By Ava Castelli

For Mitzpeh


Mal Goldenberg alongside two students featured on the Birthright’s Instagram account leading up to the trip (Photo courtesy of Hillel Instagram @umdhillelbri) 

During winter break about 100 students will go on their Birthright trip for ten days with either this university’s Hillel or Meor Maryland, a campus-based Jewish educational organization. The Maryland Hillel group is planning to leave from JFK International Airport in New York on Jan. 2, while Meor is scheduled to leave Jan. 10.

Taglit-Birthright provides young Jewish people a free trip to Israel. Students from UMD have been going on these trips for years led by Maryland Hillel along with Meor Maryland. The organization has continued to operate despite the recent pandemic.

Other universities that tried planning Birthright trips for earlier this month dealt with cancellations as a result of a travel ban Israel has in place until Dec. 22, but as of Monday morning, this university’s Hillel officially announced that COVID-19 would not be cancelling their trip. That being said, masks are still expected to be worn indoors while in Israel.

Maryland Hillel, which has three buses full of students and six trip leaders attending, is still on schedule to go.

Mal Goldenberg, this university’s Hillel Inspired, Active, Committed, Transformed (IACT) Coordinator, is also one of the trip leaders. Her role is part of a two-year fellowship program that revolves around the Birthright trip, including planning the itinerary and contacting students and their parents about it.

“During the trip, we try to do Israel in all ten days,” Goldenberg said.

Michelle D’Costa, a senior special education major, is one of 75 students attending the trip with Hillel.

“I’m really excited to see where my cousins grew up and see their connection with it. I wanted to understand it more from a personal level but also connect with my Jewish heritage more, too,” she said.

Hillel plans on traveling around the country learning about history and different aspects of Israel. Some of the activities in their itinerary include visiting Jerusalem and the Yad Vashem Holocaust History Museum, going to Tel Aviv for a food tour, learning about border conflicts up North, going on hikes and swimming in the Dead Sea.

Students like D’Costa, who are attending the trip with Maryland Hillel, filled out the application form through Birthright Israel and had an interview back in July before being officially accepted.

After being accepted, Hillel set up informational meetings for attendees and hosted a meet and greet bonfire for students to get to know one another before the trip, D’Costa said.

Other organizations such as Meor are also taking students on Birthright trips this winter break. About 21 students are attending the trip with Meor Maryland, including sophomore psychology major Sydney Arlen.

The trip through Meor, similar to the one with Hillel, will teach students more about the history and culture of Israel.

Meor plans on visiting Haifa, Tzfat, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. While there, the group will go to beaches, markets, museums, visit the Dead Sea, Western Wall and hike a mountain, Arlen said.

“I’m really looking forward to exploring the country and taking part in the culture,” Arlen said.

For students like D’Costa and Arlen, going on the Birthright trip during winter break not only fits in their schedule, but allows them to go with other friends. Despite the challenges COVID-19 has brought, both students are excited and grateful their trips are still taking place.


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