Dozens of college students took advantage of their summer break to visit Israel with Chabad on Campus’ IsraeLinks, completing the second trip this month. Led by scholar in-residence Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Jacobson, along with Rabbi Yosef and Devora Wilhelm of Chabad of the Upper East Side, IsraeLinks took the enthusiastic students on a thrilling journey filled with fun and meaning.
“It’s not merely a sightseeing tour – though the sights are beautiful,” says Rabbi Yossy Gordon, Executive Vice-President of Chabad on Campus International Foundation. “IsraeLinks is about bringing Judaism and Jewish priorities to life in a manner that gives it modern day relevance.”
Students were visibly moved by their experiences. One student shared his feelings with Rabbi Yossi Witkes – Director of IsraeLinks, along with his wife Chaya – telling him; “Walking along the paths of our forefather Abraham connects me to our roots. It’s hard to describe the feeling inside as you stroll through these holy cities.” Indeed, IsraeLinks took the students not only to traditionally-visited cities such as Jerusalem, Tzfat and Tiberias, but also, after discussion with security authorities, to the city of Chevron, a vital place in Jewish history often overlooked by organized tours to the Holy Land.
IsraeLinks’ impact on the students was immediately apparent. Many are now committed to Shabbat observance and other mitzvot. Over 25 percent of alumni plan on furthering their Jewish education on a full or part-time basis once they return to university or on completion of their college studies. Most importantly, all Israelinks participants are firmly committed to marrying Jews.
This is the 5th season of IsraeLinks by Chabad on Campus. “It’s not just the short term results which are exciting,” says Witkes, “it’s the long term impact that really motivates us.“
“We have a married couple celebrating their first anniversary this year, having met on IsraeLinks in 2009. Out of over 350 Israelinks alumni, dozens are now living in Israel.”
It is of great significance that a large portion of IsraeLinks alumni have returned home and assumed leadership positions within their local communal and educational institutions. Rabbi YY Jacobson, Scholar in Residence of the July trip, enthused; ”If you were to ask me what can reverse the tide of assimilation today, I would rank such trips in the top three of the list; in three weeks, you transform the lives of many Jewish students…”