Though New York-native Miriam Rubin had always taken an active role in Jewish life, serving on the BBYO regional board during high school and joining Jewish clubs at the University of Maryland, she did not travel to Israel until her senior year. “I always wanted to go, but things kept getting in the way,” she says. “If I got an internship during trip dates, I figured I’d just do it another time.”
When Miriam finally visited Israel with Birthright a semester before graduation, she knew she had to return. “Birthright was a great introduction but I knew there was a lot more to learn and experience,” says Miriam.
After graduating from college with a degree in communications and public relations, Miriam decided to participate in Masa Israel’s WUJS Jerusalem Studies. “I didn’t want to do what all of my friends were doing right after college, moving into the city and getting PR jobs,” says Miriam. “I thought that it was important for me to spend more time in Israel first.”
WUJS Jerusalem Studies gave Miriam a comprehensive Israel experience, and included a Hebrew ulpan, courses in Zionism, Arab-Israeli conflict, Kabbalah and Talmud, and trips throughout the country. Miriam especially appreciated that her peers came from diverse Jewish backgrounds. “Some had been involved in Judaism since forever, some were recent converts, and others had been to synagogue once in their lives. It was interesting to see how everyone had different interpretations and views to add to each discussion,” says Miriam.
In Zionism class, the teacher brought Jerusalem alive through tours throughout the city. In the Arab-Israel conflict class, Miriam developed a thorough understanding of Israeli history and obstacles to peace.
“It’s incredible how alive the history is in Israel. Everywhere you look, there are places mentioned in the bible and just walking around, you can see proof that it’s our land,” says Miriam. “I realized how important it is to defend Israel and keep it alive.”
One experience that stands out to Miriam takes place on the first night of Chanukah in Burger’s Bar in Jerusalem. “Everyone was ordering food and all of a sudden, the guy behind the counter puts a Chanukiah on the garbage and everyone starts singing the prayers,” remembers Miriam. “It was so natural and wonderful, and it wasn’t because everyone was getting new iPods. The holiday itself was magical and people had real respect for the candle lighting.”
Miriam returned to New York much more knowledgeable about Israel. “I’m kind of like a rep for Israel to my friends and I’m proud to be the person who can clear up myths people hear in the media,” says Miriam.
Her Israel experience also helped in her professional development. Now working in digital advertising, Miriam says that her six months in WUJS Jerusalem Studies made her stand out as a job candidate. “My boss realized I wasn’t some run-of-the-mill girl from the Northeast, but that I had the drive to pursue education abroad for my own personal growth,” she says.
Living in New York, Miriam recently took a Hebrew course at the 92nd Street Y and just returned from a friend’s wedding in Israel. Miriam hopes to return as soon as she replenishes her vacation days. “My mom is always telling me that my friends and I should travel the world and see different places,” says Miriam. “But the truth is, it’s just not important to me right now. I just want to go to Israel.”