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August 15, 2012

An Office of Passionate People: My Internship Experience in Jerusalem

http://www.jewishjournal.com/blog/item/an_office_of_passionate_people_my_internship_experience_in_jerusalem_201208/

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Life after college is a confusing time.  What are your options?  Work?  Graduate school?  Travel?  These were the questions I asked myself upon graduating from Colorado College with a B.A in Religion in May of 2010.  I decided to move back home and weigh my options.  My lifelong dream had always been to either spend a substantial amount of time in Israel or to make aliyah.  My dilemma was how to proceed in such an endeavor.  During my Birthright trip in 2008, they had explained to my group that there were ways of returning to Israel, but I was not very clear on the options available to me.  Initially, I looked into the logistics of moving to Israel for a year or so and trying to find work and an apartment on my own.  This proved much more complicated then I had originally anticipated and the idea quickly fell by the way- side.   

During the summer of 2010, I volunteered with Birthright NEXT in the San Francisco Bay Area.  After expressing my concerns on the process of traveling to Israel, the Director of NEXT put me in contact with a Masa Israel representative who met with me and carefully explained a wide range of programs that fit my criteria. Masa, which means “journey” in Hebrew, is an organization funded by the Jewish Agency. An overwhelming sense of excitement took hold of me as I rushed home to review the program booklet.  After a month of research, I had narrowed my search enough to feel confident in applying for the Israel Experience’s program “Career Israel.”  Career Israel offers both a five month and a three month internship program in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem.  Their database was extensive and I was easily able to compile a list of potential internships I was interested in applying for.  The application process was straightforward and the staff was always happy to answer my questions.  With the help of a grant for Masa, the program was much more affordable.

Before I knew it, I was flying to Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv with a world of possibilities ahead of me.  I was still unsure of what the future held, but I knew my trip to Israel would provide me with some clarity regarding the future.  For instance, I had always considered aliyah, but I wanted to spend some time in Israel before making such a life-altering decision.

The first month was a whirlwind!  I lived in the center of Tel Aviv and did ulpan, and of course, toured and explored the nightlife.  It was an exciting time, but the real adventure for me was the upcoming move to Jerusalem. I have always been fascinated by religion and moving to Jerusalem would put me at the heart of not only my religious world, but that of Christianity and Islam.

Our move to Jerusalem was simple enough.  The drive was only about an hour, but the differences between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem were extreme.  Tel Aviv is a city on the beach, and while I had an amazing month there, it felt too much like a vacation.  Jerusalem is an ancient city and you can feel that as you walk along its many cobblestoned roads and when you smell the spices coming from the stalls of the shouting shuk vendors.  My move to Jerusalem meant a serious step towards my feeling at home in Israel. I shared my apartment with four other girls in the Kfar Hastudentim (Student Village) of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.  The Kfar is on French Hill in the highly controversial area of East Jerusalem.  My window even overlooked the security barrier between Jerusalem and the West Bank. 

I had a double-internship with the Jewish Federations of North America and the UJA-Federation of New York.  The work was fast-paced and exciting.  My co-workers were warm and welcoming and I found myself surrounded by people who were excited about the work they did.  It was an invigorating environment and something not commonly seen in an American office setting. 

For JFNA, I worked primarily on updating their Negev Hub, a section on JFNA’s Israel and Overseas website which informs readers about federation activities in the Negev.  I contacted various federations who are involved in initiatives in the Negev region and kept their information up to date on the website. This project was perfect for me as I have always felt a special connection to the Negev.  Ben Gurion’s dream of making “the desert bloom” has always resonated with me, and if I were to make aliyah, I would consider making my home in the Negev. In addition to Negev work, I wrote several articles about programs funded by the JDC.  On occasion, I would write media reports, which were sent to federation representatives in North America. 

For the UJA-Federation of New York, I worked mostly on a report on Diversity Hiring in the Israeli Workforce to be presented to the Commission on the Jewish .  This field was entirely new for me and I welcomed the challenge.  Researching for the report was exciting and the product of my work will hopefully help create avenues for implementing further diversity hiring initiatives in Israel. In addition to the report, I worked on tasks related to Groups Renewing Judaism (GRJ).  GRJ is a movement in Israel that seeks to reconnect the secular community to their Jewish roots.  These initiatives are impressive, to say the least, and are doing a lot to try to lessen the feelings of alienation towards Judaism experienced by the reform movement and secular communities in Israel.

Career Israel provided me with the unique perspective of living and working in Israel without all the obligations that come with Israeli citizenship.  In a sense, it is a test run for aliyah, or as Nefesh B’Nefesh calls it, a “Pilot” program.  While the program offered a substantial amount of information on making aliyah, personally, I am still unclear as to whether or not it is the right choice for me; however, my time spent in Israel allowed me to become much more informed about the aliyah process.  My time spent on the Career Israel program allowed me to fulfill a lifelong dream.  I feel much closer to the Land of Israel and I can proudly say that I made sure to take advantage of every opportunity offered to me by Career Israel, JFNA and the UJA-Federation of NY. 

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