Scott Berman can’t believe that he will be able to experience Birthright Israel this spring. Scott is one of the 1.4 million Americans who suffer from inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), the collective term for Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
While Scott always wanted to travel with his peers to Israel, he feared that his special medical and dietary needs would make the traditional, fast-paced 10-day itinerary prohibitive.
The Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia and the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America teamed up to tweak tradition and design a unique Israel experience for young adults throughout the United States with similar medical challenges.
Scott’s parents, Bryna and Fred Berman, spurred Federation to take a leadership role in making this late May trip a reality. “Birthright Israel, a national initiative which gives the gift of a free trip to Israel for Jewish young adults ages 18 to 26, is a very important way to help build lifelong connections to our Jewish homeland,” said Bryna Berman, who bemoans the fact that “today’s young Jewish adults do not feel as connected to Israel as prior generations.”
She learned about a national trip organized in California for young adults with IBD last year but could not get sufficient information to reassure her that Scott’s needs would be accommodated.
She explains that “Scott and others with IBD need to know that they will have access to bathroom facilities at the airport, on the plane and in their hotel rooms and that their travel itineraries will be flexible to allow for frequent rest stops.”
Also critical is the ability to accommodate a wide variety of special dietary needs and the reassurance that trip participants will have access to medical treatment if they become ill. Bryna Berman said that trip organizers are arranging for a gastroenterologist to travel with the young adults.
Scott, a 23-year-old graduate student at George Washington University, was first diagnosed with the disease in 2002. He knows firsthand that “different people with the same disease may have diverse dietary needs, including gluten-free, non-dairy and low-fiber meals.” He emphasizes that he has learned by the “trial and error method” what foods he can and cannot eat. He enjoys living off-campus in his own apartment where he can shop for and cook the foods that keep him healthy.
Scott visited Israel with his family in 2008 and found the experience “amazing.” He hopes that this trip gives him the chance to meet others with similar medical challenges. “IBD is not often talked about among peers, so traveling together to Israel on Birthright will be a wonderful opportunity to connect,” he says.
Jessica Brookstein, community development director of the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America, says that the organization is “thrilled” to partner with Federation on this unique trip. She views the partnership as an opportunity to generate community awareness about a disease that impacts “one out of every 200 Americans.”
Despite the prevalence of this disease and its high incidence among those of Eastern European heritage, fewer than 50 percent of people in the United States are familiar with the disease, she says.
She invites “all who are experiencing IBD and those who support them” to participate in the Take Steps for Crohn’s and Colitis Walk on Saturday, May 18, at 3:30 p.m., at the Eakins Oval, Philadelphia Museum of Art.
For more information or to register for the walk, call Carly Presnell at 215-396-9100, Ext. 5, or email: [email protected] .
Bryna Berman encourages all who are interested in participating in the May Birthright trip to call Pam Pearlmutter, Federation’s Israel Experiences manager, at 215-832-0837 or email: [email protected]  for more information.
As a result of fundraising this past year, Federation will be allocating $700,000 to the Birthright Israel program in its continued efforts to make this experience available to all Philadelphia applicants.
Registration begins on Monday, Feb. 11, for those who have already signed up for a Birthright Israel trip, or on Wednesday, Feb. 13, for first-time Birthright applicants.