HBHA Alumni find new appreciation for Israel on Birthright


photo by neal schuster

Eliana Schuster

photo by neal schuster
Sarah Herman (left), Avery Parkhurst, and Hannah Caplan enjoyed their Birthright trip to Israel. Photo by Neal Schuster.

Taglit-Birthright is an organization that sponsors free, ten day trips to Israel for Jewish young adults. Last year, Birthright eliminated the policy that used to restrict anyone who had already been on an organized trip to Israel from participating. Now that any Jewish young adult can go to Israel with Birthright (as long as they have not been on an organized trip as an adult), Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy (HBHA) alumni can go on the trip, despite the fact that most HBHA students go to Israel in Upper School. HBHA students have traveled to Israel in ninth grade and on the Jewish Heritage trip that the 11th and 12th grade students take every other year. Each January, The University of Kansas Hillel leads 40 students on a Birthright trip. This year, three HBHA alumni, Hannah Caplan (2012), Sarah Herman (2013), and Avery Parkhurst (2013) were among these 40 students.

Caplan went to Israel with her HBHA classmates in ninth grade. “Birthright and the HBHA trip I went on freshman year were similar in the sense that we traveled to the same areas,” Caplan recalled, “but the experiences themselves were completely different. My HBHA Israel trip was with eight other people that I had known for an extended period of time and that I had known on a level deeper than just friendship, they were family. Going on Birthright, we created our own small family within just ten short days of being together.”

Herman went on the HBHA Israel trip in 2012, and has now been to Israel four times. She shared, “It was very fun going on the [Birthright] trip with Hannah and Avery. Through HBHA we all learned Hebrew and learned about the sites, so when we visited the sites it made them much more meaningful.”

Parkhurst went to Israel in high school but not with HBHA. He described that “everytime I go to Israel I get something different out of it. While in the past, my trips to Israel have been mostly about forming my religious identity and core beliefs about Judaism, this trip gave me a new understanding of Israeli life and culture.”

Herman noted that “Birthright was very different than all trips because on Birthright, each group is paired with Israeli soldiers. These soldiers are participants on the trip just like us. They… tour Israel and experience the same things that we do.” Parkhurst also mentioned that the presence of eight Israeli soldiers “really had an impact on [his] life.”

Caplan told of the differences between her two Israel trip experiences, “I think every time you go to Israel, the experience is completely different than the previous one. You will never be in the same moment with the same people again. I will never be with forty-five other people, standing on Mount Herzl as we listen to a soldier, our friend, recount his experience in Protective Edge. I won’t ever be in a park near the Knesset having a snowball fight with the people in my group. But I will also never be standing on the beach with my [HBHA] classmates, my closest friends for the past ten years of my life, and I won’t ever be looking over Jerusalem with all of them as we say Kiddush and Shehecheyanu because it was most of our first times in Israel. The places we went were similar: the Kinneret and Golan Heights, Jerusalem, Bedouin tents, the Dead Sea, Tel-Aviv, etc. but… the experiences were different because of who we were with.”

“My favorite part of the trip was eating dinner at one of the soldiers homes,” Herman recounted. “Each participant could choose a house to go to. I chose to go to a soldier named Hadar’s house. Not only did her family welcome us with open arms but they cooked us the best meal [that I] had on the trip.”

Parkhurst mentioned that the “most memorable [part of the trip] was the day spent on mount Herzl, where all of us, Israeli and American alike, stood together to remember fallen soldiers, some of whom were close comrades of our friends.”

Caplan recalled that the atmosphere of the kibbutz that they visited reminded her of HBHA “in how open and accepting they are to people of all different backgrounds, and in the sense that they want to make the world a better place for the future.”

“Being at HBHA and growing up in a Jewish home, I always believed in my Judaism and believed in my connection to Israel,” Caplan described, “but had never felt it deep down. After going on Birthright, I finally found the love for Israel and the deep sense of Judaism that I always spoke about, but never felt deep down in my core.”

“As always,” Parkhurst noted, “this trip really solidified my connection to Israel as my true home, and has caused me to more fully consider joining the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) after college.”

Caplan, Herman, and Parkhurst returned from Israel on 16 Jan., each with different experiences, memories, and highlights, but all agreeing on one thing: Their time at HBHA affected the relationships that they now have with Israel. As Herman said, “HBHA truly helped me appreciate Israel, and make it not just a destination, but a home.”