The Otzma program is divided into three three-month tracks and throughout the year, my peers and I could never decide which one was our favorite.
We started the year living in an absorption center in Beer Sheva, taking intensive Ulpan classes and volunteering. All of a sudden, I was no longer in my Connecticut suburbs where daily errands are easy to accomplish and everyone speaks English. Instead, I found myself trying to re-learn how to do everything in a new country alongside new immigrants from all over the world, who not only didn’t speak English, but also didn’t speak Hebrew. Unable to communicate with them in Amharic or Hindi or Russian, we played soccer in the hallways with the young South American boys and enjoyed kosher Indian food with families from Mumbai. My father is from Jamaica and my mother is from New York, so I always knew that not all Jews look the same, but for the rest of my peers, the experience was eye-opening.
Stationed in Afula, I didn’t have high hopes for the second volunteering track. Afula, which is like the Kansas of Israel, is beautiful with nothing to do. Then I met my host family and just like a real family makes the boring suburbs lovable, my host family made Afula home. There, instead of being one American volunteer in a sea of them, as is the case in cities like Tel Aviv and Rehovot, I was able to choose where I wanted to volunteer and actually make an impact. Because Afula is so small and everyone knows each other, the volunteers’ contributions are truly appreciated.
Once spring arrived, it was time to leave my rural life behind for Tel Aviv. Now comfortable speaking Hebrew and living among Israelis, we were no longer rookies and we were happy to take on the role of young professionals in the Mediterranean city. I had a fabulous internship at IDC Herzliya’s Counter-terrorism Center, where I conducted my own research concerning issues in terrorism and published an article. The internship exposed me to ideas that led me to my job at the JDC’s Inter-agency Task Force on Israeli Arab Issues in New York. There I do work on the opposite side of the same coin, helping to provide support for the Israeli Arab population in Israel.
I am thrilled that Otzma and Masa Israel enabled me to discover a career path that I’m passionate about, and one that allows me to stay so closely connected to Israel.