Along with 52 other recent college graduates from all over North America, I was able to experience Israel from the inside out, learning Hebrew, seeing the country, interacting with Israelis, and volunteering in a multitude of ways. Through our work with Israel’s disadvantaged communities, we took part in an Israel that was unlike the one many of us had previously seen and we connected to a world that was very different from our own.
I spent my first three months in the southern city of Be’er Sheva and lived at a merkaz klitah (immigrant absorption center), surrounded by Jews who had just moved to Israel from countries throughout the world including, Peru, India, Russia, Ethiopia, and France. In addition to taking Hebrew Ulpan courses, I volunteered at an after-school center for kids in the community and tutored high school seniors in English to help them prepare for their end-of-year exams. Although my role was to educate others, I learned a great deal from my students in hearing their opinions about Israeli politics, Obama’s presidential campaign, pop culture, and army service.
When I moved to Rehovot to become a full-time volunteer I tought English at the elementary school and volunteered at a community center in Kiryat Moshe, which is a predominantly Ethiopian neighborhood, running activities for at-risk youth.
For the last part of OTZMA, I moved to Tel Aviv to intern at Haaretz, Israel’s more liberal daily newspaper. I quickly fell in love with Tel Aviv city life and I felt privileged to be part of Israeli society during Yom HaZikaron, when hoards of people gathered in Rabin Square to remember fallen soldiers and during Yom Ha’atzmaut, while enjoying bonfires on the beach to celebrate Israel’s independence day.
OTZMA was truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to explore the world and help repair it along the way.