Four Uof L Students Went on Birthright Israel Trip over Winter Break

[by Shiela Steinman Wallace]

Josh Goodman, Dan Gomby, Bailey Haskell and Prov Krivoshey are all college students at the University of Louisville and all are active with Hillel. Now, they have something else in common, too. The four of them participated in the Birthright Israel trip sponsored by the Midwest Consortium of Partnership Together (formerly Partnership with Israel) over winter break.

The trip, from December 28-January 8, took the travelers from the Western Galilee, Louisville’s Partnership region in northern Israel, to Sderot in the Negev Desert near Gaza, and many places in between.

They stopped at the Western Wall and Yad Vashem. Everywhere they went, their tour guide made historical connections – not just with Jewish history, but with all the other cultures that were part of the land at various times.

“Learning about Israeli history and the Palestinian conflict intrigued me. I remember learning about Jerusalem, the Western Wall and the Dead Sea in grade school, but I never thought I’d actually see it all,” Krivoshey said. “It seemed like I was visiting a fictional land of fairytales.”

For Goodman, a few things really stood out. “We were in the Western Galilee for first Shabbat, so going out that Friday night, we got to connect with the people of the area. … You think Israel is all desert, but the Western Galilee is lush and green.”


In S’fat, he, Krivoshey and another friend were just walking around and enjoying themselves. “We went by a Chabad place, and they put tefillin on us,” he said.

“I’m a musician,” Goodman noted, “and the whole arts community there is really cool.”

“Jaffa and Jerusalem were my favorite cities,” Krivoshey added. “Jaffa had cool architecture and great art galleries.” He also enjoyed covering himself with mud at the Dead Sea.

Seeing Sderot left a deep impression on Goodman. Located just across the border from Gaza, this small southern Israeli town is often subject to rocket attacks. In the 10 seconds between the sounding of the Tzeva Adom (Code Red) and the impact of the rocket, residents have to get to a safe place, so the residents have built bunkers all over town. “They’re O.K. with living there despite the fear,” he said. “They’ve had to find a way to make a good life.”

“It was surreal,” Haskell added. “We stood on a hill and looked into Gaza. We saw a video first and I was terrified to get off the bus. Everywhere else I felt safe. Sderot is a gorgeous city, but people are scared there every day of their lives. Even the playgrounds have bomb shelters.” Yet somehow they’ve made the city their home.

Haskell enjoyed climbing Masada. “It was exhilarating and very pretty,” she observed, “and at the top, I had a sense of accomplishment and there was an awesome view.” On the way down, the group passed a bar mitzvah in progress, which she said was “very cool.”

The group not only observed that bar mitzvah, they participated in one. Goodman and Haskell “renewed our bar and bat mitzvah overlooking Jerusalem,” Haskell explained. “We all said a speech about what the trip meant. … It was a good way to reevaluate and restablish our religion and our connection to it.”

Gomby participated by holding the Torah.

His favorite part was “when we went to the Bedouin tents and got to camp out and see how a non-Jewish culture lives in Israel. That was the same day we rode camels and trekked out into the desert at night for half an hour. That was cool,” he continued, “like a throwback to the Torah.”

The food was good, too. “Falafel, shawarma, hummus and all the cuisine I couldn’t identify was delicious,” Krivoshey said. “I tried everything.”

Goodman also learned about some of the political situation in Israel. Coexistence with the Arab population in Israel is not easy. He said he met an Israeli Arab who is pro-Israel, but she is not trusted by either Jewish Israelis or the Palestinians. “Arab Israelis don’t fit in anywhere,” he said, “and that was shocking to me. People don’t understand that.”

Gomby found it shocking to learn there is a lot of slander in the news about Israel. For example, he explained, there are frequent reports of bombings which make people feel that Israel is not a safe place to visit, “but when I was over there, I realized it is one of the most peaceful places to visit. It was like a giant national park – a very peaceful place overall.
Each participant was deeply affected by the trip.

“I want to be even more involved with the community here than I have been,” Haskell said. “I’ve considered looking into a long-term career in the Jewish community. I want to make my faith part of my life forever.” This trip “made me want that more.”

“I’ve always connected to my religion,” Goodman added, “but this trip made me closer with Jewish culture. I want to make a bigger deal with the Sabbath and get people over on Friday night once a month to do candles and fix challah.”

“I came from a much more Jewish area, West Hartford, CT,” Gomby explained. When he came to Louisville, he found himself in the minority for the first time. “Going back to a place that is majority Jewish was pretty interesting and really powerful.”

“I think a big purpose of the trip was for people to realize that you don’t have to be religious to be Jewish,” Krivoshey observed. “I sense that most of the group embraced their Judaism more than ever before after returning home. I definitely do.”

For him, “the trip to Israel was very inspirational and I’m considering taking next semester off [to go back]. I’m currently looking for a five-month program to volunteer on a kibbutz.”

The others are looking into summer programs or longer programs that they can do at a later date.

The Louisville delegation was part of a group of 39 Americans, many of whom came from Pennsylvania State University. For half the trip, they were joined by eight Israelis. Over winter break, Birthright Israel brought more than 3,000 participants from all over the world to Israel, and one night, the entire group gathered in a giant stadium for a mega event that included a concert, a dance and some speakers. They were joined by some Israelis, including some soldiers.

The Louisville delegation described the experience as cool, exciting, moving and an opportunity to connect with other “Jewish kids,” Israelis and soldiers. They were particularly impressed that Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu came to speak to them in person that night.

“He took time from his schedule to talk to Birthright and tell us this is our homeland,” Haskell said.

They are all grateful for the opportunity Birthright Israel gave them for this wonderful trip. It gave them a taste of Israel and a desire to return. “It literally changes your life,” Haskell said. “I highly recommend it. Everyone should go. It was extremely fun and I can’t wait to go back.”


Leave a Reply