Jen Hollander is a junior at the University of Miami, studying Elementary & Special Education, with a double minor in Human and Social Development and Psychology. She is the President of Future Educators Association Honor Society, as well as an Ambassador for the School of Education and Human Development. She is involved at Hillel at Miami and is also a David Project intern.
The first time I went to Israel on Birthright last winter, I instantly knew my life had changed forever. All I wanted was to go back, learn more, and continue to experience Israel’s diverse culture. So, when I was offered a spot on Israel Uncovered, I was ecstatic. It was exactly what I wanted – getting to go back to the place I love so much with other leaders from across the country who had never experienced Israel before. It was such a unique opportunity. I knew the trip was going to be eye opening, but I didn’t realize how just much my fellow student participants would impact both me AND my Israel narrative.
Throughout the trip, common discussions within group activities focused on what had impacted us, and even after programming ended we continued to discuss how we were feeling about all of the different places we visited and speakers we heard from. We talked about various activities such as our visit to Shevet Achim (an organization that helps children from all over the Middle East receive treatment for congenital heart defects), a school for refugee children from all over the world, the Western Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, multiple speakers from all over the political spectrum, and much more. All of these events had an impact on me and helped me build a holistic view of Israel. And as much as I loved being back in the Holy Land, all of the activities we did throughout the country cannot replace the most meaningful aspect of the trip for me: watching other students experience Israel for the first time.
Many of the students came into the trip without much knowledge of Israel. As the trip progressed through visiting different sites, hearing multiple speakers, and lengthy discussions with the group at night after programming ended, I started to witness a change in many of the students. By the last leg of the trip, many of the participants who had begun with the least connection to the country were the most upset that the trip was coming to an end. I had the chance to visit places in Israel that I had no connection to personally, such as Capernaum and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, but these were the places that some of the other students connected to the most. It was so inspiring to see that Israel can offer something for everyone. Each visit or activity sparked a deep interest in at least one student, to the point where some wanted to come back again to visit or to volunteer.
While Israel is the Jewish homeland, it is by no means just a place for Jews, as this trip clearly illustrated. I will probably never have the opportunity to be in the same room with so many amazing young leaders from all across the country, let alone all together in Israel, and I will forever be grateful for the life changing breakthroughs and inspiration it offered me. It was unbelievable to see how passionate all of these students are about so many different topics, and how Israel can offer each and every student something relating to what they are passionate about. Israel Uncovered has taught me so much about the country, it has shown me how to think critically about Israel, but most importantly, it has reignited my passion about Israel’s importance and beauty, right when I was starting to forget.