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Building Bonds, Forming a Family: Staff Reflect on Birthright Israel Winter 2018-19

Updated: Jan 11, 2019

I was told many times by my fellow Israel Fellows, from different campuses, about how significant this trip is. The bonds you make with the student participants are so much stronger than any activity on campus. I always thought they were just exaggerating, but I was proven wrong!

Walking around with our students through my childhood scenery was a unique experience. A common joke that passed around about me throughout the trip, was that everywhere we went there was someone I knew and thus I must know everyone in Israel.

Our connecting flight was in Brussels, where I lived for 12 years as a kid, so I was able to practice my Dutch with the flight attendees. Our Tour Educator was a friend of mine from college (we didn’t plan ahead to lead the trip together and it was a surprise to us both). The military base we visited was near Qiryat Ono, the town I was born in, and our free time in Tel Aviv was by Dizingoff center where I lived for a year after my military service. We visited Gaza’s and Lebanon’s border as well as the Golan Heights where I served as a combat officer and got to share some of my experiences from the army. Then we finished the trip by the Kinneret in the Jordan Valley where I lived, studied and worked for the past 4 years before leaving for this job across the Atlantic.

I’m so happy that they got to experience Israel through my eyes.

The most impactful moment on the trip for me was the Beni Mitzvah ceremony we held on the last day of the trip. Seven of our participants shared in front of the whole group, with the Golan Heights and Kinneret in the background, why they choose to take part (some for their first time) in the ceremony. They showed so much appreciation of the other participants, the Israeli soldiers who joined us for the ten days, us (the staff) and the trip in general. I could really feel the impact we had on these young adults and were able to strengthen their Jewish identity and connection to the Land of Israel.

-Dor Kwiatek, Israel Fellow at Hillel at Virginia Tech

I love Israel. Everything about it feels like home to me. The people, culture, food and history feel like seeing old friends. I know when I board a flight to Israel I am coming home.

Leading my first Birthright Israel trip was incredible. Showing all the participants little bits and pieces of my home was amazing. Seeing them experience everything for the first time was so special. Meeting the people, experiencing the culture, eating all the food and seeing the history in this country was eye-opening.

All 10 days Dor and I tried to create a community. As many of our participants did not come on the trip knowing other people. By the time we boarded our first flight we could see the friendships starting to bloom. They talked about more than just school or what year they were in. They really got to know each other. And not only created a community but formed a family.

Having the IDF soldiers for all 10 days is something very special and many groups do not have that opportunity. We put our radical hospitality to use and we can now say that we have 7 new Israeli Hokie fans!! We were so lucky to have such amazing soldiers!

Overall I am so lucky to be a part of this family. Watching each participant grow from day 1 to day 10 was special. Friendships were formed that will last a lifetime and I am so lucky to be a part of it. I can’t wait to see everyone again once school starts in a few weeks.

- Tarryn Winik, IACT Coordinator

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