Growing up in Deerfield, Illinois, Shabbat dinners at Teri Herbstman’s home always ended with the singing of the Hatikvah. “I remember spending one Shabbat at a friend’s home where they didn’t sing it and suddenly realizing that it wasn’t in the siddur,” says Teri.
“My parents’ decision to end our family’s shabbos service with Hatikvah as well as seeing their involvement in many Jewish organizations definitely helped instill a sense of Zionism in me.
A regular at Bnai Tikvah synagogue and the annual AIPAC conference, Teri served on the executive board of Cornell’s pro-Israel group, bringing Shimon Peres to campus.
When she traveled to Israel with Birthright at age 19, Teri extended her trip to volunteer with Ethiopian immigrants in Kiryat Gat, Chicago’s Partnership 2000 sister city. “I hadn’t been to Israel since eighth grade and I just fell in love with it all over again,” she says. “I knew I had to return for a longer period of time.”
When her peers began applying for jobs during senior year, Teri decided to enroll in Masa Israel’s WUJS Peace and Social Justice, a six-month volunteer program. “I knew I had the rest of my life to work and now it was my time to give back to Israel,” says Teri.
During the first two-and-a-half months of WUJS, Teri lived in Jerusalem, took courses, which included Hebrew, the Arab-Israeli conflict, Kabbalah and Talmud, and traveled throughout the country, visiting places which included Sderot, a Jewish-Arab neighborhood in Kibbutz Metzer, the Egyptian embassy, and the Judean Desert.
During Operation Cast Lead, the group went to an army base outside of Tel Aviv and packed lunchboxes for soldiers in Gaza. “It was incredible to not only see the entire country step up in a time of need, but it was great that we too were able to help our brothers and sisters,” says Teri.
Teri volunteered with Magen David Adom ambulance services during the next three months. “While still living in the WUJS apartments, I went to work everyday, meeting people from all different backgrounds in Jerusalem and giving them one-on-one care,” says Teri.
Her most intense experience involved an emergency in East Jerusalem. “When we were stopped at Ramat Rachel and told to wait for an escort, my heart started beating faster. Then we entered the neighborhood and we saw a Hezbollah flag waving from one of the homes,” says Teri.
It didn’t stop them, though. They entered the home next door to help the woman in need. “It really shook me up to see how much Israeli people risk their lives to help people who dislike them. That’s something the media needs to show the world.”
Upon her return to Chicago, Teri got involved in American Friends of Magen David Adom, helping to organize a young leadership event, and the Anti-Defamation League, co-chairing an event for young professionals that raised $200,000. She also started her own catering company, called, Teri Sue’s Kitchen, catering special events and doing cooking demonstrations for local synagogues.
“It was great to be able to integrate my love of Judaism with my love of cooking,” says Teri. Later in the year, she founded the Jewish Education Team (JET)’s Young Professional Maimonides Program, a six-week Jewish-learning course for young professionals in Chicago.
Teri is currently working as the Assistant Area Director of Chicago at AIPAC. “I’ve had a wonderful time volunteering in Jewish organizations since my return from Israel,” says Teri. “I realized it would be even better to do work I’m so passionate about full-time.”