Paige Escoe has wanted to visit Israel since she had her bat mitzvah at 13; now 20 she will finally have that opportunity this summer with the help of a program that wants to give a free trip to Israel to every Jewish young adult.
Escoe, a Sophomore at California State University – Fresno, and a group of 40 other young adults will embark on a special trip to Israel this summer to connect with their roots and history during the Taglit–Birthright Israel trip. Hosted by URJ Kesher and paid for by donations, the group will be the first birthright trip from Santa Clarita.
“I think the program itself is such an important part of the American Jewish community today,” explained Mark Blazer, Rabbi of Temple Beth Ami who helped put the group together and will chaperone the June trip. “This is the first time any synagogue in Santa Clarita has ever launched a birthright trip from the Santa Clarita Valley.”
Under the Taglit program, which means discovery, young adults ages 18 to 26 are given a free trip to Israel, with one condition, they have not attended a birthright trip in the past. URJ Kesher has sent over 200,000 young people on free trips to Israel.
“This has been a dream of my grandmothers, she wanted all her grandchildren to be able to experience going to the Holy Land,” said Escoe. “She passed away in 2012, so I’m not only doing this for the experience, but also in honor of her.”
Rachel Voltz, 20, is a junior at California State University – Channel Islands. When her dad told her Blazer was organizing a birthright trip from Santa Clarita she was excited to apply, saying it was a fairly easy process.
“I think this is important no matter what religion you are or what you believe,” explained Voltz. “This goes back to history and it has spiritual meaning, it is a holy place. It’s really a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
The group will embark on a 10 day adventure in Israel beginning June 19. The trip provides attendees unique experiences in Israel, including visiting the Dead Sea, the Western Wall, climbing the mountain fortress Masada at dawn, and riding camels.
“We read in the Bible where our ancestors walked, its important to see what they experienced and go through the same steps,” said Escoe.
Escoe said she is looking forward to the trip. Friends and family members who have gone on past birthright trips from other areas have all said the experience changed them for the better.
“The most important take way is the connection these young people have to Israel and that they know there is always a connection to the rest of the Jewish world too,” said Blazer. “Its also an important step in the growth of our community.”
Past attendees have shared their take on the trip, explaining it offered them historical perspective and deep spiritual enrichment. Sabbath services, prayers and Bible studies are also hosted during the trip, in a attempt to offer the attendees a link the greater spirituality of Judaism.
“My relationship with God has grown as I’ve gotten older, so it means so much more to me now,” said Voltz. “I feel a part of me will come back as a new born soul.”
Blazer explained Jews often stand facing in the direction of Israel during everyday prayers. For the students to be at center of where the energy and spirituality is focused can often be a very spiritually enlightening experience.
“This is in many ways one of the deepest spiritual connections I have as Jew, the connection to Israel,” said Blazer. “People around the world face toward Jerusalem in their prayers, its pretty overwhelming and a powerful experience.”
For more information about the birthright trip organization URJ Kesher, visit gokesher.org.