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By Roxanna Donay, Nativ College Leadership Program alumna
Me (right) and a friend from Nativ
(Credit: Roxanna Donay)
“I’m not going home; I’m leaving home.”
With tears streaming down my face, these were the words I uttered as my El AL flight took off from Ben Gurion airport after my incredible gap year experience in Israel.
I had just spent nine months in my newfound home away from home, and as I headed to college, my life was changed forever. On the Nativ College Leadership Program in Israel, a program of Masa Israel Journey, I spent one semester studying and earning academic credits at the Rothberg International School at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and one semester teaching English and volunteering in Yerucham (a small town in the south of Israel). I was able to further my education and gain real life experience — a combination that many other 18-year-olds enter college without.
Me (center) and my Nativ friends in Jerusalem
(Credit: Roxanna Donay)
Like any typical college student, I was waking myself up, eating breakfast, getting to class on time (usually), writing papers, and studying for finals — only I was doing it all in Israel. I was living independently from my parents in a foreign country where I was given the space and the structure to succeed. What my 18-year-old self didn’t know was that I would soon be paying it forward. Upon graduating from college, I started a new adventure and began working at The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles with Masa Israel Journey (a project of The Jewish Agency for Israel and the Government of Israel) helping hundreds of others embark on their own journeys in Israel.
Spending a long period of time in Israel means that people truly become a part of the Israeli communities in which they live, and as a result, understand what’s at stake when it comes to the continuity of the Jewish people. Masa Israel provides and connects young adults (ages 18-30) from around the world with leading immersive international experiences in Israel designed to enrich their personal and professional growth. Such experiences facilitate the next generation of young Jewish leaders — whether it’s a gap year program like mine, studying abroad, volunteering, teaching English, interning, or earning a graduate degree, these experiences have profound impacts on the participants/young adults.
But what I didn't realize until I returned to Los Angeles was that the journey doesn’t stop in Israel. The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles has built an incredible young adult network where Masa Israel alumni can engage with our local community upon return. Through Young Adults Los Angeles (YALA), the Community Leadership Institute (CLI), Federation volunteer days and more, we each find our niche through social events, professional networking opportunities, leadership seminars, and social action.
Credit: Roxanna Donay
The preexisting infrastructure within the Federation system led to a natural partnership between Federation and Masa in order to reach LA’s Jewish community and to recruit potential participants as well as engage alumni. Together, alumni here in LA are continuing to foster the connections to each other, Israel and the larger Jewish community that were planted while in Israel, and utilizing them to strengthen our Jewish community. I have the opportunity to work within the Federation infrastructure to grow Masa’s presence in Los Angeles as a part of a larger effort to reach and connect with young Jews seeking transformative experiences that will forever impact their lives and help them determine their own sense of Jewish identity. I know my own life has been forever transformed, and I am excited to help introduce this impactful experience to others in Los Angeles.
Over the last eight years, I have truly come to appreciate the powerful effect of my gap year in Israel on my life, professionally and personally. Not only did I gain an incredible sense of independence and world knowledge at a young age, but I was also able to turn my experience into a career. My work at The Jewish Federation allows me to help so many others discover life-changing opportunities that Israel has to offer.
A native of Los Angeles, Roxanna Donay is the Program Director of Israel Experiences and Post Programming at The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. A graduate of Cleveland High School and University of California, Davis, Roxanna spent the 2007-2008 school year on the Nativ College Leadership program, a gap year program of Masa Israel Journey.