For the first time in four years, Passages, sponsored by the Philos Project and the Museum of the Bible Foundation, is offering an additional opportunity for Hillsdale students to travel to Israel over the summer in addition to their annual Christmas Break trip. For $750, students can spend 11 days in Israel between June 30 and July 10.
Applications are due March 1, and Passages will notify applicants by March 15 if they have been accepted to the program.
Professor of History Paul Rahe, who works with Passages to garner student interest along with Assistant Professor of Religion Donald Westblade, projected that Passages will have trouble filling all their spaces this trip and believed that they will accept “just about everyone who applies.”
According to Rahe, Passages offered Hillsdale a summer bus the first year they approached the college; however, because most Hillsdale students intern over the summer, there were fewer applications than there were over Christmas break.
According to senior Emma McCormack, the campus ambassador for Passages, the opportunity to go in the summer may provide a better experience.
“The summer trip is a rare opportunity for Hillsdale,” McCormack said. “If the group is smaller, participants won’t be as crowded at the sights, will have the opportunity to get to know each other better, and there may even be a couple of sights smaller groups can go that the huge groups can’t.”
The pilgrimage begins in Tel Aviv. From there, the itinerary includes Jaffa, Nazareth Village, Jerusalem, the Sea of Galilee, the City of David, and the Garden of Gethsemane, each stop interspersed with lectures on Israel’s spiritual and political history. Pilgrims will have the opportunity to pray and reflect at the Garden Tomb, the Monastery of St. Anne, and the Wailing Wall, to swim in the Dead Sea, and to walk the Palm Sunday Road.
Benzing House Director Emily Barnum ’18 travelled to Israel twice with Passages, first as a sophomore and again this winter as a chaperone. She said Israel “is a very complicated place and an intense place, but I loved it and am drawn to it.”
“I think my favorite part definitely was the people I met,” Barnum said. ”And I feel like that is a key part of the Passages trip. They let students hear from Israeli soldiers, we went to a kibbutz in the Gaza Strip, and we heard from a woman and her family who have experienced the tensions living there. I think just getting that first-hand testimony of what it’s like in Israel is really compelling.”
For senior Sammy Roberts, Israel is most beautiful for the same reasons that it is most turbulent.
“It’s very much a Western country; it was settled by Jews from Europe, and so it’s very familiar in many ways. They have Jewish McDonald’s all over the place,” Roberts said. “But it’s also very exotic, you see Eastern Christianity there. It’s nothing like you’ll encounter anywhere else in Europe or America, but even in other parts of the world because in history, really, Jerusalem is the boundary line between the East and the West, between these two pillars of human civilization. You get this amazing blend that you don’t get anywhere else.”
Roberts first went to Jerusalem with Passages his sophomore year, but since then he has made it an annual tradition, returning as a Passages Fellow for the past two winters. With graduation in the spring close on the horizon, Roberts accepted an offer to join the Passages team as Director of Catholic Initiatives.
Both Barnum and Roberts said the Passages trip to Israel was a transformative experience.
“I don’t know how to explain it, but the intensity is just really fascinating, and it feels really real,” Barnum said. “Faith matters when you’re in Israel, and I think sometimes here, we lose touch with it because it’s not like you’re actually warring over a piece of land and what narrative properly belongs to that piece of land. So it’s a really fascinating place.”
Similarly, touched by his experiences, Roberts said he is eager to convince interested students to apply for the pilgrimage.
“The Passages Israel trip is this perfect combination of going to the religious sites, but also learning about the modern country and seeing the way the dynamic unfolds there,” Roberts said, encouraging students to apply. “It’s just incredible, especially over the summer.”