Reflecting on Transformative Trips to Israel



June 7, 2023

RootOne is an organization that helps thousands of Jewish teens travel to Israel during their high school years. Many of those students go on to become leaders in their campus Hillels. The stories of these transformative trips are a snapshot into what inspires students to become leaders who are proud of their Jewish identities. Stay tuned as we share more of their stories.

Hailing from Houston, Texas, Serena Schwartz is a second-year student at the University of Kansas with a major in Psychology and a minor in Applied Behavioral Science. With support from RootOne, Serena went to Israel in the summer of 2021 on a trip with Kehillah High, a Jewish educational program in Houston. She shared that the trip to Israel brought her closer to Judaism and allowed her to explore many different ways Judaism is practiced. After returning home, Serena wanted to pursue more opportunities to stay connected Jewishly, even while being away from her family and the synagogue she grew up in. She first heard about Hillel from friends at her synagogue and decided to get involved. Serena is now a programming intern at KU Hillel and is excited to continue to build her personal Jewish community through Hillel.

During the summer of 2021, Logan Draluck received funding from RootOne to travel to Israel with Southern NCSY. Logan often reflects that traveling to Israel in high school inspired him to continue participating in Israel-related activities and to become an Israel advocate on campus. When Logan arrived on campus at the University of Central Florida as a first-year student, he immediately got involved in Hillel. Logan attends Shabbat programming at UCF Hillel every week, participates in the Jewish Learning Fellowship, and volunteered at Hillel’s Israel Block party. He shared, “Being able to spend a month in Israel with people who have become lifelong friends of mine, is something that I am very grateful for. I grew in my Judaism and life experience through this trip. It was the first time that I observed Shabbat for multiple weeks in a row and kept kosher for an extended amount of time, which inspired me to continue these practices in college. I am forever thankful for those experiences.”

Hadassah Sternfeld’s trip to Israel, which was made possible through funding from RootOne, gave her the ability to travel with her closest friends and the opportunity to strengthen her connection to Judaism and Israel. She reflected, “I felt so at home in Israel, and being able to share this experience with friends I cared about truly meant the world to me. Each and every memory from my trip will last a lifetime, and I am beyond grateful to have had the chance to take such an impactful journey.”

Hadassah’s Israel experience gave her a sense of independence when it comes to her Judaism, and the University of Florida Hillel has given her opportunities to further explore that independence. Hadassah started her involvement with UF Hillel through attending services, which later led to her current roles as Director of Conservative Jewish Life, Assistant Director for the Leaders of Change program, and a member of UF Challah for Hunger’s Executive Board.

Victoria went to Israel during the summer of 2021 with support from RootOne. She shares, “Going to Israel was the best thing I have ever done. The trip connected me to my Judaism in ways I could have never imagined. I made lifelong friends who I am still in contact with today.” While on the trip, Victoria realized that finding a vibrant Jewish community as part of her college experience was a high priority. This realization drew Victoria to Brown University to study public health. 

 Victoria got involved with Hillel on the first day she stepped onto campus. She is particularly proud of her leadership in Brown RISD Hillel’s Students for Israel club. Victoria connects her involvement in Hillel to her experience in Israel. She explains, “The trip made me realize the importance of being involved in a vibrant Jewish community. I am now a strong advocate on my college campus for Israel’s right to self-determination and making sure that Jewish students feel proud and safe around campus.”

In the summer of 2021, thanks to a grant from RootOne, Jess participated in BBYO’s International Leadership Seminar in Israel, which she described as a life changing experience. One of the most profound parts of the trip for Jess was her visit to the Western Wall, “The moment that solidified my faith and pride in my heritage was the moment I touched the Western Wall for the first time. I felt the thousands of years of history before me, and it made me realize just how resilient our people are. After that, my friends and I stood further away from the Wall, put our arms around each other, and recited the Shema, my favorite prayer.” 

Jess’s experience in Israel inspired her to choose a school with a vibrant Jewish community when applying to colleges. At University of Maryland, she got involved in Hillel shortly after arriving on campus. Hillel offered Jess the opportunity to explore other aspects of Judaism which has been an interest of hers since her trip to Israel. Jess also serves on the board of Ruach, the Reform Jewish student group at University of Maryland Hillel.