Lauren Plunka

WUJS Israel
After graduating from Goucher College, I, like so many others, realized that I had no idea what kind of career I wanted, who I was, or what I wanted out of life. So, I decided to clear my head and explore my passions in Israel.
I enrolled in Masa Israel’s WUJS, a six-month program for college graduates that combines Jewish and Middle Eastern Studies against the backdrop of a living classroom, as well as volunteer opportunities. Having visited Israel on only two short-term trips, I was finally able to not only see a multifaceted Israel on WUJS, but to become a part of it. In addition to taking an intensive Hebrew ulpan course, the group traveled to diverse sites around Israel, which ranged from the Independence Hall in Tel Aviv to Kibbutz Metzer, the only kibbutz where Israelis and Palestinians live and work together, to Sderot, where we visited playgrounds, which serve the dual purpose of bomb shelters. 
While our trips throughout Israel gave us a real framework for our studies, volunteering gave us a place in the community. During the war in Gaza, my fellow participants and I packaged meals for over 10,000 soldiers at an army base in Tel Aviv, and led arts and crafts projects with children who fled the rockets in Sderot and Ashkelon. Throughout my time in Israel, I also volunteered at Amir Stables, a farm that offers riding lessons as therapy for terror victims, children with disabilities, and even Holocaust survivors. 
As my Hebrew grew and I learned how to relate to the sometimes-pushy Israelis, I grew more at ease in Israel and began exploring it with friends—spending a few days in the Golan Heights and attending the Rainbow Gathering, a hippie festival in the middle of the desert, and then camping out at the Dead Sea.
On WUJS, I was finally able to explore Judaism in its central location and experience Shabbat all over the country—from Haifa to Zichron Yaakov to Tzfat. 
Now, back in Maryland, I am a teaching assistant in Hunt Valley and work with low-functioning autistic children. In the near future, I hope to earn a masters degree in occupational therapy. Though I studied biology in college, my volunteering with WUJS made me realize that my calling is in helping people through hands-on interaction. 
I never would have expected to see myself in Israel a year after graduation. However, I am so lucky I chose that path. Not only did I make life-long connections, visit beautiful places, experience a country so full of life, but I discovered the sort of person I want to be. I encourage other young adults to take advantage of the opportunities that Masa Israel has to offer and to take the time to explore their passions in Israel.