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Birthright group

Madeline Kowall and Zach Raizman

Brian Sholom


by Rhonda Spivak , September 27, 2011

Winnipeg’s Brian Sholom and Madeline Kowall were fortunate enough to lead Canada Israel Experience birthright trips to Israel in 2011. Additionally, some 45 Winnipeg young adults participated in birthright with other young adults from across Canada throughout this past spring and summer of 2011. [Registration for the winter session of birthright opened September 14, 2011. Contact Hart Jacob for more information 204-480-6561]

Kowall, who is the marketing co-ordinator for the Jewish federation of Winnipeg, and led this summer’s August trip said her highlights of the “unforgettable” trip “ included exploring the cliffs and grottos of Rosh Hanikra and riding their cable car (shortest and steepest in the world!), rafting on the Jordan river, visiting the old city of Jerusalem and the Western Wall, the camel trek at the Bedouin tent in the Negev and swimming in the Mediterranean Sea.”
Kowall, who has led a birthright trip twice, said she received very positive feedback form the participants of the trip:”, They had an incredible time – the group always wanted to hang out altogether and never separate. They could not part ways at the airport. The tears were flowing knowing that since this was a national trip and barely anyone lived in the same city, no one knew when we’d all be together again. The group loved every bit of our itinerary, had fabulous things to say about the trip staff, and created very special and close relationships with each other.”
Brian Sholom,34, who describes himself as a "perpetual student and serial entrepreneur"  who lead a trip in May said, “On my Taglit-Birthright trip, I experienced many great things, some of which went on to greatly impact my life. I was reintroduced to a culture that I had almost forgotten about, met many wonderful people, had great experiences, and learned more about my Jewish heritage. Birthright gave me the gift of Israel, and with it, life-long friends and a great opportunity to explore myself and my community.”
This was Kowall’s fourth trip to Israel where she learns something new every time.
“While hiking Nachal Kziv in the north of Israel for over three hours, Assaf, our tour guide, pointed to a neighborhood of homes at the top of the beautiful mountain. He informed us that Gilad Shalit grew up there, and spoke about him and the horrific facts about his capture, as some of the participants were hearing this for the first time. It made everyone stop and think while looking at Shalit’s neighborhood.”
She added, in the latter part of our trip while touring the south of Israel, on one of the bus rides to a kibbutz, we were shown a red electrical tower in the distance (kilometers away) and were told that was the exact spot where Gilad was captured. After learning about him over the last several days, seeing the area he grew up in and the place he was taken, we all felt saddened and frustrated. It was incredible to see that after the trip returned to Canada; participants were posting links about Gilad Shalit on Facebook, sending him birthday wishes and changing their status to demand his return. It really had an effect on them after they saw the areas first hand.”
Zach Raizman, one of the Winnipeg participants on the August trip told the Winnipeg Jewish Review: “Birthright was very meaningful to me because it was the first time I was in Israel and I had an opportunity to share many new experiences with other Jewish kids my age from across Canada. I also met wonderful Israeli soldiers and that had an impact upon me. I understood now more than ever the sacrifices they were making in their lives so that I would be able tour Israel safely. As I visited many sights and experienced many different activities, I became very emotionally connected to my country and very proud of its accomplishments. The most meaningful experience for me had to be the celebration of Shabbat at the Wailing Wall. The spirituality I felt on that Erev Shabbat was a highlight for me. The trip was so successful because of the amazing group of Jewish kids from all across the country, the wonderful Israeli tour guide, and the fantastic Madrichim!”
When asked what her favorite site to visit was, Kowall answered, “Any time I visit Israel, the Kotel will always be and has always been my favorite site. It has so much meaning for me… When I get up to the wall and I’m able to touch it and just reflect for a while, I am always overcome with emotion. I didn’t want to tell the participants how they were going to feel when they saw it for the first time – everyone is different. Some of the participants had little background on Israel and didn’t know much about the Western Wall – and funny enough – they were the ones that were overcome with emotion there.’
Hart Jacobs of the Jewish Federation says that Winnipeg will be sending three new young adult leaders for Madrichim training in Montreal during the middle of September.
Kowall says that after a birthright trip there is “follow-up” for the participants
“We host reunions as the first step [for birthright alumni] to get involved in their Jewish community. Since we only had 3 participants from Winnipeg in August, we can only have small get-togethers and let participants know about all the programs and events going on in our community.
“This past year, birthright held a photo contest open to all birthright alumni. Because of its success, we will hold this event annually and encourage birthright alumni to participate. I even encouraged the Winnipeggers to think about the photo contest while they were taking pictures in Israel – they now have amazing memories captured in photos. Even if it takes a while, birthright alumni do realize how the trip affects their involvement in their Jewish community, presently and in the future. “We also let participants know that birthright is only the beginning, since there are several ways to return to Israel – for school, volunteering, working, traveling, experiencing the army, life on a kibbutz, learning Hebrew-- the options are endless. We encourage alumni to speak to their local Hillel representative, their Canada Israel Experience director, or their local federation for more information. Alumni also receive emails with opportunities that come up throughout the year.”
As Kowall said, “I fall in love with Israel each time I visit, and I hope to return again soon. It would be a dream come true to lead a third birthright trip, but whichever way I get there will be a blessing. “
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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.