This winter, Jewish students will be able to stay with the soldiers for the whole 10-day Birthright Israel trip, thanks to the Birthright Israel Collaborative Enhancement Project, or BICEP, said UF Hillel’s director of Israel engagement Gia Campana.
UF Hillel is one of 22 Hillels in the country chosen to be a BICEP campus, Campana said. BICEP allows students on the Birthright Israel trip — a free 10-day trip to Israel for Jewish people aged 18-26 — to immerse themselves in Israeli culture even further.
Taft, 21, said she thinks having the soldiers stay the full time, rather than five days, will help immerse students in Israeli culture.
The program also provides students with opportunities to meet with Israeli officials and take trips to places such as the Israel Defense Forces base, Campana said.
Out of approximately 500 Hillels worldwide, UF’s took the most students on the trip last year — about 160 total, Campana said. This growth and commitment to the trip is why UF Hillel was chosen to be a BICEP campus.
"We value what Birthright is and what it does for people, and we want to utilize Birthright as part of our mission," she said.
CEO of UF Hillel Rabbi Adam Grossman said he hopes the BICEP program will help students make connections after they return from the trip. BICEP also funds after-Birthright trips around the U.S.
"It enhances an individual’s connection to their own identity and allows them to utilize that to enhance their career opportunities and connect more deeply with the social purpose," he said.
Campana said there isn’t a guarantee the program will continue in the future, so students should apply for the trip now. There is no set deadline to apply for the trip, but Campana said it will likely be the end of October.
Taft said she hopes students going on the trips feel a greater connection to her favorite country.
"We learn about it and we hear about it," she said, "but to experience it firsthand is a whole different thing."
Contact Alexandra Fernandez at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @alexmfern