Rhonda Van Hassalt's concerned father offered her $1,000 not to go to Israel. Although the money would have been enough to send both Van Hassalt's and her boyfriend to Europe for winter break, it wasn't Europe that was tugging at her heart -- it was Israel.
For much of his life, Lawrence Mudgett didn't need Judaism. He had football. But when the 6-foot-6, 250-pound sophomore was declared ineligible for the NCAA at the beginning of the school year, he began searching for another niche.
As a participant on Birthright Israel's 2002-2003 winter programs, Mudgett found what he was looking for.
"Going to Israel changed me. It's opened up so many doors," said the UCSB sophomore. "Just being part of the Jewish community and being involved in Hillel helps fill the void of not being on a team and not having that camaraderie."