“Christian Birthright” resumes trips to Israel

First group of US Christian students from Passages, the 'Christian Birthright', arrives in Israel.

Tags: Christians
Arutz Sheva Staff ,

Passages group in Israel June 2021
Passages group in Israel June 2021
Cade Chudy

A group of Christian American students arrived in Israel earlier this week with Passages, an organization that brings thousands of American students on a trip to Israel. The trip has been called the “Christian Birthright,” because it connects the students with the foundations of their Christian faith and with the modern State of Israel. This is the first Passages delegation to return to Israel since the pandemic began in early 2020.

The twelve-member group, made up of Passages leadership and alumni, as well as leadership from the Philos Project, visited the cities of Lod, Ashdod and Sderot to express solidarity with the Jewish State and strengthen their connection to Israel.

They visited Israeli vendors, restaurants, and hotels to boost those businesses that suffered significantly during the past 15 months, and in advance of bringing a larger student group later this summer. Passages plans to bring over 1000 American students to Israel by the end of 2021, and 3,000 students by the summer of 2022. Since the program began in 2016, Passages has brought over 8,000 students from all over the United States to Israel.

The group had the opportunity to meet with Member of Knesset Elazar Stern, (incoming Intelligence Minister in the newly formed Israeli Government) and discuss the relationship between American Christians and a new Government.

"Our support for the State of Israel and its people is unconditional. The relationship between Israel and the Christian Evangelical community remains solid and we are always looking for ways to improve it. This is why it is so important that we send our students and future leaders to visit Israel and see the beauty and complexity of this country for themselves. Our groups meet with decision-makers and opinion-shapers from across the spectrum. This allows us to stand fully with the people of Israel and we fully respect their choices as a robust democracy", Scott Phillips, Executive Director of Passages told Stern.

"I am deeply moved to meet the first Passages delegation to visit Israel since the start of the pandemic," Stern said. "Passages alumni are some of our strongest ambassadors on America’s college campuses, as well as throughout the US. I have no doubt that the new government will continue to recognize how extremely important these delegations and the individual participants are to Israel. We are proud of what Israel stands for and proud of the IDF. The best way to understand what Israel is about is to come and meet regular Israelis."

The Passages trip began in Lod, a city that suffered significantly when riots erupted during the recent "Guardian of the Walls" operation. There they met local business owner Yoav Bunder, who launched "Winning the Fire Together," a fundraising campaign to rebuild both his and his Arab neighbor's businesses that were destroyed by fire.

In one of Lod’s mixed neighborhoods, delegation members met Tahael, an Orthodox Jew who moved to Lod two years ago with her husband and two children. She told the group that she and her husband moved to Lod because they wanted to raise their children in a diverse community. They fell in love with the community, but in the midst of rocket fire from Gaza, civil unrest broke out between Arabs and Jews in Lod, as well as in many Israeli cities.

She described how Jews were targeted during five days of violent unrest, with large stones and Molotov cocktails thrown in the streets. Many cars were burned, and buildings were vandalized.

One night, as sirens went off while the during the rioting, Tahael brought her family down to the blue bomb shelter in her building, only to realize they were sharing it with her Arab neighbors. They couldn’t even look each other in the eye. Her choice was to remain in the shelter and stay safe from rockets or go back upstairs to her apartment and stay safe from a potential attack by rioters in the streets.

She chose the rockets and left the shelter. Tahael said that the trust she had with her neighbors was broken, and that no one came to check on them after that week. She no longer allows her kids to play in the street. But she explained that she still wants to stay in Lod, because she doesn't want the recent events to define her.

"Passages was established to help Christian college students discover the roots of their faith and ensure future continuity of Christian support for Israel,” said Rivka Kidron, co-founder and board member of Passages. “Israelis haven’t seen tourists for 15 months. When we’ve encountered shop owners, restaurant owners, and Israelis in general, the effect of our presence has been heartwarming and humbling. We look forward to bringing thousands more Christian students to Israel in the coming year, and having them share their experiences with their own communities."

Kennedy Lee, a student in the Comparative Politics of Eurasia Master’s program at the Higher School of Economics and a research associate at the Institute on Religion & Democracy in Washington, DC, said: "It’s been two years since I stepped foot in Israel, but it took less than two days for me to remember why this nation will forever hold an unrivaled place in my heart."

"Every country in the world found itself at a standstill over a harrowing pandemic the past year and a half, but only one simultaneously faced an all too familiar challenge that’s neither normal nor acceptable. In two days, I witnessed tears begin to form in a mother’s eyes as she described the painful decision facing her family of whether to leave their beloved and proud multicultural neighborhood in Lod because of the shock and horror of last month’s riots in their very neighborhood, as well as heard unfathomable stories of the ongoing trauma facing Israeli children in the wake of last month’s conflict."

"But I’ve also seen the spirit of Israel that initially captured my heart — the hospitality of restaurant owners, smirks of children as they assess the tour group walking by, and the inspirational stories of the grassroots efforts of citizens to ensure peace and coexistence within their communities. I’m confident that I will be even more challenged, but moreover uplifted by the unwavering spirit of the Israeli people, as we travel to Jerusalem for the final days of our trip.”