By Joseph Kluger, OTZMA
Why would you ever want to live in Israel? This is the first question one of my best friends asked me when I told her I was moving to Israel for 10 months on a program called OTZMA. The thought of living in Israel was never on my mind 2 or 3 years ago. My curiosity all started with my trip to Israel on Birthright and hearing the experiences of my brother who made aliyah in 2006.
My name is Joseph Kluger and I am 24 years old. I grew up in San Antonio, Tx with my four brothers and graduated from the University of Texas at San Antonio in 2007. I was the president of Hillel at UTSA and led friday night services on board the cruise ship I worked on. Judaism has always been apart of my life and coming to Israel was naturally the next step.
I found OTZMA on the Masa website under long term Israel programs and was accepted and on my way to living in Israel for 10 months. After 3 months of hebrew studies, I moved to Haifa to volunteer with my Partnership 2000 city which was the Western Galilee Region. Every week, Brett, my roommate in Haifa and fellow Western Galilee partnership volunteer on OTZMA, and I head to the Wizeman Elementary school in Akko, a beautiful city in the Western Galilee dating as far back as some say the 16th century BC.
As we enter that gate at the elementary school we are greeted by the security guard who tells us in hebrew, “Good morning English teachers”. We smile and enter to be immediately thrown into a mosh pit of 7 to 12 year old students screaming phrases like “HELLO”, “TEXAS” and “MY NAME IS”, but never a full sentence. Our English teacher, Ludmilla, from the ex-Soviet Union hands us our lessons of the day and we head to the library.
Before I am able to take another step, I am hit from behind with the first of numerous hugs from my crushie “Lial” telling me that she cannot wait to sit down with me to speak English. I met Lial the first day we took a tour of the Wizeman school when she came running up to inform me that she loves to speak English and that she has a brother in Los Angeles. Israeli Fact: All Israelis seem to have a brother, sister or cousin living in Los Angeles. I smile and tell Lial thanks for the hug and head to start our first lesson. Four students at a time come to Brett and myself to read about what color mother’s dress is and which monster has white hair. The students enjoy the one on one teaching and the break from class to come and talk to the “Americans”. Each student’s English is different, but each have a nice russian accent. My time here at the Wizeman school is perfect.
Our latest visit was the day of the school’s Purim party or what I like to call it, the “kids eat and drink sugar and then take over the school” party. Brett and I experienced a Purim play, an acrobatic routine and 10 stations of games for the kids to win prizes. The day was exciting and definitely filled with experiences to write home about.
After the school, I head over to the Western Galilee Hospital in Nahariya, a city about six miles south of the Lebanon/Israel border. I am assisting in the hospital’s communication department, reading grant proposals and newsletters. It feels great to work in a professional environment for a few hours a week to get my brain thinking again after teaching. My day then ends with a relaxing train ride back to Haifa and I think about what an amazing experience I am having. I sit there not believing that 6 months ago I was in San Antonio and now I am living as an Israeli in Israel. As I am writing this sentence, my mind is overwhelmed with emotions and memories that I’ve encountered and all I can do is smile. We are so lucky today to have a place that Jews from across the world can visit, interact and live together. I truly am so lucky.