From New York to the Israeli Negev

By Max Gelb, New York, NY, Kibbutz Ulpan
My first glimpse of the flourishing green olive groves amid the dry and sandy Negev confirmed exactly why I wanted to live on Kibbutz Revivim.  Growing up in bustling Manhattan, I was always interested in experiencing life in a more tranquil and geologically different environment.  When I learned that Masa Israel’s Kibbutz Ulpan program would allow me to accomplish this while simultaneously pursuing my interests in Israel and Hebrew, I decided that the Kibbutz Ulpan at Revivim was right for me.
Prior to my participation in the Kibbutz Ulpan during the winter of 2009, my only experience in Israel had been my Birthright trip two years before.  After Birthright, I began studying Modern Hebrew at Dartmouth College.  Although I grew up in a Jewish home and had a Bar Mitzvah, I felt that I could not develop a full Jewish identity without a much deeper understanding of the people and the state of Israel. 
In addition, I knew that I wanted to experience Israel more as a native than as a tourist, which was too difficult to achieve on a ten-day Birthright trip.  As a result, I chose to take a term off during my sophomore year at Dartmouth to live in Israel.  The Kibbutz Ulpan program provided me with the means to build an authentic connection with Israel in a warm and welcoming environment like Kibbutz Revivim.
The basic Kibbutz Ulpan volunteer schedule breaks the week into three days of volunteer work and three days of Hebrew ulpan study.  At Revivim, I had the unique opportunity to cycle through a number of jobs, which gave me a great introduction to the various types of work that take place on a kibbutz.  After working in the fields during the olive harvest season, I volunteered as a prep-chef in the kibbutz kitchen, where I actually communicated largely in Spanish with Israeli immigrants from Argentina. 
When my Hebrew was good enough, I was given the responsibility of helping run the after-school program for the children on the kibbutz.  It was great to learn from the kids about their lives growing up on a kibbutz and to share our passion for soccer and basketball.
Perhaps the most unexpected but life-changing element of my experience on Kibbutz Revivim was the fact that I was there throughout the entire 2008-2009 Gaza War. Revivim, which is in the northern Negev but not in a location that was directly threatened during the war, was used as a place to temporarily house Israelis who lived in the line of fire along the Gaza border. 
To provide that temporary housing, I was assigned with a few other volunteers and kibbutzniks to clean and prepare a number of mobile homes the kibbutz owned.  It was an incredible opportunity for me to contribute side-by-side with Israelis and volunteers from around the world to help innocent families escape a dangerous situation.
Even after my return from Revivim, the Kibbutz Ulpan experience has influenced my life.  It inspired me academically to continue studying Hebrew and certainly influenced my decision to take two courses on politics and society in the Middle East.  In addition, the Kibbutz Ulpan experience gave me the necessary background to be the Israeli Affairs Coordinator for Dartmouth College Hillel. 
As Israeli Affairs Coordinator, I have been responsible for organizing a variety of Israel-related events and composing weekly email updates about news and current events in Israel.  Without the hands-on experience the Kibbutz Ulpan provided, I would likely not be prepared for this significant leadership responsibility.
As I enter my senior year at Dartmouth, I view my time on the Kibbutz Ulpan at Revivim as one of the most important and meaningful experiences of my college years.  It encouraged me to test a different way of life and pushed me to grow academically and personally.  Looking beyond college, I am currently pursuing ways to combine my economics major and developed interest in Israel into a career in international business. 
Whether or not that career brings me back to Kibbutz Revivim, the lessons that I learned and the people that I met during the Kibbutz Ulpan program will continue to impact me for years to come.

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