Liza Schwartz

Liza Schwartz

Career Israel
Program: 
Israel, you had me at “menorah.”
 
Allow me to explain. After two years working at a publishing company in New York editing mostly romance novels, I joined the Masa Israel-sponsored Career Israel internship program looking for something else to do with my English major. A few days after arriving in Tel Aviv, my roommates and I went shopping for desk lamps. Not seeing any displayed, I said to the salesperson in my best Hebrew, “We want light,” pointing to the light bulb in the ceiling, “but on a table.” Amazingly, he understood what I meant and answered in Hebrew, “Oh, you want a menorah.” I missed the name of the other store he suggested because I was stuck on the word menorah. Suddenly, it represented not only a ritual object that sits on display for most of the year, but also the everyday appliance known as a lamp.
 
During my five months in Israel I encountered a number of Hebrew words removed from their stale religious contexts and infused with life. I was among the offended when, during a panel discussion at the American Jewish Committee’s 2006 meeting, A. B. Yehoshua dismissed Diaspora Judaism and implied that Israelis were the only real Jews. During a subsequent speech at the Manhattan JCC he expanded on that blunt statement, and I accepted, at least academically, his argument that only Israelis experience Judaism in its entirety—as a nation and religion. It was only in this Tel Aviv appliance store that I fully understood what he meant and maybe even started to agree.
 
During the first week of my internship at the English-language website of Haaretz, I was surprised to hear everyone constantly talking about the Mishna. How was Torah commentary relevant to the news? It turned out that mishna simply means “secondary,” and in the newsroom it refers to the additional headline that expands on the main one. The mishna of Haaretz connected me to the Mishna of Rashi in a way Hebrew School never did. And the content of those mishnayot—crime, politics, corruption, and war—was no less relevant than their name. Living the totality of Jewish life as in biblical times means experiencing the celebrations of a shared heritage alongside the problems of modern nationhood.
 
Down the street from my apartment, I once heard a homeless man moaning in Hebrew, “Am yisrael, help me.” In America, I only heard that phrase, people of Israel, when it was time to break out the Israeli folk songs at weddings and bar mitzvahs. Another time, a beggar came into a restaurant and addressed my friend as adonai, my lord, when asking him for money. Even a term for God so holy it’s only pronounced in prayer has its street-level equivalent in Israel. In America, Jews have the luxury of isolating themselves based on differences in religious observance and lifestyle. There is a network of charities and cultural centers that connect the Jewish community, but one must choose to get involved. In Tel Aviv, I exited my building each morning into an uncensored Jewish world.
 
Since I came back to New York, I have been working at a Jewish non-profit and writing freelance. Why? Because, among other reasons, even though we don't have a Knesset to bind us into a nation of "complete Jews," as A. B. Yehoshua might say, our betai knesset offer a complete range of religious options that is rare in Israel. I grew up on Long Island attending a Conservative synagogue. When I moved to the city after graduating from Binghamton University, I found a number of young, egalitarian minyanim to choose from. In Tel Aviv I had to search for these kinds of congregations, and the attendees were mostly American expats my parents' age. Luckily, I was only trying to attend services, not get married or adopt a child outside the boundaries of the religious monopoly that exists in Israel.
 
Neither America nor Israel offers the complete Jewish experience, but my ear is now trained to hear what's missing in New York and fill in the blanks. Last year during Kol Nidre, for example, one word of the (admittedly Aramaic) prayer highlighted how Hebrew straddles Israel’s frustrating and alluring mix of the religious and mundane. At Haaretz I spent hours clicking mevutal, cancel, to delete inappropriate reader comments posted to the website. That same word is used in Kol Nidre when God is asked to annul all vows made during the previous year, joining the loftiest prayer with the lowest newsroom duty. An only-in-Israel moment brought to New York, thanks to five months off the tour bus and into the vibrant claustrophobia that inspires so many of us to call Israel home.

Josh Laurence

Josh Laurence

Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies
While working as a youth director at Temple Beth Sholom in Florida, Miami Beach-native Josh Laurence decided to spend a year studying at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies. "After first traveling to Israel with Birthright, I definitely wanted to return," says Josh. "Then the opportunity presented itself in the form of Pardes's year program—my mentor, Rabbi Robert Davis encouraged me to do it, my friend Miriam Farber registered, and the financial support from Masa Israel made it possible." 
 
Living in Jerusalem, Josh spent his days taking courses in Talmud, Torah, Social Action, Rambam, and Jewish Law. "I'd never taken part in such intense text study and the experience was invaluable," says Josh. "I became a lot more knowledgeable and confident in my abilities to teach others." 
 
When one of his teachers, Rabbi Levi Cooper, invited Josh to his house for Shabbat, Josh was given the opportunity to chant Haftarah at one of the neighborhood synagogues. "It was something I'd done many times at my Reform synagogue back home but it was a completely different experience," says Josh. "While usually there are a handful of people who also know the trop, in the Israeli congregation, people understood exactly what I was saying." 
 
When not in class, Josh had the opportunity to volunteer with PeacePlayers International, and facilitated basketball games for Arab and Israeli youth. On weekends, Josh traveled throughout Israel with friends. During a trip to a few settlements, one of Josh's teachers, Rabbi David Levin-Kruss, at Pardes called to make sure the group was safe. "A professor in an American university would never make such a call," says Josh. "But the faculty at Pardes was like that—always welcoming us to their homes for Shabbat and looking out for us." 
 
As the Youth Activities Director at Temple Beth Am in Pinecrest, Florida, Josh feels a lot more equipped for his work. "I can pull so much more meaning when unpacking Jewish texts and that makes me a much better teacher," says Josh. He continues to have weekly Skype study sessions with friends who have continued their studies at Pardes. 
 
Later that year, Josh returned to Israel to travel the country and visit friends. "I think it says a lot about my connection to Israel that I'm willing to drop $1200 on a ticket to return to the place where I just spent a year," says Josh. "After Pardes, I made a commitment to visit the country at least once or twice a year—whether for personal vacation or professional travel." Josh is currently applying to graduate school in education administration and hopes to continue working as an educator in the Reform movement. 
 
"But before continuing on that path, I may head back to Israel for another year or two to study or volunteer," says Josh. "There's nothing like being able to pick up the phone and tell an Israeli friend, I'm going to catch the 405 bus. Meet me on the beach in Tel Aviv.'"

Tali Sachs

Tali Sachs

OTZMA
I first traveled to Israel with Ramah Israel Seminar the summer I turned seventeen, after attending Camp Ramah Darom since its opening in 1997. Back then, I never anticipated returning for another year, let alone choosing to live there.
 
While studying English with a focus on mythopoetics geared towards language-of-conflict, I became involved in dialogue facilitation and conflict resolution at Clark University as the result of an internship with the U.S. State Department. As one who has always been involved in Israel and its affairs I became increasingly interested in the Arab/Israel Conflict, which often entered the conversation at my politically and socially conscious university. This conflict spurred friction between students and became a serious campus-wide issue. I co-founded a dialogue group to enable open discussions surrounding the conflict but understood that the only way to understand the matter more fully was to immerse myself in the conflict’s location.
 
In the autumn following my college graduation, I enrolled in Masa Israel’s OTZMA, a post-college service program. During my first few months in Ashkelon, I immediately connected with the Israeli people. They were direct and honest. I understood their, dry dark humor. I liked how people said what they meant and didn’t just pay lip service. When I was told to “make myself at home,” I found myself elbow deep in peeled vegetables and chores, and as much a part of the family as anyone.
 
I felt a strong sense of community everywhere I went—on a paratrooper base near Rehovot where I folded parachutes alongside soldiers. I also felt it in Yokneam, a small city south of Haifa where I taught English and math at an elementary school, gave guitar lessons at a youth center, and volunteered at an old age day-care center.
 
I even felt this sense of community in my internship with Righteous Pictures, an American documentary film company, which enabled met o travel around the country, interviewing people from many socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds about their everyday lives, personal histories, and interconnectedness with each other.
 
In my life, I have spent time in many places and made friends the world over—in Georgia, Massachusetts, Luxembourg, Italy, the U.K., and Germany. I have grown used to the idea that no matter where I am, I will always miss someone. In Israel, though, there were just too many people to miss. I can’t live anywhere else.
 
The feeling that I might want to stay was there from the beginning, but it was while talking to a friend from Pennsylvania, that the feeling solidified. Living five minutes from the shuk in Tel Aviv, I told him about the delicious tomatoes that sold for one shekel per kilo. He laughs and said he’d just bought two disgusting tomatoes for seven dollars. My decision to stay was made.
 
Now in the process of making Aliyah, I plan to enroll in a Masters program in Conflict Resolution and to complete the remainder of my interviews for Righteous Pictures, which I intend on publishing in book form. In addition to the interviews I have already conducted with Jews, I have lined up interviews with Israeli-Arabs, Palestinians, Thai and Nepalese foreign workers, and African refugees for when I return.
 
I am very happy that I chose to participate in Masa Israel’s OTZMA. Through the educational seminars and trips, I was able to gain a greater understanding of Israeli society, see it in action, and become a part of it through my immersion. I was truly able to integrate into the Israeli community and I can’t wait to reenter it upon my return.

Arielle Gottlieb

Arielle Gottlieb

Tikkun Olam in Tel Aviv-Jaffa
 
Graduating from Northwestern University in the midst of the economic crisis, a good job seemed unobtainable. So with a suitcase, JUF SKIP funds, and a Masa Israel scholarship, I escaped the U.S. economy altogether and went to volunteer in Israel. Hoping to learn more about the country while working in a meaningful field, I enrolled in the Community Service track of Masa Israel’s Tikkun Olam in Tel Aviv – Jaffa program. Its focus on working with the immigrant and refugee communities of Tel Aviv attracted me initially, while the program’s intensive Hebrew lessons, classes about Jewish identity, and trips around the country promised to round out the experience.
 
My volunteering took me to parts of Tel Aviv that one doesn’t see as a tourist—from a prison in Ramle where I mentored minors who came into Israel without parents or guardians, to a local public school where I taught the children of refugee and migrant workers, to a therapeutic horse riding center for children with special needs, to a refugee shelter which was little more than a dingy apartment building in the rough part of town. 
 
I became particularly involved with the children at the refugee shelter. While most of our time together was spent laughing and playing, there were certain moments when I was overwhelmed by their personal stories. My first day there I met a bright and smiley eight-year- old girl from Sudan who giggled as she talked about school and friends. Another volunteer later told me how that happy girl had seen two of her older brothers shot and killed right in front of her. That same day, I was playing with her little sister who, between spinning in circles and tickle fights, wanted to know where I was from. “America,” I told her, and asked where she was from. “A bad place,” she responded solemnly in Hebrew. Even with my elementary level of Hebrew, there was no mistaking the meaning behind those words. 
 
Trips all over Israel further shaped my understanding of the country. As a group, we visited places such as Sderot, where we met people for whom rockets and bomb shelters had become a way of life, and recognized and unrecognized Bedouin villages, where we talked about the particular challenges facing them and other minority populations.
 
Aside from the people I worked with on a daily basis and met during our travels, I also learned a lot from the Israeli soldiers who were part of our weekly classes. They did similar volunteer work to ours as part of their army service and their participation in our discussions was invaluable as it provided an Israeli perspective to what we saw and understood only as visiting volunteers.
 
Overall, I came to see Tel Aviv with new eyes. What was once all glitzy beaches and cosmopolitan glamour proved to be much more complicated and interesting. Being confronted with Israel’s problems on a daily basis challenged the rosy, idealistic view of Israel that I had always been taught to believe. How, for example, could a country founded by refugees for refugees be so hesitant, even negligent, towards the growing number of African refugees who are looking for a safe haven? Does being a Jewish state mean turning its back on non-Jews? As an American, I didn’t feel it was my place to provide the answers to these impossible questions, but rather to observe, learn, and help in whatever small way I could.
 
I don’t know what comes next now that my five months with Tikkun Olam in Tel Aviv - Jaffa have ended. It’s difficult to predict how managing a class of toddlers in a roach-infested preschool or talking about Barack Obama with teenage boys living in prison will impact my professional or personal life. There were lessons learned and skills acquired to be sure, but it’s a little too soon to be wrapping up this story with a moral and a bow. Suffice it to say that my Israeli interlude was a valuable and meaningful experience, and I wish that every college graduate could say the same for their first few months in the real world.

Michael Rosenbaum

Michael Rosenbaum

Career Israel
Program: 
 
As a Chicagoan with undergraduate and graduate degrees in biology, I decided to go to Israel to explore possible career paths in the sciences. On the Masa Israel Journey-accredited internship program, Career Israel, I was able to take part in a cutting edge research project at Tel Aviv University and stay up-to-date in the field while applying for a Masters degree in science high school education. Now, back in Chicago, I am currently taking courses at DePaul University to earn my teaching certification in Illinois. 
 
After staffing a Birthright trip after college, I realized that I wanted to return to Israel in order to deepen my connection to Israel and gain work experience. Israel, a leader in scientific innovation, turned out to be the best place to do this. 
 
On Career Israel, a five-month internship program for young adults, I took part in research at the Anatomy and Anthropology Department at Tel Aviv University. There I worked with Dr. Gregory Livshits, whose work revolves around the genetics of human skeletal development. There, I was given the independence to work on my own project in which I examined the role that different genes play in human cranio-facial development. 
 
Months after Career Israel's completion, I am still in regular contact with Dr. Livshits as we continue to collaborate through writing a scientific paper detailing our research. Shortly after the article is published in the scientific journal, Annals of Human Biology, I will have my teaching certification, allowing me to teach the subject I am most passionate about. 
 
Aside from my internship, I was greatly impacted by Career Israel's cultural enrichment programs, including our trip to Sderot, which took place a few months before Operation Cast Lead of January 2009. In addition to learning about the city's history, we were able to gain a first-hand understanding of the security threats its residents face every day. 
 
In Sderot, we met an American woman who now lives in Israel and works at the Sderot Media Center, which raises awareness of the situation in Sderot and southern Israel. Residents shared their experiences of dealing with shock and trauma. Listening to their stories, I was amazed to learn about the challenges that Israelis face in the struggle for peace and security. 
 
Now, I am enrolled in DePaul University's science high school teaching certification program. I stay connected to my Jewish identity in part through the campus Hillel. Not only did Career Israel inspire me to stay connected to the Jewish community, but it has also helped me further my professional goals.

Rachel Kesner

Rachel Kesner

Otzma
 
After earning my Bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Indiana, I wasn’t really sure what to do next. Everyone kept asking me, “What are you going to do with an English degree? Teach English?” I always had an interest in education, but I wasn’t quite sure whether I would enjoy the classroom atmosphere or informal education better. I decided to take part in Masa Israel’s Otzma, a service-focused program for college graduates to help me decide what I wanted to do.
 
Having spent a few summers volunteering at an English-speaking camp in Chicago’s partnership city, Kiryat Gat, I’ve always had a deep connection with Israel and was hoping to return to the close-knit community. When I found out that Otzma included the opportunity to teach English in an elementary school and high school, and spend another three months volunteering in my P2K community, I knew that Otzma was the right program for me.
 
This time around, my experience in Kiryat Gat was certainly unique. There is such an incredible amount of compelling volunteer work to be done and one of my favorite places to volunteer was in the community garden. Out in the sun with my hands in the dirt, I spent my days making things grow. Week-by-week, it was amazing to see how much the garden changed: whether something new grew, weeds were taken out, or Tzion decided to add a farm to the mix. Tzion ran the garden and really made us feel a part of it. The people in Kiryat Gat also really made the experience there so special for me. They made me feel like a member of the community; people recognized me around the town and would often yell out ‘Rachel,’ or ‘Chicago.’ Whether they knew me personally or not, it was clear that they appreciated the partnership between our cities. This compelled me to return after Otzma ended and work as the assistant director at Camp Kefiada.
 
Another rewarding experience was my internship at StandWithUs, an Israel advocacy organization. Working there at the time when the Mavi Mara attempted to reach Gaza, I was involved in very important work. I felt like I was breathing articles and YouTube videos because every moment was crucial. It was incredible to see an organization immediately respond, publishing flotilla facts in 15 different languages. It was an interesting time to be in Israel and my experience with StandWithUs trained me to respond to anti-Semitic attacks and gave me the tools to stand up for Israel.Now back in Chicago, I am working for the Jewish Agency for Israel as an Aliyah Coordinator. I absolutely would not be where I am now if not for Otzma. The program gave me an amazing Israel experience, enabled me to build my resume, and most importantly, helped me realize the importance of working in the Jewish community back home. It’s made my return a lot easier. I love spending my days talking about Israel and helping others get there too.

Talia Kurland

Talia Kurland

Career Israel
Program: 
 
While applying for a doctorate in clinical psychology, I decided to head to Israel. I had just spent the year working as an Early Intervention Specialist for toddlers who demonstrated signs of autism or other pervasive developmental disorders. Yet, I knew that I still needed something else to set me apart from other applicants. I enrolled in Masa Israel’s Career Israel, to gain professional experience abroad. 
 
My experience during those five months after college could not have been more distinct. I arrived in Israel in September 2008, during the time when Qassam rockets were fired regularly from the Gaza Strip into Sderot and were making their way towards Tel Aviv. I was in Israel when the army responded with Operation Cast Lead, and saw many of my Israeli peers leave to fight. Still, despite the fact that I was living in a “war zone,” I felt safe. 
 
Maybe this was because, in Israel, a small country colored with conflict, petty worries are dismissed and life feels immediate. I experienced this while taking part in discussions about current events, and my day-to-day internship responsibilities. At Kadima, an after-school program for disadvantaged youth with a variety of behavioral and emotional issues, I was truly able to use my skills and become part of the team. With a sense of community in Israel, I felt emotionally safe.
 
At Kadima’s Jaffa location, which served Jewish, Arab, Christian, and Ethiopian Israeli youth, I worked with the staff to prepare meals and activities. Given the opportunity to explore the world of counseling through hands-on work, I took three individual students for one-on-one time each day, helping them with homework, playing games, and just talking in Hebrew. My students’ resilience amazed me, as did my dedicated staff members, 18-year olds who postponed army service for a year of community service. 
 
While in Israel, I found that daily life seemed more meaningful. Surrounded by a diverse community that celebrates the Jewish faith, it was incredible to experience the Jewish calendar as the national calendar. There was nothing more comforting than seeing Hanukkah lights brightening the entire city or enjoying the weekly tradition of Shabbat dinners followed by a true day of rest. It was also thrilling to be able to light the Hanukah candles alongside Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, as I was able to, thanks to Career Israel.
 
Being in Israel during a time of heightened conflict allowed me to experience the collective passion and perseverance of the Jewish people whose common goal is to maintain a Jewish homeland. I found this reality remarkably humbling.
 
Now back in the U.S., I am in my second year at a Psy.D. program at the Adler School of Professional Psychology in Chicago, en route to becoming a child and adolescent clinical psychologist. I think about my Career Israel experience frequently and I believe that my letter of recommendation from the Career Israel program helped me gain acceptance to some of the more competitive psychological externships in Chicago. 
 
Last summer, I returned to Israel to interview first-aid responders of Magen David Adom (MDA) as part of a clinical research project. As I progress with my studies and clinical work, I hope to become professionally involved with the mental health field in Israel. Israel is one of my homes, forever woven with my identity and I simply can’t get enough of it!
 

Joseph Daniel

Joseph Daniel

Oranim Tel Aviv Internship Experience
 
If someone had asked me if I was Jewish two years ago, I would have replied, “Not really.”
 
My reasons for coming to Israel were purely professional. I was an engineer and wanted to make a transition to a career in public policy and gain experience in the field. I registered for Masa Israel’s Oranim Internship Experience, which promised exactly that.
 
When I landed in Israel, I had not stepped inside a synagogue since I was 15. I spent a lot of my childhood in Kansas, and the past three years working in Hawaii and had never had a Jewish community or been interested in having one. At the Florida Institute of Technology, where I earned my undergraduate degree, I had known other Jewish students, but I had not been close with any of them.
 
I’ve had the privilege of living in many places across the US and it is easy for me to move somewhere new and acclimate. But, I was shocked to discover such an immediate connection to Israel. Within days, I felt like Israel had me and I fell in love with Tel Aviv. Because my internship with the Deputy Mayor only required me to come into the office for meetings and presentations, I was able to do most of my work at cafés throughout the city and to get to know the owners. I was able to experience Tel Aviv during the day, often taking a break to explore one of the city’s many museums. 
 
I’m a person who says what’s on his mind and found that the Israeli bluntness suited me well. Israelis don’t have the time to skirt around subjects. They want to know the answer they’re interested in right when they ask, and it was refreshing to be in such a frank society after my recent experience in the American corporate work environment.
 
Coming from a family with a rich family history, I also appreciated the way Israelis honor their soldiers. On Israel’s Remembrance Day, we went to a military base and saw pictures of fallen soldiers and became silent during the nation-wide siren. I also loved that Israel was a small country and that on a Friday, my friends could knock on my door, ask me to come with them to Eilat, and that within an hour, I was on a bus headed south.
 
Though I never expected it, Israel opened me up to gaining a better understanding of Judaism. In Israel, it’s impossible not to think about Judaism—it’s a natural part of the lifestyle and dialogue. Now I realize that Judaism is not just about religious practice. It’s a part of my identity and one that I feel the need to connect with. 
 
Back in the United States, I am working for the Democratic Party of Wisconsin as a fundraising manager and for the Environmental Law and Policy Center as an analyst. I was recently accepted to Columbia University’s one-year MPA in Environmental Science and Policy. The only shortcoming of the program is that it starts in May and it is unlikely I will be able to return to Israel, or go visit my friends abroad, though I will certainly try. 
 
My experience in Israel was definitely professionally helpful for me, but that was expected. What is surprising is that now I see Israel as one of my homes. 

Abigail Kolker

Abigail Kolker

Career Israel
Program: 
 
After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, where I majored in Urban Studies and Hispanic Studies, I knew I wanted to live abroad and do social justice work. During college I volunteered with Mexican migrant workers in the United States and I hoped to explore this phenomenon in a different country. I had family members that spent time in Israel and encouraged me to go there. I enrolled in Masa Israel’s Career Israel Program where I lived in Tel Aviv, alongside other Jewish recent college graduates from all over the world, I interned with two non-profit organizations that provide aid to non-citizens in Israel.
 
At Mesila Aid & Information Center, which offers migrant workers in Tel Aviv social and legal services, I took on various roles. In addition to working on a committee to prevent the deportation of the children of migrant workers, I was responsible for amassing information about newer populations in Israel by interviewing individuals from Sri Lanka and India. At the African Refugee Development Center (ARDC), I worked at the pregnant women’s shelter and organized a fundraising party to raise seed money for a microfinance project for the women. 
 
My work took me throughout Tel Aviv and showed me a side of the city that few tourists see. In my work at Mesila, I conducted interviews to see the effect of an educational empowerment course for Filipino women. In the course, they had received guidance in demanding their legal rights in Israel. They were very emotional in their feedback and it was astounding to see how much the course had helped them achieve a sense of dignity.
 
At the pregnant women’s shelter, I learned about the difficult journey many of the women had taken to reach Israel. A young mother shared stories of her treks, while 8-months pregnant, through the hot desert during the day and her nights spent sleeping behind rocks. Thinking of the land of milk and honey which lay ahead, the woman and her group often kept going with only one liter of water to split among them. She wondered why she had even endured those hardships when the reality of Israel was not as she had dreamt. 
 
In addition to giving me hands-on experience in a field that I am passionate about, my Career Israel internships allowed me to simultaneously gain focus and realize the many avenues where I can take my interest. Instead of giving me answers, my internships raised new questions that I hope to tackle in my future research. It also made Israel a core part of my life and a place that I will visit often, whether for my research or just to see old friends. 
 
Today, I work at the Grupo de Mujeres de la Argentina, a think tank for marginalized people in Argentina, where I do similar work while gaining a new perspective. Though I have taken my work elsewhere, Israel is still very much in my thoughts. Having met many Argentinean people while living in Israel, I am looking forward to meeting their friends and exploring the Buenos Aires Jewish community. 

Drew Fidler

Drew Fidler

Yahel Social Change Program
Program: 
As I was nearing the end of my Masters in Social Work at New York University, I decided that I wanted to come live and work in Israel. Having grown up in a Jewish home in Owings Mills, Maryland and fallen in love with Israel on a Birthright trip two years earlier, I wanted to experience another side of Israel and grow and develop my skills as a social worker in another country. 
 
I enrolled in Masa Israel Journey's Yahel Social Change, a five-month service-learning program that enables individuals to live in the community where they volunteer with the goal of helping to strengthen the community from within. Two and a half months into the program, my new residence in Gadera, a fast-growing city 40 minutes southeast of Tel Aviv with a large immigrant population, feels like home. Neighbors greet me by name as I walk along the street, and I feel at ease in the neighborhood where I live. 
 
My comfort in Gadera was not instantaneous. In a community where most people speak Hebrew, my neighbors first viewed me as a strange outsider. The children and families living in the Shapira neighborhood, a single street of twenty-four-story cement apartment buildings, did not know who we were or understand why we were in Gadera. My group was known literally as “the Americans.” It was challenging to stay patient and build trust. But gradually things changed. People realized that we not only made promises, but that we followed through. 
 
Two mornings a week, I went to the local elementary school to tutor students in English and in the afternoons, I worked alongside Ethiopian-Israeli volunteers from Chaverim B'Teva, a local not-for-profit organization that seeks to empower the Ethiopian community in Israel. As a part of one of Chaverim B’Teva’s programs, I tutored two different pairs of Ethiopian-Israeli teenagers in their homes twice a week. The purpose of the program is to spend an hour and a half tutoring and then spend the last half hour with the family. Lacking Hebrew fluency, I first worried about how we would communicate. But through the openness of the family and our shared willingness to use whatever Hebrew, English and Amharic we could to connect, our relationship had grown exponentially. 
 
With our grassroots efforts, we cannot have expected to fully see the impact of our work during our stay, but we can plant seeds and help to create new and innovative sustainable projects. Having worked in a Jewish camp in the U.S. for the past three summers, I have seen firsthand the positive impact that Israeli counselors have on campers. As a result, I have teamed up with Chaverim B’Teva to launch a program to help prepare Ethiopian-Israeli young adults to take the Suchnoot exam, which makes them eligible for these positions. The test requires that young adults be able to express their passionate views about Israel in English and plan programs for American kids in English. We are currently in the process of creating the training. 
 
Though I attended a Jewish elementary school, I knew little about the rich culture and traditions of the Ethiopian Jews before living in Gadera. I believe it is important that American Jewish youth gain exposure to Jewish diversity in order to explore similarities and differences within widespread Jewish communities. 
 
Living among people whose descendents are from all over the world, I have never found it easier to live a Jewish life. I have spent Shabbat relaxing, exploring the country, and visiting numerous different synagogues and kabbalat Shabbat services. My Hebrew is getting stronger everyday. 

 
 
In the future, I hope to receive my clinical license, lead individual and group therapy with adolescents and their families, and create and implement after-school programming for at-risk adolescents in the Maryland area. Yahel Social Change is giving me very valuable experience in the social work field not only in meeting a community’s needs of today but also in helping them cultivate dreams and give them the resources to plan for their future. It's been wonderful to realize that the more I immerse myself in Israel, the more invested I feel in my work and the more confident I feel about my contribution.
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