After taking part in the Masa Israel program at the University of Haifa, Sophie Krentzman began her journey as a young Jewish professional. Three years later, she works at Hillel International.
Growing up right outside of Boston, Sophie Krentzman enjoyed celebrating the Jewish holidays and Shabbat but had almost no connection to Israel. “I knew that the country existed,” says Sophie. “But aside from the little I learned about Israel in Hebrew School, I didn’t know much about it.”
Once Sophie transferred to a pluralistic Jewish high school, things began to change. “For the first time, I was exposed to the importance of Israel as a Jewish state,” says Sophie, who first traveled to Israel with her family as a freshman at UMass Amherst. But it was a Birthright trip to Israel during her sophomore year that convinced Sophie she needed more than 10 days in country.
“I was considering studying abroad in Australia because I’d heard from friends how beautiful it was,” says Sophie. “But after Birthright, I became a lot more curious about Israel. I wanted to explore it further, and I really wanted to study Hebrew in a much more intensive way.”
For the second semester of her junior year, Sophie headed to Israel and enrolled in the Masa Israel program at the University of Haifa, because she believed the small international program would be conducive to learning Hebrew. While living in a suite with two other North Americans and three Israelis, Sophie took courses that included "Women in Israel," "Arab Israeli Relations," and "Globalization and the Politics of Identity." She also took an intensive Hebrew ulpan four days a week.
In her down time, Sophie had the opportunity to explore the city with an Israeli friend, who had lived with Sophie’s family as an exchange student while they were in high school. She also enjoyed celebrating the Israeli holidays that she’d previously learned about.
“In the change at the end of the day between Yom HaZikaron (Remembrance Day) and Yom Ha’atzmaut (Independence Day), there was a palpable shift in the country’s energy,” says Sophie. “First everyone spent the day mourning the fallen soldiers, and then, suddenly, everyone exploded with happiness. It was incredible to see such intense and seemingly opposite emotions felt by an entire country within 48 hours.”
Also during her semester in Israel, Sophie took part in Masa Israel’s Building Future Leadership course, where she created a plan for a Jewish textual learning group. Now in DC, Sophie has put her plan into practice as co-coordinator of the DC Beit Midrash
, an open, pluralistic learning environment. She also works for Hillel International as the Human Resources Associate.
“While studying in Haifa, Israel changed from an idea to a real, dynamic and nuanced place,” says Sophie. “It’s no longer just a country that I’m told to love, because I have forged my own connections with the land and the people. Now, even if I don’t always agree with everything the government does, I know that I truly support the existence of the country.”