After graduating from Lehigh University with a degree in political science and mass communications, Alex Kadis knew he wanted to spend the year volunteering before entering the work world.
“Even though I’ve never been that involved in the Jewish community, I’ve always believed that Judaism is about community activism,” says Alex. “When I found out that I could volunteer in Israel, I thought it would be a nice opportunity to further explore my Judaism.”
Alex enrolled in Masa Israel’s Otzma, a year-long service oriented program for college graduates. For the first three months, Alex lived in an immigrant absorption center in Ashkelon and spent his mornings studying Hebrew in an intensive ulpan course. Then, Alex moved to Beit She’an, his hometown of Cleveland’s Partnership2000 city, where he tutored students in English at a local elementary school and created an afterschool cooking program to help the students learn English in a fun environment.
“It was great to live in Israel’s periphery and experience the life that most Israelis live—outside of Tel Aviv,” says Alex, who returned to Beit She’an months later to attend his students’ end-of-year concert. “They were just days away from summer vacation and yet, the second I walked in, my students called out my name and ran up to give me a hug. There’s really no better reward for volunteering with kids than that.”
In the spring Alex moved to Jerusalem, and began a media and communications internship at PresenTense, a nonprofit that supports Jewish social entrepreneurship. After completing his internship, the nonprofit asked Alex to continue working for them that summer.
Alex says that one of the best experiences he had while in Israel was during a rainstorm in Tzfat. “It was already late autumn and it hadn’t rained yet. Then, while walking around the city on Friday night and passing these beautiful, old Sephardic synagogues, it suddenly started to rain,“ remembers Alex. “People often say, ‘Thank God for rain,’ but I’ve never seen people mean it as much as they did that night.”
Alex also enjoyed Otzma’s education days, which included seminars focused on a wide range of Israeli topics. “During a five-day course on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we heard from Israeli settlers, as well as a Palestinian,” says Alex. “We really got to know the country and I honestly can’t think of a viewpoint that wasn’t covered.”
With plans to return to the US in a few months, Alex has been meeting Birthright participants from his hometown to speak to them about returning to Israel through a Masa Israel program. He is also applying for jobs in the Jewish nonprofit world. “A year ago, I never imagined that I would want a Jewish job,” says Alex. “Then again, I’d never had a group of Jewish friends before and I hadn’t yet spent an amazing year in Israel.”