By Yehudis Litvack
West Coast NCSY Connect, an initiative for NCSY alumni, partnered with Israel Free Spirit, the OU’s Birthright Israel trip organizer, to launch a new partnership this year – providing free Israel trips catering to the NCSY alumni community. The program received an overwhelming response, with forty alumni attending the winter trip and another eighty going this summer.
“Travel to Israel is so important on so many levels; giving this opportunity to the West Coast NCSY alumni to travel together as a group completes the ‘Once Family, Always Family’ connection,” said Denise Badreau, Director of Community Connections for West Coast NCSY, who recruited most of the participants through her personal connection with them as NCSY participants. “Creating a natural progression from the high school alumni to Israel Free Spirit: Birthright Israel trips has proven tremendously successful and rewarding.”
The inaugural trip participants found their experiences life changing.
Eden Bernstein, who participated in the winter trip, explains that she’d traveled a lot, but her first trip to Israel with NCSY Connect was completely different. “Israel is by far the most amazing, awe-inspiring, unusual, new to me in so many different ways,” says Eden. “There is a warmth in the air; the people are incredible; you feel that everyone is family.” Eden also appreciates the close relationships she has developed with other trip participants.
Before the trip, Eden said, she had just begun to believe in G-d. The trip to Israel served as “a cementing factor of my faith because of how at home I felt in Israel,” she says. Eden learned to read Hebrew and is currently reading the Torah for the first time in her life. She is also planning fundraisers to support Israeli causes.
Prior to the trip, Aaron had been enrolled in college in the U.S. During the trip, he connected with Israelis and decided that he’d like to continue his education in Israel. He is now enrolled at IDC, where he plans to study business administration.
Devorah Norton is planning to participate in the upcoming summer trip. Now a freshman at UCLA, she had connected with NCSY in high school and specifically chose the NCSY Connect trip through Israel Free Spirit because of her positive experience with NCSY. She is hoping to gain an understanding of what it’s like to live in modern day Israel.
“The Israel Free Spirit Birthright trips with NCSY Connect offer young adults the unique opportunity to further connect with their Judaism and like-minded peers while strengthening their ties with the Jewish People and their Homeland,” said Rina Emerson, West Coast Regional Director.
“We are excited to have NCSY Connect as one of our many partnerships.” explains Jeremy Kugelman, Strategic Partnerships and Recruitment Manager for Israel Free Spirit. “These initiatives allow Israel Free Spirit to send over 2,000 young adults annually on Birthright Israel trips.”