OU’s Israel Free Spirit was first Birthright post-covid trip to Israel
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OU’s Israel Free Spirit was first Birthright post-covid trip to Israel

Maya Kessler is in the front row, fourth from left, and Samantha Marshak is pictured, third from the right in the front. (Courtesy Israel Free Spirit)
Maya Kessler is in the front row, fourth from left, and Samantha Marshak is pictured, third from the right in the front. (Courtesy Israel Free Spirit)

After a year without Birthright Israel trips, which takes young adults from across North America to Israel, trips resumed. The first group arrived in Tel Aviv in late May. It was organized and operated by the Orthodox Union’s Israel Free Spirit. Maya Kessler of Scotch Plains and Samantha Marshak of Branchburg were among 17 fully vaccinated participants, who come from diverse Jewish backgrounds in New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania. Israelis also joined the trip, to help the Americans understand life in Israel.

In compliance with Israel’s covid-19 border entry guidelines, each tour group was allowed a maximum of 20 participants, and each one had to be vaccinated, present negative PCR test results before flying, and undergo serological testing upon arrival in Israel. “This has been 15 months where many college students and young adults were isolated at home,” the OU’s president, Moishe Bane, said. “Combined with the recent rise in anti-Semitic attacks here in the United States, it only reinforces how vital it is for our young adults to feel connected both to each other and our homeland, which is precisely the reason this program is so essential at this time.”

“In our most anxious moments, the Jewish people have turned their hearts, minds, and prayers towards Jerusalem, the city that connects us to each other,” the OU’s executive vice president, Rabbi Moshe Hauer, said. “How apropos that now, after surviving a pandemic and as we begin to see both a frightening resurgence of anti-Semitism and challenges to the sense of the Jewish collective, these young adults will be able to feel a connection to the Jerusalem they’ve now seen from up close.

“Israel Free Spirit’s trips provide unparalleled experiences that help young adults build direct connections with the land and people of Israel, thereby tying them to their heritage. These times of uncertainty have only made these trips more vital,” he added.

The Orthodox Union’s Israel Free Spirit has been an official Birthright Israel trip organizer since 1999. The organization provides free trips to Israel for young Jewish adults of any background. For many, the trip is the first time they connect with Israel and their Jewish identity in a deep way. Israel Free Spirit looks forward to continuing to welcome groups throughout the summer and beyond now that Israel’s borders have opened for Birthright Israel tours.

“We’re thrilled to be the first organization, and Birthright Israel group, granted entry to Israel after such a long break,” OU’s Israel Free Spirit director, Yael Tamari, said. “This trip is a gift for the participants, and our team worked hard to ensure a safe, meaningful, and fun trip for them.” Go to ou.org.

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