Growing up in Charlotte, I, like many other American Reform Jews, had a rather superficial view of Israel. Having visited the tourist attractions as an adolescent and taken several Jewish courses while an undergraduate student at Boston University, I automatically defended Israel’s politics and praised it as simply the most beautiful place in the world. But my immersion in Israel while on the Masa Israel Journey program, WUJS Jerusalem Learning made the country real to me and made my views on it more nuanced. As I look forward to becoming a Reform rabbi, I now feel able to bring a new level of insight and Jewish commitment to my community.
One of the requirements for Hebrew Union College’s Rabbinical School program is two-years of college level Hebrew. Not wanting to postpone graduate school, I opted to spend six months studying Hebrew in an immersive Ulpan in Israel. While living in Jerusalem during WUJS Jerusalem Learning, I not only had the opportunity to study Hebrew every day, but also to take courses in Torah, Kaballah, Talmud, Zionism, and the Arab-Israeli conflict ina pluralistic environment. These courses included weekly interactive field trips throughout Israel, one which led us to a beautiful tucked away café outside of Jerusalem where our lesson was to order our food and drinks completely in Hebrew.
The secret jewels on the WUJS program are the teachers: an incredible mix of young and old educators, some with decades of experience to share. Incorporating their Israel-related professional and personal histories, and expertise into the lessons, they helped students understand new concepts and grasp intangible ideas. While the instructor of the Arab-Israeli conflict course spoke of his experiences as a former IDF intelligence officer, the rabbis could spout out any Torah or Talmudic verse in Hebrew and in English.
The teachers were not only mentors, but also friends. On long bus rides, I sat and spoke with my instructors about their lives and their journeys, and they answered and then asked about mine. The teachers at WUJS inspired me to become a better educator, to learn from their teaching styles and to grow in my appreciation for the State of Israel.
Without my experience on WUJS Jerusalem Learning, Rabbinical school could not be a consideration. Not only did my time in Israel provide me with a proficiency in and comfort with Hebrew, but I returned to the States feeling inspired and ready to lead a committed Jewish life. I purchased Kiddush cups, candles and challah covers and started wearing a kippah to display my pride in my Jewish identity. On Shabbat, I now host gatherings for my friends to discuss their week and unwind. Back in Charlotte, I am involved in Jewish young adult activities and synagogue programs in my area, and I currently teach religious school, advise a Jewish youth group and serve as a rabbinic intern.
My experience on WUJS Jerusalem Learning has helped shape me into the Jewish young adult I am becoming and envision the rabbi I hope to become.