Houston Hillel Perspectives 2020
Please read very carefully!
Houston Hillel Perspectives is a 10 day fact-finders trip to Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The purpose of this trip is to educate Jewish and non-Jewish student leaders at Rice University and the University of Houston about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Houston Hillel Perspectives is offered by Houston Hillel and is limited to a total of 25 Rice University and University of Houston student leaders of all backgrounds.
Houston Hillel Perspectives is offered, organized and conducted by Houston Hillel, a Jewish student organization that was established at UH in 1946 and Rice in 1940. The trip is funded by a generous grant from the Maccabee Task Force. The trip will deepen your knowledge about one of the world's most discussed regions. Participants will meet with intellectuals, grass-roots activists, politicians and decision makers from Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and will take part in dialogues of co-existence. Trip participants will visit cities and sites in the Palestinian Authority and Israel (including adjacent to Gaza) considered central to all three major religions, and will receive a unique opportunity to learn about the history and current issues of one of the world's most debated conflicts.
The single trip with students from Rice and UH will take place during the last two weeks of May. We will fly on Turkish Airlines departing from New York's JFK International Airport in the evening on May 17, 2020. (UH commencement concludes on Sunday May 10, and Rice commencement concludes on May 16.) We will return to JFK mid-day on Thursday May 28, 2020. Our flights include very brief stops in Istanbul during which we will remain in the airport terminal.
How much is this trip really going to cost me?
Houston Hillel Perspectives is a heavily subsidized trip, including subsidized transportation to and from JFK International Airport, hotels, travel throughout the trip, and most meals.
Participants will be responsible for the following expenses (estimated at $500 to $800+ per person):
A $200 non-refundable deposit is required to secure a place in the program.
All food prior to arrival in Israel and after departure from Israel, along with most lunches and many of the dinners in Israel.
All travel costs over $350 to and from JFK prior to departure on May 17 and after arrival on May 28.
Other personal expenses, such as passport fees and personal shopping.
How do I get to JFK International Airport?
Houston Hillel has budgeted $350 per participant for travel to JFK. You are responsible for arranging your own transportation to JFK. Houston Hillel will reimburse you for your travel costs up to $350. You will receive your reimbursement via Venmo or a check sent to you through the mail (your choice) after you email your receipt(s) and travel plans (such as flight numbers and arrival times) to Kenny at email@example.com. While some participants may fly from Houston to JFK on the morning of May 17, you can arrange your domestic travel plans before May 17 or after May 28 in order to go home between the end of finals and the start of our trip, or to spend time in New York or other places.
You can also stay in Israel after our trip or fly from Israel to another destination instead of returning to JFK. However, our travel agent can arrange only a limited number of these flight deviations for our group, and no changes can be made after March 16, so contact Kenny ASAP if you'd like to make such a change.
Do not arrange for domestic travel until instructed to do so by Rabbi Kenny Weiss.
Arriving at JFK International Airport
Please arrive at the Turkish Air ticket counter at New York's JFK International Airport by 3:00 pm EST on Sunday, May 17.
Do not check in for the flight before meeting Kenny and Nofar. We will check in as a group.
So, how do I get to JFK?
Unfortunately, there's no easy way to get from Houston to JFK. The only airline that flies non-stop from a Houston airport to JFK is Jetblue, and they have only one flight each day. As of early February, it appears that these are your options.
If you want to leave Houston on May 17 (the day we leave JFK) and return to Houston on May 28 (the day we arrive back to JFK) Southwest seems like the best and least expensive option.
Southwest flies from Houston Hobby Airport to LaGuardia Airport (LGA) in New York. Southwest 3516 arrives at LGA at 10:20 am, which gives you enough time to get from LGA to JFK.
Returning on May 28, Southwest 2209 leaves LGA at 6:55 pm. This also gives you enough time to get from JFK to LGA.
Taxis and shuttles regularly travel between LGA and JFK. Click here for an overview of transportation options between the two airports.
You can use the trip GroupMe to coordinate travel plans with other participants.
If you have a flexible schedule and want to spend time somewhere else on the East Coast or in New York City (or you're traveling from somewhere other than Houston), you have lots of options that you can figure out on your own. (You don't have to be on your own. Kenny is happy to help you figure out your travel plans.) Just make sure you arrive at the Turkish Air ticket counter at JFK by 3:00 pm EST on Sunday, May 17.
What else should I know?
The trip will be led by Rabbi Kenny Weiss, Houston Hillel's Executive Director, and Nofar Salman, Houston Hillel's Israel Fellow. Kenny will be physically present with the group beginning when everyone meets at JFK on May 17, throughout the entire trip in Israel, concluding when we depart the plane at JFK on May 28. Once we depart the plane at JFK the trip has concluded and you're on your own.
Remain at Rice or UH's main campus as a full-time student for at least two semesters after the completion of the trip. (Graduating no earlier than spring 2021.)
Attend a few pre-trip meetings. We'll have pizza! The meetings will be on:
Tuesday, March 24 at 7:00 pm at Houston Hillel, 1700 Bissonnet (corner of Dunlavy)
Monday, April 6 at 7:00 pm at Houston Hillel
We also have special meetings with our university presidents (no pizza, sorry)
Rice students meet with President David Leebron on Friday, April 17 at 10:30 am
UH students meet with President Renu Khator on Monday, April 20 at 3:15 pm
Also, we hope that you will:
Participate in a meeting or two prior to departure.
Be willing to reconvene on campus to discuss your experience.
If you have any questions about Houston Hillel Perspectives or the application process please contact Rabbi Kenny Weiss, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Click here for the waiver that you need to sign and return in order to participate.
Emergency contacts during our trip.
Before we leave for Israel you can contact Kenny at 713-459-5642 and , and Nofar at 720-435-8271 and email@example.com. Please put our contact info in your phones!
Kenny and Nofar will share their Israeli cell numbers with you when you arrive in Israel. You can use WhatsApp to contact Kenny and Nofar at their mobile numbers.
If your family or friends outside Israel need to reach you, Kenny or Nofar while you're in Israel they can contact Kenny and Nofar with WhatsApp and their email addresses. In an emergency interested parties can also reach Houston Hillel staff member Alyssa Silva at 520-975-9708 and firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cell phone sim card
Use this link to reserve a sim card for your phone at your own expense. WiFi is available throughout Israel, and WhatsApp is a great tool for connecting with trip participants and people back home, but you might appreciate cellular service. We will pick up the sim cards upon arrival at Ben Gurion Airport. Of course, you're welcome to bypass the sim card and instead set up an international calling plan with your mobile provider.
Click here for a suggested Packing List for our trip.
You can bring one suitcase and one carry-on. Click here for Turkish Air Luggage information. Try to bring as little as possible! A backpack is a great carry-on because you'll want a backpack to carry around during each day of touring. You do not need to limit yourself to a carry-on size suitcase, but remember that you need to schlep (carry) your own luggage throughout the trip. Keep in mind that we will not have access to laundry services.
Some frequently asked questions
Can I drink the tap water in Israel?
Absolutely. Tap water in Israel is safe and delicious. And, you will also find bottled mineral water everywhere. (It’s important to make sure you drink a lot during the summer in Israel.)
Can I choose not to have an Israel stamp in my passport in case I travel to some countries that don’t recognize Israel?
Yes, just let the passport officer know.
Will I have easy internet access?
Most hotels in Israel have free Wi-Fi available for hotel guests. Many cafes and restaurants offer a complimentary Wi-Fi service. Since September 2013, both Tel Aviv and Jerusalem offer citywide free Wi-Fi networks.
What is the currency in Israel?
Israel’s currency is the Shekel; you’ll find it abbreviated as NIS (New Israeli Shekel). One shekel is worth about 29 cents.
What credit cards are accepted?
You can use your ATM card to obtain shekels at ATM’s throughout Israel. You can also use American Express, MasterCard and Visa cards at most Israeli hotels, restaurants and stores. Before the trip, remember to notify your credit card companies and bank about your upcoming trip so they don't freeze your card!
Should I purchase Shekels before the trip?
You don't need to. ATMs are all over the place.
What taxes can I expect to pay in Israel?
The VAT (Value Added Tax) in Israel is 17%. It’s already included in most prices in Israel. VAT is waived for tourists at hotels, tour companies and car rental agencies. Like in Europe and elsewhere, tourists can receive a refund of the VAT they paid on purchases when departing the country through the refund program. The purchase amount in one tax invoice, including VAT, must exceed 400 NIS in order to qualify for a refund.
When do I tip and when can I bargain?
If you pay by credit card in a restaurant in Israel the credit card slip typically does not allow you to include a tip. Therefore, you should leave a tip in cash. Taxi drivers are not usually tipped. You can bargain in open air markets but not in stores or restaurants.
Is everything closed on Shabbat in Israel?
Shabbat (the Sabbath) is the Jewish holy day of the week observed every Saturday. Shabbat starts at sunset on Friday and ends at sundown on Saturday evening.
All public offices are closed on Shabbat, as are banks, most stores and businesses. However, throughout Israel there is a growing number of shops open on Shabbat. In most cities, public transportation (trains and buses) do not operate on Shabbat. Most non-kosher restaurants are open on Shabbat. Radio and TV broadcasts operate as usual.
Are all the restaurants in Israel kosher?
Not all of the restaurants in Israel are kosher. Places offering kosher food usually display a kashrut certificate granted to them by the local rabbinate. Most hotels serve kosher food, as well as some restaurants, but there is no binding law.