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Hillel sponsors free trips to Israel for adventuresome Jewish students

Forty Florida Atlantic University students will travel to Israel for free. And “free means free,” insists Hillel’s director of Jewish life at FAU, Brandey Edelson.

Edelson said that Hillel, a foundation established to strengthen Jewish life on college campuses across the globe, will bankroll the 10-day peregrination with money it receives from philanthropists, including a partial subsidy from the Israeli government. That translates to complimentary transportation, hotels, food and souvenirs.

In fact, 40 FAU students travel to Israel at no cost every summer. And in addition to the summer adventure, Edelson said the organization also funds a 40-student winter excursion.

More than 700 FAU students have traveled to Israel, at no cost, since Hillel formed on FAU’s Boca Raton campus 10 years ago. Hillel, has sent over 200,000 people to Israel from more than 52 countries, Edelson said.

Dane Taylor, a junior studying multimedia communication at FAU, said Hillel denied his request to go on the winter trip last fall. Taylor says Hillel told him that he lacked an essential characteristic: He wasn’t Jewish.

Hillel requires that a student profess Jewish beliefs to make the trip. Edelson quips “that Jewish people don’t carry around an identification card,” so she interviews every applicant to investigate their Jewish assertions.

She asks students, “What was your favorite Jewish memory? What synagogue do you attend? Are your parents Jewish?” After the interview, she checks up on the applicant on Facebook and looks for fibs.

Edelson says the selected students have to place a $250 deposit on a credit card to cover any damage during the trip. Hillel refunded the money at the end of the trip if the student was not responsible for any damage.

However, if organization leaders discover that a student lied about being Jewish, they would send that student home immediately and bill him or her $3,500 — the tab for the trip.

Adam Epstein, an FAU student who went on the adventure in 2007, said that Hillel organizes the trip because the group believes that every Jewish person deserves to see Israel at least once.

Epstein said he made lasting friendships while he explored the desert in Israel. He even had an “ahah moment” which he says “came on the last night of Hanukkah at Shabbat dinner where he saw hundreds of people there praying, singing and dancing.”



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