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Chico Hillel heads to Israel

Chico’s Hillel club is currently preparing for a trip to Israel. Photo credit: Ryan Corrall

As finals week draws near, nine students are preparing for a personal pilgrimage.

The students are members of Chico State’s Jewish student union, Hillel, and they will embark on a trip to Israel’s most important religious and political sites early this summer.

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Hillel is the largest Jewish campus organization in the world and is present at more than 550 universities throughout the world. Photo credit: Ryan Corrall

The trip is organized by Birthright Israel as a way for young Jews to experience a stronger cultural connection with Israel.

“I’m looking forward to getting more in touch with my Jewish roots,” said Katelyn Garger, senior liberal studies major.

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Katelyn Garger is a member of Chico Hillel. Photo credit: Ryan Corrall

At an orientation meeting on April 19, students spoke about their reasons and hopes for the trip.

“I want to go because I didn’t grow up with a ton of information about Judaism, and so I really just want to learn more about the culture, the history and religion,” said Erin Howard, a senior child development major. “I definitely want to see all these amazing places that sort of span the history of the world.”

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Erin Howard hopes to gain a better understanding of her faith. Photo credit: Ryan Corrall

According to the Pew Research Center, there are 14 million religious and non-religious Jews in the world, with only about six million living in Israel. Thus, a birthright trip is an opportunity for many Jews to visit the birthplace of their religion, culture and language.

For Chico Hillel students, it undergirds their Jewish identity.

“A birthright trip is about bringing Jews from all around the world to experience the homeland and everything it has to offer and bring unity to the Jewish people,” Garger said.

Students will be visiting a combination of religious and culturally significant sites throughout their 10-day journey, such as:

· Western Wall, the last remnant of the Second Temple in Jerusalem and thus the holiest site in Judaism

· Independence Hall in Tel Aviv, the site of Israel’s Declaration of Independence

· Masada, the historical site of one of Herod the Great’s fortifications

· Yad Vashem, the world Holocaust remembrance center in Jerusalem

“It’s important to keeping the religion and culture alive so we don’t lose it, because it’s so easy to lose touch with who we actually are,” said Jeffrey Allen, a senior fine arts major.

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Jeffrey Allen believes the trip will help him learn more about Jewish cuture. Photo credit: Ryan Corrall

The birthright trip also aims to give students the opportunity to experience Israel and its people beyond the media reports, said Kristy Bresette, executive director of Hillel.

“It’s to show that Israel is not what you see on TV, that it’s not about the media, it’s not about politics, it’s not about violence,” she said. “You’re walking down the street with Christians and Muslims and Jews happily just wanting to live their lives, and it’s portrayed really negatively through media. So I think this is an experience to actually put students on the ground to experience through a safe trip together, to navigate what the land of milk and honey really is.”

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Kristy Bresette is the executive director of Hillel. Photo credit: Ryan Corrall

Students will depart May 25, and many have decided to remain in Israel throughout the summer.

Molly Sullivan can be reached at [email protected] or @SullivanMollyM on Twitter.

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