As a junior at Indiana University, Silver Spring-native Alana Gardner decided to study abroad at the Masa Israel-accredited Hebrew University. "I'd been to Israel before but I wanted to return for a longer period of time," says Alana. "I also wanted the experience of living in one place in Israel without traveling all the time."
With an accredited program at Hebrew University, Indiana University made this simple for Alana. While at Hebrew University, Alana, a business major, took elective courses that interested her, including Hebrew, modern Jewish philosophy, and Judaism and the environment.
Outside of class, Alana spent her time getting to know Jerusalem. “Being there every day and exploring on my own without someone showing me around really allowed me to connect with Jerusalem,” she says. Her favorite time of the week was Shabbat when she was able to immerse herself in her new environment by enjoying home hospitality. “Eating meals at different families’ home was incredible,” she says. “I was able to see so many different neighborhoods that I might not have found on my own and meet so many different people with completely different lifestyles.”
On one Shabbat, her hosts invited her to a Carlebach service that had an atmosphere unlike others Alana had previously experienced. “People showed a lot of spirit not just in their praying, but in all of their interactions,” Alana says. “There was a real sense of community. People wanted to know my story and tell me their stories. Even though I’d only known them for a brief period of time, I felt like I’d known them forever.”
This warmth was something that Alana greatly appreciated. “A friend of a friend would be going to a Shabbat meal and then I’d be told to come as well,” she says. “People not only invited me into their homes, but they made it clear that they really wanted me to be there.”
The welcome that Alana received in Israel made her feel like she truly had a place in the country. “Israel is where all Jews are welcomed no matter what,” she says.
When Alana returned to the United States, the sense of openness she experienced in Israel stayed with her. “My experiences in Israel definitely expanded my social boundaries,” she says. “I’ve become more open when talking to different kinds of people. Because of the diverse communities in Jerusalem, I now like getting to know people who aren’t just like me.”
Today, Alana is also more invested in Israel on a day-to-day basis, often bringing Israel up in conversation and following it on the news. This summer, Alana is looking forward to returning to Israel for a few weeks and then settling into her consulting job at Deloitte in Washington, DC. “I’m excited to live in a new city and find a synagogue,” she says. “I’m looking forward to getting involved in the Jewish community.”