By Seth Felix, WUJS Intern Tel Aviv. Seth is pictured on the left of the picture together with some of his friends from the WUJS program in Tel-Aviv
As a California boy, I never thought others would recognize me as anything but American, until this past year. People approach me on a daily basis assuming that I may be Russian, Israeli, French, British, Mexican, and even South African. This can only happen in the diverse city of Tel Aviv. It doesn’t bother me at all and I am flattered to look like such a mutt. I think that means I have adapted quite well since I am no longer mistaken as the typical American tourist.
A year ago I came on WUJS (World Union Jewish Students), a 6 month internship program sponsored by Haddasah/Young Judea. The program allows you to pick an internship of your choice, in the field you wish to pursue your career in, become a volunteer for a non-profit organization, or venture out and work in a field that you may have never tried back at home. While working hard, 3-5 days a week, there are also weekly trips around Israel which include hiking, touring, and educational excursions. I finally saw the acres of green trees and forests made possible by the donations from JNF. The tree certificates we buy definitely make a difference. Ulpan or Hebrew classes are mandatory twice a week but necessary and worth while if you want to steer away from your everyday American lifestyle.
Just before I left Pismo Beach, CA., I had been working in the hospitality industry at a small boutique hotel for a year, and really enjoyed it. I came to work in Israel in order to build my resume with some international experience. I got to Tel Aviv and two weeks later, without knowing much Hebrew, I was working behind the reception desk (kabbalah) at a large Israeli hotel chain, The Moriah Plaza (now theLeonardo Plaza). I thought to myself, how was I going to survive and actually have a worth while experience not speaking the native tongue?
On top of that I think many of us assume that Israelis have no patience for Americans, at least this was was I thought. But my assumption was soon turned around, my manager and co-workers were actually excited to have an American working with them. They were patient in the training process and helped explain procedures in English, while here and there using important Hebrew vocabulary that would help me understand the language more in the work place. As they became more confident with me, like any job, my responsibilities grew and I was able to work with more and more Israelis customers with my broken Hebrew. I was having a blast while getting some valuable experience at the same time.
I lived just a short 20 minute ride from work, a 20 minute daily adventurous bus ride that is, which was also a new and different experience for me. Having driven a car for almost half of my life, I had never really taken public transportation, let a lone a city bus with the most insane drivers in the entire world. I was nervous at first especially with all the bus bombings we hear about in the states, but soon got over this fear and made the most out of it.
After the 6 month program ended, I decided to stay. Soon enough, I applied for a work visa, found an apartment and was offered a job at the David Intercontinental Hotel in Tel Aviv. Unlike the bad condition of the economy in the States, tourism is booming in Israel despite the “flotilla scare”, most hotels were sold out this summer. The salary is not great, rent is expensive like in New York, but there are jobs, people still go out to have fun, and its a great feeling to say “Shabbat Shalom” to your neighbor.
I have been here for a year now and have not yet decided when I will come home. I still manage to stay close with my family via Skype and keep in touch with my friends through Fantasy Football. This amazing Israel experience would not have been possible without the financial support from The Jewish Federation of Fresno. They had granted me a generous loan which helped me pay the tuition for the program. I recommend this adventure to anyone in search of a career path, a new experience, and life long friends.