January 27, 2000
Hillel Students Return From Israel 2000 Trip
When Jessica Wolf arrived in Eretz Yisrael, she dutifully kissed the ground. Still, she didn't feel all that impressed. Says the UCLA sophomore, "It looked to me a lot like Santa Barbara when I first got off the plane." For the next 10 days, as part of Hillel's Israel 2000, she and her fellow students toured the country, climbing Masada, arguing policy atop the Golan Heights, trading views with Israeli soldiers and Arab children, probing their own Jewish connections. Now Wolf feels that Israel is an integral part of her life: she's planning to return for her junior year of college. For her, a trip that was absolutely free of charge has turned out to be a priceless experience.
Last year, when philanthropists Michael Steinhardt and Charles Bronfman decided to give the gift of Israel to thousands of young Jews, skeptics wondered whether there would be any takers. But Steinhardt and Bronfman's Birthright Israel is off to a roaring start. Through Birthright Israel funding, Hillel has recently sent 3,000 American Jewish college students on 10-day study tours of the Jewish homeland. (Another 1,000 students traveled under Canadian auspices, and 2,000 young adults took Birthright trips through a host of organizations in the U.S. and worldwide.)
Hillel (formally known as Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life) called its program Israel 2000. Students traveled in groups from their home campuses, with trips being timed to coincide with their winter breaks. Everyone is back now, and the massive logistical undertaking is meeting with rave reviews.
Jeff Rubin, director of communications at Hillel's national headquarters, says that Israel 2000 has "far exceeded our expectations. Every student had a strong Jewish experience. A lot of them had transforming experiences."