,” said 27-year-old Stephanie Student, Sam’s sister, who currently lives in Washington, DC, where she manages a hospitality firm. “We talked about faith, culture, and religion, about how we were all raised, what that means for us, and what being here means.”  

“I’m loving this trip,” said Justin Levy, from Middletown, New Jersey.  “We’re hearing different kinds of perspectives from people of all walks of life, and it’s fascinating. The trip and the people are everything I had hoped for,” said the 26-year-old, who works in federal law enforcement.

Birthright Pic2.jpgAt Independence Hall, the group watched a film about the events leading up to Ben Gurion’s declaration of statehood on May 14, 1948, and sat in the restored museum hall where he and members of the People's Council and Executive signed the Scroll of Independence.  At the end of the recorded 1948 ceremony, invited guests stood to sing HaTikvah—“The Hope”—the newfound country’s national anthem. The Birthright group stood too, and blended their voices with those in the recording, sharing a foundational moment in modern Israeli history. 

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JEWISH NATIONAL FUND (JNF) began in 1901 as a dream and vision to reestablish a homeland in Israel for Jewish people everywhere. Jews the world over collected coins in iconic JNF Blue Boxes, purchasing land and planting trees until ultimately, their dream of a Jewish homeland was a reality. JNF gives all generations of Jews a unique voice in building a prosperous future for the land of Israel and its people.

JNF embodies both heart and action; our work is varied in scope but singular in benefit. We strive to bring an enhanced quality of life to all of Israel’s residents, and translate these advancements to the world beyond. JNF is greening the desert with millions of trees, building thousands of parks, creating new communities and cities for generations of Israelis to call home, bolstering Israel’s water supply, helping develop innovative arid-agriculture techniques, and educating both young and old about the founding and importance of Israel and Zionism.

JNF is a registered 501(c)(3) organization and United Nations NGO, which continuously earns top ratings from charity overseers.

For more information on JNF, call 888-JNF-0099 or visit


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