Growing up in Pittsburgh, Rebecca Wells celebrated the Jewish holidays and attended synagogue, but drifted away from her community after high school. Then, while living in Pittsburgh as a young professional, Rebecca befriended a few Israelis who urged her to travel to Israel.
“I faced a lot of anti-Semitism growing up, so the thought of being in a community where my Judaism would be accepted was exciting to me,” said Rebecca. “Once I saw pictures of my friends hanging out in Jerusalem and on the beach in Tel Aviv, I knew I had to get there.”
Rebecca enrolled in Masa Israel’s Oranim Community Involvement program, a five-month service program for college graduates, which gave her an apartment in Ashdod and a teaching position at the local public school. Each morning, Rebecca woke to the view of the Mediterranean from her window and then set out on a walk to school. In the afternoons, Rebecca tutored children in math and reading at an after-school program.
During her time in Israel, Rebecca also took part in Oranim’s educational seminars on Israeli history, trips throughout the country, including a night cruise along the Red Sea, and a Mitzvah Day, in which Rebecca painted the home of an impoverished Jewish family. “It was a very humbling experience,” said Rebecca. “The home was hot and crumbling and yet all the family wanted to know was if they could get us soda or water. They couldn’t stop thanking us.”
With new friends from the program, Rebecca traveled the country, renting a car and camping along the sea, and taking the bus to Tel Aviv to spend the day walking throughout the city. “One moment I was having a falafel and beer, the next I was at the mall and the next I was sitting on the beach,” said Rebecca. “Israel’s a country where you can do it all.”
But it was her visit to Jerusalem’s Western Wall which really impacted Rebecca. “My friends blindfolded me and led me through the Old City. Then, when we were standing at a spot overlooking the Kotel, they told me to take the blindfold off,” said Rebecca. She called her mother and best friend, sobbing. “I felt a great deal of solidarity with the Jewish people at that moment, and I realized that this feeling would remain with me for the rest of my life.”
When Rebecca returned home, she got a job in publishing and became a member of her local JCC. She also signed up for Hebrew classes and has since advanced two Hebrew levels.
“My time in Israel was a life-changing experience,” said Rebecca. “It made me a more confident person and it made me realize how important my Jewish identity is to me. I can’t wait to return.”