Taking up Birthright

Taking-up-Birthright.jpg

Published in The Temple NewsJanuary 22, 2013

By Erin Edinger-Turoff

The David Project partnered with Temple’s Hillel Center to send students to Israel during winter break.

Along with an $8,000 grant given to the Hillel Center, The David Project sponsored a free trip opportunity to Israel for Temple students.

Student leaders were selected to attend the trip, including the leaders of Temple College Democrats, Dylan Morpurgo, and Temple University College Republicans, Erik Jacobs. Temple Student Government Student Body President David Lopez was also a considered candidate for the trip, but was unable to attend due to other commitments.

Alex Tung, a sophomore strategic communications major and the student president of Temple Israel Public Affairs Committee, attended the trip along with Morpurgo and Jacobs. A Jewish student at Temple, Tung became involved in the trip after The David Project contacted the Hillel Center to find out which students were leading pro-Israel campus organizations.

Each of the 12 universities given the opportunity to send students on the trip had one pro-Israel advocate per group of students.

Tung expressed that it was a clear choice for her to bring Jacobs and Morpurgo, who would be able to share their experience in Israel with their student organizations and provide meaningful insight.

“We strategically targeted [student] leaders on campus that would reach a broader audience,” said Phil Nordlinger, director of Temple’s Hillel Center.

Nordlinger added that choosing these student leaders facilitated The David Project’s objective to offer a trip that would “improve the way people think and talk about Israel on campus.”

The David Project, which began in 2002, has grown significantly as a pro-Israel organization that advocates for students to assume leadership roles, and supports their efforts to expand understanding of Israel on college campuses.

“Basically, The David Project is all about building relationships on campus, and the goal is, [in order] to provide Israel advocates, we want to teach them to talk and bond with other students on campus. There are a whole lot of different ways. Nothing can compare to going to the country and seeing it with your own eyes,” said Bella Shapiro, a campus coordinator with The David Project who worked with Temple students.

The project differs from the Taglit-Birthright Israel organization, which sends Jewish Americans between ages 18 and 26 on trips to Israel in peer groups at no cost, provided that they have never been there previously. By comparison, The David Project’s trip was specifically developed to send non-Jewish young people to Israel – a unique opportunity for many.

Some students who have been to Israel on birthright speak highly of their experience, including sophomore public relations major Mike Hall and sophomore early childhood education major Arielle Simon. Both students were also supportive of The David Project sponsored trip to Israel, and considered it to be a great opportunity to spread knowledge of everything Israel has to offer, historically and culturally, to all people.

“Living in the U.S. and being Jewish, I was always part of the minority,” Simon said. “By going to Israel, for the first time in my life I was able to be part of the majority.”

Simon added that sharing the experience with her peers allowed her to “form life-long friendships.” Upon learning about The David Project trip, she expressed her excitement at the opportunity for other students.

“I think it’s important and necessary to open this trip up to everyone because Israel has so much history,” Simon said. “There is something there for everyone to learn.”

Hall’s sentiments were similar to Simon’s, describing the Birthright trip he took last May as his greatest life experience thus far.

“I think it’s great that grants [and trips] like this exist,” Hall said.

Nordlinger said Temple was lucky to be among the selected schools.

“It shows that The David Project is interested in working with diverse collegiate settings,” Nordlinger said.

This was the first year the Hillel Center partnered with The David Project. The collaboration provided new opportunities that Nordlinger said he hopes will continue.

There are other options available for students to travel to Israel, including the Jewish National Fund trip and the Alternative Break Israel trip, a program through the Greater Hillel of Philadelphia promoting volunteer opportunities. The Hillel Center’s website offers more information for students interested in applying.

For students unable to attend the trip offered by The David Project, these opportunities could be an appealing alternative, Nordlinger said. Those students who took the trip to Israel during break shared the Hillel director’s hope that a partnership with The David Project will continue.

Tung, who traveled to Israel previously during her senior year of high school with a youth group, said the trip she went on during winter break was exceptionally interesting and a profound experience for everyone involved.

As Main Campus’ student pro-Israel advocate on the trip, Tung said she was excited to experience the country with such a diverse group of peers.

“Bringing non-Jewish people to Israel is such a cool idea because it allows them to experience Israel without any biases. We had Palestinian speakers, Ethiopian refugees, military personnel. Obviously the country is so complicated, and that was a big thing that was coming up,” Tung said. “We didn’t focus on the conflict, because that would be unfair to the country.”

Bringing a differing group of young people into a diverse region to experience it first hand is something Tung said she believes will help promote a more realistic perception of Israel, and help get past the negative focus on conflict in order to appreciate everything Israel has to offer.

“The most rewarding part was seeing everything with my own two eyes,” Jacobs, a senior political science major, said. “You see a lot of things in the [news] media and you’re not sure what to believe. Now I have experience and have talked to people from here.”

Jacobs plans to promote understanding by having pro-Israel events on Main Campus, with full understanding that there are also currently anti-Israel groups on Main Campus, he said.

The trip taken to Israel this break was not intended to sway students politically, but rather to provide insight from a diverse, multicultural place in the world.

Students who traveled overseas during winter break took away a unique, personal experience. Shapiro said she hopes this experience will spread the idea that for “every student, Jewish, Israel advocate or not, there’s something about Israel that can be related to everyone. It’s a universal place.”