By Krissy Harris
The multi-purpose room at Maryland Hillel was abuzz Wednesday night for the Birthright Israel celebration, full of students who will be attending an upcoming Birthright Israel trip and Birthright student alumni.
“I think [a Birthright network] creates a really awesome, diverse Jewish community within the larger Jewish community at Maryland,” said Birthright Israel IACT Coordinator Stephanie Bekerman.
This winter will be Bekerman’s sixth trip as a Birthright staff member.
“It is a really amazing experience for students to explore their Jewish identity in whatever facet they choose,” she said.
Music played as students came and went throughout the hour to socialize, grab some homemade falafel and Israeli salad or make their own Dead Sea salt scrubs.
The theme of the night was Birthright’s 20th anniversary year. Along the back of the room hung a “Birthright Israel Memory Wall,” filled with about 100 photos of students from the last twenty years of Birthright trips.
Blue and white balloons floated along the ceiling while Israeli flag banners lined the walls. There were three raffle giveaways of Israeli bath and body products and university apparel throughout the night.
The event was a team effort by 11 Hillel Birthright Israel student recruitment interns.
“I went on Birthright this summer, and it was an amazing experience. I thought that it would be good for myself to recruit others that were involved in the [Jewish] community to go…I wanted them to have a similar experience,” said intern Brandon Rosenberg, a junior finance major.
“We loved the whole trip, so we wanted to tell other people how much we loved it, to get them to go,” said intern Samantha Baker, a junior communications major.
Interns of Birthright Israel at Maryland Hillel work together throughout the semester on events, social media and outreach for potential Birthright attendees.
“A big shout out to the Birthright Israel recruitment interns. They’ve really put a lot of work to this. They’re the ones that are here manning this,” Bekerman said.
Julia Fine, a junior community health major, and Chloe Canaan, a junior psychology and criminology major, were two Birthright Israel recruitment interns working at the Dead Sea salt scrub station.
Both Fine and Canaan attended Birthright this past summer, and they were excited about the opportunity to continue working with the organization once they returned to campus.
“It was an amazing experience…I wanted to stay connected and involved. It’s such a great community at Hillel,” Fine said.
Along with the falafel station, the Dead Sea salt scrub station was a popular spot for students to gather in the room.
The salts were imported from the Dead Sea and they were blended together with coconut oil to make the scrubs. Students could select their own Essential Oil scent to add to the mix — the fan favorite was the “anxiety relief” blend, said Canaan and Fine.
The main goal for this gathering was to connect students planning to attend Birthright with students who have already taken the journey, and to open students up to the full scale of the Birthright experience, Bekerman said.
In the several years that she has been a part of Birthright, Bekerman said she has seen how students connect with each other and form lasting bonds throughout the trip’s experience. This is what she and this university’s Hillel work to bring back to the UMD community.
“Different parts of the trip speak to different people. Some students connect more with Jerusalem…other people connect in the desert…people connect in Safed, which is a kind of mystical city where the Kabbalah was started…some people connect over the food. We try and find what things people are connecting with, and that way we can bring those things back to campus, and find ways to connect them to opportunities on campus,” Bekerman said.
She added that 95% of students who attend Birthright through this university’s Hillel are students at this university.
Evan Roesen, a junior government and politics major, shared his strong sentiments in favor of students attending Birthright.
“To people who always say, ‘Oh, I’m not that Jewish, I don’t want to go…’: completely change that mindset, because going to Israel and being Jewish are two completely different things. You can learn a lot about yourself by going to Israel…Everybody should go,” he said.
Founded in 1999, Birthright Israel offers a free trip to Israel for Jewish adults between the ages of 18 and 32. Interested students can find more information through Hillel here.