OU Brings First Group of American Young Adults to Israel After COVID Hiatus


After a year without Birthright Israel trips for young adults from across the United States, the first group arrived in Tel Aviv in late May organized and operated by the Orthodox Union’s (OU) Israel Free Spirit.

The group, made up of 17 fully vaccinated young adults from diverse Jewish backgrounds, 14 of them from the US and 3 from Israel, traveled for eight days throughout Israel, including Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Masada, the Golan Heights and Dead Sea. The U.S. participants hail from Connecticut, Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania. The Israeli participants joined as a way for participants to better connect with and understand daily life of their counterparts.

In compliance with the COVID-19 Israel border entry guidelines, each tour group, or “bus,” was reduced in size to a maximum of 20 participants, and all individuals who joined were required to be vaccinated, present negative PCR test results before flying, and undergo serological testing upon arrival in Israel. “This has been 15 months where many college students and young adults were isolated at home. Combined with the recent rise in antisemitic attacks here in the United States, it only reinforces how vital it is for our young adults to feel connected both to each other and our homeland, which is precisely the reason this program is so essential at this time,” said OU President Moishe Bane.

“In our most anxious moments, the Jewish people have turned their hearts, minds, and prayers towards Jerusalem, the city that connects us to each other. How apropos that now, after surviving a pandemic and as we begin to see both a frightening resurgence of antisemitism and challenges to the sense of the Jewish collective, these young adults will be able to feel a connection to the Jerusalem they’ve now seen from up close,” said OU Executive Vice President Rabbi Moshe Hauer.

“Israel Free Spirit’s trips provide unparalleled experiences that help young adults build direct connections with the land and people of Israel, thereby tying them to their heritage. These times of uncertainty have only made these trips more vital,” he added.

The Orthodox Union’s Israel Free Spirit has been an official Birthright Israel trip organizer since 1999. The organization provides free trips to Israel for young Jewish adults of any background. For many, the trip serves as their first time connecting with Israel and their Jewish identity in a deep way. Israel Free Spirit looks forward to continuing to welcome groups throughout the summer and beyond now that Israel’s borders have opened for Birthright Israel tours.

“We’re thrilled to be the first organization, and Birthright Israel group, granted entry to Israel after such a long break,” said Director of OU Israel Free Spirit Yael Tamari. “This trip is a gift for the participants and our team worked hard to ensure a safe, meaningful, and fun trip for them.”

Founded in 1898, the Orthodox Union, (OU), serves as the voice of American Orthodox Jewry, with over 400 congregations in its synagogue network. As the umbrella organization for American Orthodox Jewry, the OU is at the forefront of advocacy work on both state and federal levels, outreach to Jewish teens and young professionals through NCSY, Israel Free Spirit Birthright, Yachad and OU Press, among many other divisions and programs. For more information, visit www.ou.org.

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