Rabbi Dov Hillel Klein departed yesterday with 41 students for his 30th Birthright Israel trip – a record among Jewish campus professionals. For 28 years, he has served as executive director of the Tannenbaum Chabad on Campus center for students at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., and each trip, he says, feels like his first.
Since Birthright’s founding 13 years ago, Klein has brought more than 1,200 students and young adults to the Jewish state under the auspices of Taglit-Birthright Israel: Mayanot. For its campus-based trips, Mayanot partners with the Chabad on Campus International Foundation to bring thousands of students to Israel each year.
“I feel there is no better way to impact our young adults than by taking them to Israel,” he said. “Jewish continuity is a priority within the Jewish community today, and what better way to discuss and learn about one’s heritage, faith and roots than by experiencing all that Israel has to offer.”
When asked how he has been able to lead so many trips, the rabbi replied: “For me, each time I go to Israel is like going for the first time because I have the opportunity to see it through our participants’ eyes. The Birthright experience enables our students to laugh, learn and even cry as they come to understand what Israel means to the Jewish people and to them as individuals.”
“Rabbi Klein and Birthright have changed my life,” said Cassidy Artz, a senior at Northwestern. “My appreciation for being Jewish has never been so profound and important to me.”
Following graduation, Artz plans to pursue graduate studies and research in Israel. Many of Klein’s Birthright alumni have returned there for study-abroad programs, internships, jobs, graduate school, Judaic study and even to make aliyah. Several have also joined the Israel Defense Force.
Matthew Morton, a graduate of Northwestern, believes that the presence of a rabbi “adds a level of spirituality, wisdom and history that a tour guide would not necessarily have been able to offer.”
“This trip provided me with some great clarity,” said Northwestern alumnus Justin Lieder, an actor in Chicago, who adds that he was able “to see Judaism and Israel in a clearer light – a light I could look into and understand. Birthright was an eye-opening, enlightening, exciting, reassuring and fun experience. I know I will go back to Israel again someday.”
Stanley Kay, a senior and past president of the Delta Chi Fraternity at Northwestern, agrees. “The trip didn’t live up to my expectations; it shattered them.” He credits his positive experience to Klein, “an energetic, fun-loving, knowledgeable and hilarious trip leader.”
“I look back at my trip and cannot imagine it being better than it was,” he said. “I have a better sense of my Jewish identity and history after experiencing Israel, and my connection with Israel and its people is greater than ever.”