Israel Trip Makes An Impact

October 25, 2018

A 10-day trip to Israel with no expenses? This idea piqued the interest of Heath Schintler (University of Iowa, 2019) when he heard a friend mention the opportunity. The friend, president of the Alpha Epsilon Pi Fraternity at the University of Iowa, was introducing a new program open to student leaders.

AEPi’s Greek Leadership Experience, invites fraternity and sorority leaders from across the United States to gain personal leadership experience while traveling to Israel, a country that most have not previously visited. As the world’s Jewish college fraternity, AEPi operates chapters on more than 190 college campuses in seven countries.

Student leaders from campuses across the country applied for the program and two groups of 40 students were selected for the summer trip. With his application accepted, Schintler joined 39 students—three from Iowa and the rest from California, Texas, Massachusetts and Florida—for an educational 10-day trip to Israel in June.

“The opportunity to travel and learn about a different part of the world and a different culture was something I couldn’t pass up,” said Schintler. “The fact that AEPi offered to pay for virtually everything on the trip made it a pretty easy decision.”

As students of varied backgrounds traveled together, Schintler experienced participants readily sharing information and finding common ground as they immersed themselves in history and culture through the trip. The group, which also included fellow Delt Alec Goodrich (Tufts University, 2018), became close in just 10 days. They spent a few days in Jerusalem visiting the old city and holy sites including Mount Herzl and Yadvashem, the Holocaust Museum, the land between those sites and Bahai garden, often referred to as the eighth wonder of the world.

One of Schintler’s favorite parts of the trip was an early morning trip up Mount Masada, one of the most iconic hikes in Isreal. They traveled to the desert and slept overnight in a tent. “Our group woke up at four in the morning, traveled the 15-minute bypass to the base of the small mountain that used to be a fort, then had the opportunity to hike the mountain, get to the peak and watch the sunrise over the Dead Sea,” said Schintler.

“The scariest moment was when we were about a half-mile outside the Gaza Strip in the city of Sderot. That's probably the most eye-opening and grounding experience we had,” said Schintler. There they learned the history of the town, as the most heavily bomb-sheltered city in the world with every public bus stop retrofitted as a bomb shelter.

“We were visiting with one of the locals and he was telling his story. He was a teenager back in 2004-2005 when rocket fire was at its peak. Almost daily the town was experiencing rocket fire,” said Schintler.

“Our group was given a security guard. He had just wrapped up his time in the Israeli Defense Force. We had another person in our group who is referred to as a lone soldier—someone in the Israeli Defense Forces with no family in Israel to support him. He was great at giving context in relation to having just been a soldier in the armed forces. There are literally uniformed 18-, 19-, 20-, and 21-year-olds everywhere you go in the country of Israel reminding us we had the opportunity to travel there and feel somewhat safe because they are putting their lives on the line.”

Before returning to the United States, the group met with a member of Alpha Epsilon Pi’s Foundation just outside of Tel Aviv to talk about the significance of their experiences.

Schintler encourages others to take advantage of any to travel and explore the world. “I didn't know how impactful the trip would be,” he said.