The Virginia bus to Israel keeps on rolling

March 11, 2016

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In front of the Western Wall.

In front of the Western Wall.

“What makes each trip unique for you?”

After returning from leading my 27th Birthright Israel trip, this question continues to be asked. This past winter season was somewhat unique because of the security situation in the Holy Land. Birthright Israel mandated that every trip have two armed guards versus the one that had accompanied us on previous trips. The other uniqueness of this trip was that it was very cold and rainy. The itinerary, therefore, was altered to reflect these realities and we needed to be more creative than usual in order to get the most out of our time in Israel.

Instead of going to the Western Wall on Shabbat, for example, we had to stay in the hotel. At first I was not happy about this, but in the end, I was surprised. At our hotel was a special needs Birthright Israel group named Yachad. When this group sat down next to us for Shabbos dinner, there was an awkward feeling in the air. My students did not know what to do, how to act or what to say to them. Within a few minutes, however, all of that changed. Students from my trip started to sing and dance with the Yachad trip. Within a short amount of time, the groups were together, celebrating Shabbos as Jews, not as two trips. While this is typically the feeling that we get at the Western Wall, this trip was different. We turned the hotel into the Kotel.

Students on my trip came from many colleges and universities around Virginia, including Old Dominion University, Christopher Newport University, William and Mary, Virginia Commonwealth University, Virginia Military Institute, Washington & Lee, and others.

The “Virginia Bus” as it has come to be known, takes 40 students twice a year and goes all over Israel, exploring the country and learning about Jewish heritage. It is completely free and run by an organization called Israel Free Spirit, a project of the Orthodox Union. Students of all denominations and backgrounds are welcome.

This summer, trip number 28 for me, the Virginia bus will depart on May 23 and return June 3. Those who are interested should contact me to get on the “Virginia Bus.”

On the way to the airport in Israel, a recent participant from Virginia Beach, Edo Mor, said, “This was an amazing 10-day experience. It changed my life forever.”

As long as there are students to bring to Israel, the “Virginia Bus” will keep rolling.

by Rabbi Gershon Litt

—Rabbi Gershon Litt is the executive director at the Norfolk Kollel, rabbi at Adath Jeshurun Synagogue, director of the Hillels at William and Mary and CNU, and rabbi of the Commodore Levy Chapel at Naval Station Norfolk

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