Raised in a Conservative home in Chicago, Judaism was always a part of my life. I attended Solomon Schechter for elementary school and then got involved in USY. While a junior in high school, I took part in the Alexander Muss semester program in Israel. It was then that I decided I needed to return for another extended period of time.
My chance to do so came soon enough. After graduation, I enrolled in Masa Israel’s Nativ, the Conservative movement’s gap year program in Israel. During that year, I had the opportunity to get to know the areas where I lived. While taking courses in Arabic, Jewish studies and Hebrew at Hebrew University during the first half of the year, I was also able to explore Jerusalem. I went to festivals, museums, and the market on a regular basis. I traveled to the Old City and visited the Kotel whenever I felt like it. On Yom Kippur, when the streets are devoid of cars, my friends and I sat in an intersection and sang, and the Israelis who passed joined in.
I also had the opportunity to volunteer at the Jerusalem YMCA’s preschool, which has both Arab and Jewish students.
I spent the second half of the year in Yerucham, a development town in the south—which allowed me to see a very different side of Israel. There, few people spoke English and I worked at a religious girls’ school with people who were very excited to learn English from Americans. My host family was incredibly hospitable, inviting me for meals and to take part in hiking trips.
Leaving Israel was very difficult and after a year at Columbia/JTS, I decided that I needed to return to Israel. Recently I made aliyah through Garin Tzabar, a program that enables me to live on a kibbutz alongside other new immigrants around my age, while enlisting in the Israeli army.
I am currently living on Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu and still keep in touch with all my counselors from Nativ, as well as my friends from Yerucham. I am so glad I participated in Nativ because it really allowed me to explore Israel and discover a place for myself in it.