Growing up as a Conservative Jew in a suburb of Detroit, I knew the basics about Judaism and Israel.
I attended Hillel Day School, celebrated holidays, went to shul, and believed in God.
But at 17, my dad passed away and I pushed my religion aside.
Ten years later, the economic crisis hit and I found myself with a Masters degree but no job.
While trying to figure out my next steps, an email popped into my inbox about a 10 month program in Israel where I could explore the country and also gain teaching experience, something that would look great on my resume.
I decided that I had abandoned my roots for long enough.
I packed my bags, said goodbye to my friends and family, and left in August 2011 to participate in Masa Israel’s Israel Teaching Fellows program.
Seven months into the program, not only have I been able to experience Israel: the culture the people, and the daily grind, but I have also had the opportunity to change two of my students’ lives —Y and K.
Y is a fourth-grade student who was placed in the lowest English group because, I was told, he did not even know the alphabet. During my lesson, Y was silent so, in broken Hebrew, I asked him how I could help.
In perfect English, he answered, “I’m bored in class.”
From the next day on, I made sure to give Y the attention he deserved.
My other student, K is an Ethiopian girl who was being abused at home and thought that it was her fault.
Her teachers came to me for advice because I am a licensed counselor in the States, and I decided to meet with K.
After hearing about her home life, I approached the school counselor.
Though I was not aware of Israel’s laws, I knew that this little girl was in trouble and I had to help—if only to show her that she does not deserve to be treated as such.
Out of the classroom, the Israeli people have had a huge impact on me.
Before I left for my 10 month journey, friends warned me of Israelis’ aggressiveness.
I prepared to check my Midwestern sensibilities.
But during my first week in Israel, I was on a bus when an elderly lady fell off the steps.
In a second, a Haredi Jew, an Arab, and a secular Israeli rushed to help. In that moment, I discarded everything I’d been told.
During the next months, I became used to dinner invitations, rides home, and Shabbat hospitality from strangers and friends alike.
With my Israeli and American peers, I also had a chance to participate in a Masa Israel Community Shabbaton, where we discussed what it means to be a Jew in Israel and in the Diaspora.
Inspired by the frank discussions, when an Israeli participant complimented me on my ring, I immediately offered it to her as a gift. When she protested, I told her that it wasn’t expensive and that I appreciated her coming to the Shabbaton because she added so much.
She refused. “I don’t want to perpetuate the stereotype that is out there about us—that all Israelis do is take, take, take.”
But I couldn’t believe it. In my seven months here, all I’ve encountered from Israelis is the exact opposite.
While at times my experience far from home has been challenging, I have been thrilled to develop my relationship with Israel.
I look forward to returning to Detroit and helping more young adults find their paths to Israel.