During the winter break, a group of Rensselaer undergraduate students traveled to Israel as part of the Taglit-Birthright Israel program, which gives Jewish teenagers between the ages of 18 and 26 the gift of a free 10-day trip to the country.
The idea of providing the gift of a trip to Israel was initially endorsed by the philanthropists Charles Bronfman and Michael Steinhardt, who shared the belief that it was the birthright of all young Jews to be able to visit their ancestral homeland.
“Taglit” means “discovery” in Hebrew. And that, in a word, is the goal of the trip–a discovery of Israel and its people, discovery of one’s own personal connection to Jewish values and tradition, and discovery of the ways in which one can be a part of the larger Jewish community, according to the organization founders.
The five students who traveled are Justin Etzine ’18, Noam Eshed ’18, Ethan Illfelder ’15, Emily Judson ’16, and Amanda Alexander ’16. The trip was planned jointly by the University at Albany and Penn State University Hillels.
“The Taglit-Birthright Israel trip has been an experience beyond my wildest dreams,” said Etzine, a computer science major, Class of 2018 Senator, and associate news editor of The Rensselaer Polytechnic student newspaper. “Between the people I’ve met, the places we’ve seen, and the experiences we’ve had, I couldn’t have imagined a better way to spend my winter break.”
Since its inception in December 1999, Taglit-Birthright Israel has sent over 400,000 Jewish young adults to Israel. They come from 66 countries, all 50 U.S. states and Canadian provinces, and from nearly 1,000 North American colleges and universities.