Q: What is your full name, where you are from, university if relevant, and city/program were you are on?
Jillian Kaltman, Fair Lawn, NJ, University of Pennsylvania ‘15 2015 Teach For America San Antonio Corps Member
Program: Neve Yerushalayim General Jewish Studies
Q: Why Israel?
Simply put, Israel is where my soul springs to life. To take it further…It’s not just the place that’s nurtured my ancestral roots. It’s the place where passersby grab my attention to hand me back my bus pass or my wallet that I accidentally dropped on the floor. It’s the place where a bus driver will give me a lift 25 minutes off of his route to make sure that I get home safely. It’s where I’m asked by a stranger to hold and play with her precious baby during a bus ride, leading into meaningful conversation. It’s where I have an open invite to any and every Shabbat meal ever. Before my flight over in September, I was asked by airport security personnel whether or not I have any family here in Israel. I responded back, “Biologically speaking, no. But it feels like I have family in Israel everywhere I go.”
Q: What was your favorite moment this far in your journey?
Here’s a recent one! Last week, we did a night hike at Masada under the stars. We were given a head’s up that there would be a surprise but I had no clue as to what was in store. As we turned a corner mid-hike, I started noticing colorful, flickering hues against the rocks. Turns out that Neve set up a whole surprise dance party for us in the middle of the desert, complete with spotlights, DJ and dinner buffet! Israeli music blaring, a warm desert breeze, and Jewish women from all around the globe unified in our homeland. Empowering and epic beyond measure.
Q: What is your favorite city/spot in Israel and why?
Tough to choose! So many spots within Israel are filled to the brim with a distinctive, unique, holy energy. I definitely need to give a shout-out to the wondrous, mystical-as-ever city of Tzfat. It was there where I first discovered that all of the meaning and depth I’d been seeking in my life could actually be found within Judaism. That first trip to Tzfat was definitely the catalyst which set in motion my journey towards truth and infusing Torah into my daily life.
Q: Explain your experience in the Masa Leadership Accelerator/Global Summit?
I had the opportunity to participate back in November. I was the only participant from my program but honestly forgot this fact as I was instantly welcomed in to an incredibly warm, driven, diverse community. I think that “leadership” can be seen as a very broad term and having had the opportunity to participate in other leadership programs through the years, it’s easy to be skeptical of how powerful or productive a leadership program could be. I can say wholeheartedly that the Accelerator & Summit were game-changing and a major highlight of my adventure in Israel. I left not only with lifelong friends and a newfound network of motivated, globally conscious leaders, but also with more confidence in my leadership, practical tools and knowledge to infuse into my identity. Some highlights for me included practicing improv with a professional troupe, teaching a large group how to beatbox, and hearing inspiring talks from fellow participants and renowned yet humble leaders.
Q: What is your program like, what does your average day look like?
I’m currently a student at Neve College For Women, a seminary located in Har Nof, Jerusalem. I can’t really put into words how powerful and special Neve is. It’s a collective of growth-minded women seeking connection from the inside-out. As students, we have a wide variety of Torah-based classes every day on topics ranging from Chumash, to Parsha, self-development workshops, Ulpan, Halacha, Chassidut, and everything in between…In addition to incredible trips, Shabbatons, and holiday programming. Here, I’ve really been able to find my grounding as a mindful Jewish woman. The staff is beyond phenomenal and their mentorship and guidance has really informed my growth. It’s surreal to be surrounded by so many role models. I grew up with minimal religious connection, but now, Judaism is at the core of my being and consciousness.
Q: Any advice for incoming participants to your program?
Every moment here is a blessing, so go with the flow and trust.
...and, of course, apply to the MASA Leadership Accelerator & Summit. 😉