As their school year drew to a close, nearly 200 undergraduate student leaders from America’s top colleges and universities—including 36 from NYU and Rutgers—closed the book on their academic studies and readied themselves for a spiritual adventure. With their sights set on exploration and introspection, the group of elite students boarded flights for Israel to jumpstart the summer with an identity-building experience unlike any other.
Run by MEOR (www.MEOR.org), a non-profit organization dedicated to inspiring, educating and empowering Jewish students at top universities across the country, the 18-day MEOR Israel program affords students the opportunity to delve deep into their heritage through classes with dynamic teachers on topics such as Jewish leadership, relationships and philosophy while exploring Israel’s rich and varied historic, geographic, recreational and cultural landscape. These unique Israel experiences allow students to build powerful connections to Israel as part of their burgeoning Jewish identities.
“Our students consistently mention that the combination of engaging classes taught by engaging educators and exciting, atypical touring experiences makes MEOR Israel the ultimate platform for self-discovery and exploration of Jewish heritage and identity. Year after year, they return home inspired to seek out additional Jewish engagement opportunities and ways to connect to Israel,” said Debra Kodish, MEOR’s executive vice president.
“By design, MEOR Israel provides participants with the opportunity to discover facets of Israel that are not usually on the itinerary. This makes for a richer and even more impactful experience.”
Between May 14 and June 9, four different groups participated in the MEOR Israel program, including students from Boston University, Emory, George Washington, Brandeis, Cornell, NYU, Temple, Rutgers, Tufts, Binghamton, the University of Maryland and the University of Pennsylvania. At the farewell banquets held for each group, the students expressed their deepest gratitude to the MEOR educators for their guidance throughout the extraordinary journey and made it clear that MEOR Israel was among the most meaningful and enjoyable excursions of their college careers.
“MEOR Israel cemented my relationship with Israel and connected me to Judaism. As Soviet Jews, my family suffered severe persecution and then faced discrimination as Jewish immigrants when they arrived in the United States. It has been a long road, but after this trip, I am finally inspired to take pride in my Jewish identity,” said Andrew Tetyevsky, a senior at NYU.
Yosepha Morrison, a student at Rutgers, added that she greatly appreciated MEOR’s unique approach to leadership training, which encourages participants to really think. “The learning and touring on MEOR Israel helped me realize just how connected I feel to the Jewish people and to Israel. I will take what I have learned here and show others what Israel and Judaism truly represent.”
While some of the students had never been to Israel before, quite a few had participated in one or more organized trips to the Holy Land. Still, they explained that the structure of the program, attentiveness of the staff and warmth of the group helped them appreciate Israel on an entirely different level.
“I had been to Israel a few times before, but MEOR Israel was totally different,” explained Peter Danis, a senior at the University of Maryland. “The trip incorporated deep conversations about ethics, morality and spirituality, and the educators were so insightful and approachable. They helped us consider the big picture and reflect on what’s truly important in life.”
Anna Goodman, a student from George Washington University, added that the experience was the spiritual wakeup call that she so desperately needed. “MEOR Israel has inspired me to do everything I can to incorporate Jewish values and lessons into my everyday life. I have learned that Judaism means living a life of meaning and purpose to better the world around me, and I need to get started.”
By Elie Klein