Rabbi Gershon Litt

[pullquote]“The Birthright Israel trip changed my life” [/pullquote]
“The Birthright Israel trip changed my life,” said ODU student Jacob Mart, “I never would have invested time to explore my Judaism without it.” Twice a year, students at ODU, William and Mary, Christopher Newport and other universities have a unique opportunity to take advantage of going to Israel with a group from Virginia. “Hampton Roads doesn’t have one big university with a large, Jewish population, but when you bring all the local universities together they can be a real force,” said Rabbi Gershon Litt, the Hillel director at the College of William and Mary and rabbi of Adath Jeshurun synagogue. He said, “Local Virginia students cannot compete with larger universities like Texas, Maryland, or Penn, and therefore cannot guarantee buses of students going to Israel on Birthright trips, but if we all join together as one then the results are very powerful.”

Since 2005 Rabbi Litt has led Taglit Birthright trips and this winter he led his 24th trip. “It is one of the most rewarding parts of my job. To see the students experience Israel for the first time gives me tremendous inspiration and keeps me focused on continuing to reach out to college students,” said Rabbi Litt. The students love the idea that they can go to Israel with someone they know, experience everything Israel has to offer, and then come back as a group. Students have reunions, get together for Shabbos meals, bring Israel advocacy programs to their respective campuses, and have a new family of fellow students who experienced Israel together with them.

Ellie Bernstein, former director of the ODU Hillel commented, “Having Rabbi Litt lead this trip has been wonderful for Hillel. Our students go to Israel as individuals and they come back as a cohesive group, unified and wanting to do more for the organization.” The trip organizer that Rabbi Litt goes to Israel with is called Israel Free Spirit. When asked about the trip Ellie said, “IFS offers a wonderful trip for the students. The program educates them about the land, politics, and religion in a positive and non judgmental way.” Ellie should know as her own son, Max, went to Israel with Rabbi Litt on an Israel Free Spirit Birthright trip two summers ago. “Max came back inspired. While he was never the type of kid who wore his Judaism on his sleeve he came back from Israel as an advocate, more aware of his Judaism, and with a desire to help give other students the same opportunity he had. He refers his friends to go to Israel on the same great trip.” In addition, Ellie’s nephew, Derek Weinstein, also went to Israel on that same trip. “It was the most amazing experience of my life,” said Derek.

Former CNU student and past president of the CNU Hillel, Hannah Kaye, commented that Rabbi Litt’s Birthright trip, “Changed my perspective on the Middle East and connected me to Judaism in a way that I never thought possible. All I want to do is give other students that same opportunity.” Each semester the Hillel students plan a program on the CNU campus to raise awareness of that semester’s upcoming trip to Israel being led by Rabbi Litt.

Tristan Schnader, former president of the Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity at the College of William and Mary, also went to Israel on the IFS Birthright trip with Rabbi Litt. “I learned what it meant to be Jewish and how important it is to bring that back to my fraternity,” said Tristan. In the past few years many AEPi brothers have gone to Israel with Rabbi Litt and this winter Rabbi Litt has a record number of William and Mary students signed up to go. “I have been offering Jewish programming at William and Mary for almost 10 years now. The Jewish students there are wonderful, dedicated, and need help to unify the Jewish student population. Birthright does that. It brings the students back and empowers them to stand up, be advocates, continue to learn about their heritage, and make a difference for other Jewish students,” said Rabbi Litt.

“Nothing pleases me more than to see a group of Jewish students share a trip like this,” said Ellie Bernstein, “It changes the dynamic on campus to have them come back as a group. With a partner like Rabbi Litt the process is smooth and effortless. He comes back with them, invites them for Shabbat dinner, and reminds them of what they experienced while they were in Israel. It’s great.” Over the past two years Rabbi Litt has averaged over 25 local, Virginia based students on each of his trips. “I used to lead trips with 40 students and only a few local ones. Now, with over 25 students from local, Virginia universities, and this winter an enrollment of over 30 local, Virginia based students, I can see that the word is catching on. Going as one group has tremendous advantages and I am thrilled to be a part of it,” said Rabbi Litt.

Taglit: Birthright Israel trips with Rabbi Litt offer a great combination of Jewish heritage and history, political insight, and travel. The tour guides are some of the best in the industry and each trip gets to take advantage of IFS’s years of expertise.

If you or someone you know is a student in a Virginia university and wants to take advantage of Rabbi Litt’s Birthright program please contact him at 757-559-1836 or rabbilitt@wmhillel.org.