This summer, OU Israel Free Spirit is sending more participants to Israel than ever before in its 18 year history, with over 1350 participants.
Israel Free Spirit, the OU’s Birthright Israel trip organizer, attributes this growth to its diverse trip selection. In addition to the standard Birthright Israel trips, the trip options also include specialized niche trips that allow participants to choose trips based on their interests or backgrounds. Some of the popular options explore different sides of Israel like the Arts & Entertainment trip, Business, Tech, & Innovation trip, Soul Trek trip (for people interested in yoga & meditation), and the brand new Adrenaline Rush trip which features rappelling, hiking, and rafting. Other trips allow participants to connect with people from similar backgrounds, such as the co-ed Modern Orthodox trips, single gender Frum trips, special needs trip in partnership with Yachad, and 12-step recovery trip with JACS for people who’ve dealt with addiction.
“[The trips are] an exciting opportunity to allow the OU to inspire participants of all backgrounds and give them a meaningful experience in Israel, which allows them to connect with their Jewish identity in their own unique way,” says Tatyana Plotkina, Israel Free Spirit’s Marketing Manager.
Rabbi Gershon Litt, who staffed his 35th Israel Free Spirit trip this summer, says “Leading trips to Israel is one of the most significant and meaningful things that I do as I get to see the impact that these trips have on young Jewish adults. They take care of everything, but more importantly they do it wanting to inspire and motivate students to make positive decisions.”
It’s not just the staff that enjoy the trips either. The participants do too. Ryan Friedman, a participant from Summer 2017, said “From this trip, I learned that everyone has the power to change the world.”
“I never thought a trip across the world would wake a passion inside of me,” said Summer 2017 participant Sydney Cohen. Marissa Kolinsky, another Summer 2017 participant, said “[Before] coming here, I never felt connected to Judaism, but now I feel a sense of connection and want to develop it more and work on becoming more passionate about my Judaism.”
Certainly, nothing would get done without the hard work and effort of everyone involved. Says Rabbi Dave Felsenthal, OU’s Chief Innovation Officer, “I’m so proud of the whole OU Israel Free Spirit team for working as one unified force in marketing, recruiting, and executing the trips.”
With participation up 20% since last summer, Israel Free Spirit is already looking toward making the winter season a record-breaker also with early sign up already open at www.israelfreespirit.com/app.