Each year, young Jews from around the world gather together and make a trip to Israel, called a birthright trip, to connect with their religion and heritage. According to the Birthright Israel website, “We believe that a trip to Israel strengthens Jewish identity and is the best way to build a lasting bond between young Jewish people around the world and their peers in Israel.”
NIU mechanical engineering student Josh Ott went on this trip. The program allows young Jews (ages 18-26), to travel to Israel and experience the historic state first-hand. Traveling with a group of nearly 50 people, Ott and the others explored Israel, and learned that the U.S. news doesn’t always give an accurate representation of what happens in other countries. They explored a mountain within 10 miles of Syria, a country that was in civil war at the time. “This is something so far removed from the U.S. It doesn’t really hit you the same until you’re looking at it,” said Ott.
After the birthright trip, Ott went back to Israel on his own, this time traveling between Israel and Jordan. “It took two hours to cross, and there were 200 yards of no man’s land with barbed wire and border fences,” he said.
Ott spent a week with a volunteer program, giving back to the elderly that live there. He also took classes on Judaism.
For Ott, the experience was invaluable: “As Americans, we don’t really think about what goes on in the rest of the world. It’s just not something the news addresses,” he continued, “I encourage anyone who can to travel overseas if they can.”
Ott is the president of Engineers Without Borders, working on bringing sustainable technology to third-world countries. Their current projects include developing a water filtration system in Mexico, as well as lighting classrooms and libraries at a school in Africa. To learn more, visit http://www.niutoday.info/2013/03/25/engineers-without-borders-create-sustainable-technology-to-improve-third-world-countries/.