Chabad at Pitt, Hillel JUC plan to take part in relaunched Birthright trips
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IsraelTreks to the Jewish state restart

Chabad at Pitt, Hillel JUC plan to take part in relaunched Birthright trips

“Birthright is one of the most transformative programs in the Jewish world to strengthen and broaden Jewish identity and personal connection to Israel,” he said.

Hillel JUC visited Israel in 2019 as part of Birthright Israel before COVID-19
forced travel to stop. (Photo by Hillel JUC.)
Hillel JUC visited Israel in 2019 as part of Birthright Israel before COVID-19 forced travel to stop. (Photo by Hillel JUC.)

Birthright Israel resumed its trips to Israel earlier this month. The organization suspended its free 10-day educational trips to the Jewish state after Hamas’ terrorist attacks on Oct. 7.

Approximately 350 students and young adults, 80% from the United States, were expected to join the relaunched excursions. A few hundred more are anticipated to participate through March, according to Birthright officials. Registration for summer trips will begin in mid-January.

That number is far fewer than the 23,000 young adults Birthright announced it would fund in 2023, and the 45,000 travelers who toured Israel each year with Birthright pre-pandemic.

The resumption of trips to Israel, no matter the size, was greeted with appreciation from Jewish groups in Pittsburgh.

“It’s great that Birthright has restarted,” said Daniel Marcus, executive director of Hillel JUC of Pittsburgh.

Hillel and Chabad House on Campus are the two main groups that administer Birthright trips to Israel from Pittsburgh.

“It’s good news,” Rabbi Shmuli Rothstein of Chabad at Pitt, said.

Students are interested in going on the trips, Rothstein said. In fact, he said he always has a list of students who have preregistered.

“The only question I’ve had from a lot of the students who pre-signed up is, ‘Is it still on?’ I have not heard from anyone that said, ‘I don’t want to go anymore.’ There are a couple of dozen people on the pre-signup list and those people are still interested in going,” he said.

Despite the eagerness from students in Pittsburgh, Birthright understands that some young adults and their families might be apprehensive about a trip to Israel while it fights a war with Hamas. The organization said that it is committed to providing participants with a safe and meaningful experience.

“Birthright Israel’s upcoming trips will operate under strict safety and security standards set by the Israel Defense Forces’ Homefront Command,” the organization’s officials said in a written statement. “Additionally, all Birthright groups will undergo a pre-trip orientation. In addition to matters covered in previous seasons, the upcoming orientations will cover adjustments to the schedule and to safety and security parameters.”

Rothstein said that Birthright has a great reputation and that the organization is committed to safety, something he thinks U.S. students understand.

“Right now, I’m not hearing a lot of ‘Oh my gosh, what’s going to happen?’” he said. “If it’s deemed safe, then they’re going to go.”

While he is confident in Birthright’s ability to keep its participants safe, the rabbi awaits details about the trips and is curious about the itineraries that will be available.

“I’m interested in how it will work out with all the trips,” he said. “North, south — I’m curious what will happen,” he said.

Birthright Israel CEO Gidi Mark said that there is a purpose to Birthright trips, especially now.

“Alongside a fun and meaningful experience, we want our participants to understand what happened on Oct. 7 and gain meaningful insight on how the events affected Israeli society and the Jewish communities around the world, and how our Jewish lives, values and community help us find hope in these dark times,” he said in a prepared statement.

Despite the war, Rothstein believes interest in Birthright will continue to be high.

“There’s been a need for more seats,” he said. “I think there’s still going to be a fight to get people on certain buses.”
Marcus said that thousands of Hillel JUC students have taken part in Birthright trips and that they play a vital role in the lives of young people.

“Birthright is one of the most transformative programs in the Jewish world to strengthen and broaden Jewish identity and personal connection to Israel,” he said.

Rothstein agreed, and said that even during the Yom Kippur War, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, urged people to take trips to Israel.

“I think it’s important we stand strong,” Rothstein said. “It’s our land. It’s a safe place to be. Our pulling away is basically us saying we lost and they won. I think it’s really important that we go.” PJC

David Rullo can be reached at drullo@pittsburghjewishchronicle.org.

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