My college graduation gift: the summer of a lifetime

by | Oct 3, 2014 | Other News

by Hilary Bloch

I couldn’t have asked for a better gift to celebrate finishing my years of formal education. I graduated in May from the Sy Syms School of Business at Stern College for Women, part of Yeshiva University in New York City.

I didn’t get a car, a new wardrobe or even a grand sum of money to recognize my hard work. None of these things would have been as great as the gift I was given. I am fortunate, privileged and grateful beyond words to have had the opportunity to travel twice to Israel this summer. Organized by Taglit-Birthright Israel and OU Israel Free Spirit in conjunction with YACHAD, the Orthodox Union’s organization for individuals with developmental disabilities, I served as a staff member spending an amazing 10 days in Israel (20 days total from the two trips) with individuals who I can now call my friends.

‘Yachad,’ the Hebrew word meaning ‘together,’ is an unbelievable organization that promotes and creates an environment of inclusion for everyone. A person with a disability shouldn’t be separated from society, but rather should be able to have the same opportunities as everyone else. I got involved with YACHAD-the National Jewish Council for Disabilities, during my junior year in college when a friend persuaded me to stay in school for a weekend shabbaton in which we hosted some of these individuals. The entire weekend was a blast. There was singing, dancing, games and lots of food. I enjoyed a wonderful weekend with our guests and continued to attend other shabbatons in the New York/ New Jersey area. I wanted to continue my involvement beyond the weekend get-togethers, and that’s when I came across YACHAD Birthright.

I have been very lucky to travel to Israel with family and friends and explore many parts of the country. In fact, I spent my first year of college studying in a seminary in Jerusalem. Before that, I had gone on a Birthright trip as a participant. No matter how many times I had been, traveling with those two YACHAD groups I experienced and saw Israel from a completely new perspective. I got to see the land through the eyes of many on their first visit. Touring and participating in activities such as making grape juice by stomping on grapes, touring Masada and learning the history of our people, and cooling off in various springs of water during nature walks in the hot Israeli sun, we created memories that will last with us forever. You would be surprised how fast you can become close with people you never met before in a mere 10 days. We enjoyed bus rides with singing, games and catching up on sleep. Every moment on the trip was a chance to bond with one another as we strengthened our connection and love for the Land of Israel.

This summer was hard for Israel, and therefore these trips were all the more significant and inspiring for me. The first trip took place in June. Halfway through, the news broke that three young boys had been kidnapped. While it was tough news, it didn’t stop us from continuing with our journey. We returned to America with heavy hearts and tears in our eyes that our 10-day, life-changing trip was at its end.

The war in Gaza took place during a huge part of the summer, but when it came time for the second trip in August, I had that same feeling of excitement as earlier in the summer. I was given another chance to see Israel through the eyes of many more people. There is no way to describe the sense of calm and comfort that is only felt in Israel. We were extremely grateful to have another successful trip without hearing even one siren. I made another set of friends. We did so much in such little time: visit the Tzfat candle factory, pray at the Kotel (Western Wall), ride jeeps and take a boat ride on the Kinneret. Nothing could stop us from having the time of our lives in such a spiritual and holy country we are proud to call ‘home.’

Working with these individuals and sharing my love for Israel with them was a fulfilling way to spend my summer. If you know someone who might benefit from such a trip, or would like to learn more about this organization, contact me or YACHAD at (212) 613-8229 or visit

—Hillary Bloch graduated from Hebrew Academy of Tidewater in 2006. She graduated from Stern College (Yeshiva University in New York City) in May with a degree in accounting and a minor in finance.