Andrew Apt first traveled to Israel with his Jewish Day School’s eighth grade class but didn’t think about returning until his Birthright trip during college. “The trip went by so fast and I suddenly realized how many questions I still had,” says Andrew. “I knew the only way to solve this was to go back for a longer period of time.”
As a junior at Kean University in Union, New Jersey, Andrew decided to study abroad at Hebrew University. “I’m a huge history buff so I knew I had to be in Jerusalem,” says Andrew. “Just walking up and down the streets, I felt how much history there was to uncover.” His university didn’t make it easy for him, though. It was during the Second Lebanon War and Andrew had to take a leave of absence in order to spend his junior year in Israel and then enroll again when he returned. But, it didn’t stop Andrew, who says, “I felt like there was something pushing me to go. The idea of not going didn’t make sense.”
In Israel, Andrew enrolled in an intensive Hebrew ulpan, and as many experiential history courses as possible, including one focused on archeology and another on the second temple period which had field trips throughout the country, “I definitely didn’t just want to just be sitting in a classroom while learning about everything that was around me,” he says.
Immersing himself in the country taught him a lot about the real Israel—including how falsely it is portrayed in the American media. “When I first landed, I remember going to this falafel place on French Hill and watching Al Manar news alongside Arabs and Jews. The memory stands out for me because not only were Israelis and Palestinians watching “the enemy’s” media in the capital of the Jewish state, but they were doing so peacefully,” says Andrew. “Then I saw the American news and it seemed like the world was about to end.”
His time in Israel also led him to adopt some Israeli behavior. “At first I experienced a bit of culture shock when I came into contact with pushy Israelis,” he says. On his first bus ride from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, Andrew didn’t make it into the bus and his friends had to wait for him to arrive half an hour later. “I realized that I couldn’t allow that to happen again and that I, too, had to start pushing my way through.”
Upon returning to Kean University, Andrew set out to apply to graduate schools in Jewish education. He was accepted to Hebrew University once again and realized he had no reason not to return.
Arriving with a one-way ticket, Andrew enrolled in courses in pedagogy, educational philosophy, and pluralism in Jewish education. Outside of the classroom he continued his learning by talking to tourists, Birthright participants and Americans living in Israel about their Israel experiences.
During his second year in Israel, Andrew met his current girlfriend, Rebecca Pohl, who was studying at the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem, another Masa Israel-accredited program. Now back in the United States, they are still able to see each other often. His girlfriend is a student at the Jewish Theological Seminary’s Cantorial School in New York and Andrew works at the United Jewish Communities of Metro West, New Jersey.
Having earned a Master’s in Jewish Education, Andrew serves as the Masa Israel Recruitment Coordinator for the Metro West-area and the Coordinator for the Diller Teen Fellows. Focused on Israel, Jewish identity, community service, and leadership, the program helps Jewish teens create their own service projects and then takes them on a three-week immersion trip to Israel.
For Andrew, who spent three of the last four years in Israel, these goals are easy to feel passionate about. “My experiences in Israel were life-changing—they made me who I am today,” says Andrew. “I want to help other people find their Jewish connections and going to Israel is one of the best ways to do that.”