No Longer a Void

By Jake Shillman, WUJS Intern Tel Aviv, Roslyn, NY
There is a fitting passage written by Yair Lapid in describing my early thoughts on Israel: “It’s the only country where, if you despise politicians, abhor clerks, hate the situation, are disgusted with the taxes, loathe the standard of service, and detest the weather, it’s a sign that you love it.”
My name is Jake Shillman and I was raised in Roslyn, New York. Coming from an active Jewish family in a predominately Jewish town, I attended Hebrew school, had a Bar Mitzvah and frequented synagogue on Shabbat and holidays. I played basketball at the Maccabi games, volunteered at the JCC and lived the stereotypical life of an American Jew. As someone so involved in the American Jewish community, one would be surprised to discover that up until a month ago, I had never been to Israel.
As a little kid sitting in Hebrew School, Israel was the mythical land located somewhere past the Hamptons; the supposed land of milk and honey, the birthplace of Judaism, and frequently discussed on the news as a hot bed of conflict and religion. My family and friends had all visited the country and have lectured at length on the true greatness of the place, its natural beauty, the people and its importance in my life.
In May 2010, as a senior at SUNY Buffalo, I began to realize that something was missing. This connection, this universal attachment world Jewry discusses with this country, I had never experienced. I wanted Israel to be real to me, to taste it, to tangibly touch it, to explore, both physically and emotionally, Israel for myself. Furthermore, I needed to do it now before I had a career, a family and responsibilities.
Most seniors in college plan their future with two options: graduate school or work. Yet the thought of listening to professors talk at me for another four years, or sitting behind a cubicle in some halogen-lit office on the fifty-third floor of an ugly concrete skyscraper sounded dismal and downright boring.
I wanted a sense of an adventure, a Huckleberry Finn journey to new places and new people. There is Teach for America, the Peace Corps, and even a program where you go to New Zealand and herd cattle for a year. But then I struck gold when I stumbled onto a website and program I never heard of before: WUJS Israel Hadassah.
I voraciously read all the information pertaining to WUJS Israel and was captured by the variety of opportunities the program offers. As someone looking to build his resume and use his college education while seeking a new adventure, Intern Tel Aviv provides the perfect combination of these goals.
Intern Tel-Aviv provides participants the ability to work in a professional internship in Israel’s most exciting and international city, an intensive Hebrew language immersion ulpan, weekly field trips, as well as overnights to different parts of the country. The program also offers seminars and meetings that teach participants about Israel, its history, its culture and its people.
My first impression of Tel-Aviv was one of comfort and familiarity, which is odd since this was my first time walking the streets here. In a lot of ways it reminds me of New York, the energy, the hustle and bustle, the never ending list of things to do and see.
This cosmopolitan city flirting with the shores of the Mediterranean seems to never sleep and lives in a little bubble emotionally distant from the surrounding conflict. From the grandiose boulevards lined with fruit trees to the thousands of little cafes and bars occupying the narrow streets, Tel Aviv is a sun-soaked, beach-loving city that beats with the rest of the Western world.
Having only left Tel Aviv a few times, I am beginning to get a better understanding of the vast diversity on display here. From standing on a lush farm surrounded by desert picking clementines to help feed Israel’s hungry, to floating in the Dead Sea beneath the 2000 year old city of Masada, Israel’s historical, cultural and ecological variety is just beginning to truly develop in my mind.
Yet my most memorable highlight thus far has been my first trip to Jerusalem, specifically to the Kotel. As the little kid in Hebrew School, I sat near the poster of the Kotel; I would stare up at its glistening stones and grandeur wondering how I would feel to stand before something that unites the Jews of the world, that connects me to not only my past, but the future as well. I dreamed of placing my hand on the smooth surface, reciting a prayer and placing my little note with my wish for the world in the wall.
When that moment finally arrived, I was overcome with emotion. Standing before this structure, I finally understood what my friends and family had discussed; for the first time, I sense a real connection to the land of Israel, to its people and to its history. I started to understand where and how I fit in to this picture.
One month has flown by and there are another four and half to go. I came to Israel to establish a connection to this place and to find where I belong in this story. If the first month has shed some light on this subject, then I eagerly await what the coming months will bring.

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