West Coast NCSY Connect, an initiative for NCSY alumni, launched a new program this year, providing trips to Israel as a gift under the umbrella of Birthright Israel and OU’s Israel Free Spirit. The program received an overwhelming response, with eighty young adults – two full buses – attending the first trip this past winter and another eighty going this summer, with a long waiting list as well.
“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 Birthright Israel Free Spirit NCSY Connect 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.
Aaron Brentwood, who also participated in the winter trip, was so inspired by the experience that he is currently planning on making aliyah. He says that Israel turned out to be completely different from what he’d expected. The most memorable part of the trip for Aaron was Shabbat spent at the Kotel, which coincided with the first night of Chanukah.
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.
Deborah 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 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.
“We are really excited to participate in this special partner program; sending a combined 160 West Coast NCSY alumni to Israel in Winter 2016 and Summer 2017,” added Rina Emerson, West Coast Regional Director. “The Birthright Israel Free Spirit NCSY Connect buses sent 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.”