After her bat mitzvah, St. Louis-native Kayla Kahn was fairly certain her Jewish education was over. But following her graduation from Johns Hopkins University, Kayla traveled to Israel with Birthright and everything changed.
“I had no previous Israel experience and nothing close to a feeling or connection to Israel, but Birthright really worked for me,” says Kayla. “In the Jewish country, surrounded by Jewish people my own age, I felt completely comfortable being Jewish. As soon as the trip ended, I started looking at Masa Israel programs in order to return and by August, I was back.”
Kayla chose to participate in Masa Israel’s Oranim Internship Experience, which set her up with an apartment in Tel Aviv on Ben Yehuda Street—two blocks from the beach—and an internship as the international campus coordinator at Tel Aviv University’s student union. “I knew I wanted to stay in the realm of student life because I’d been the social chair of my sorority and had done event planning for Johns Hopkins, so the internship was perfect for me,” says Kayla. During her five months in Israel, Kayla met with students and department heads to understand their needs and planned events for the international student body.
“The internship helped me tailor my professional persona, and drove home the point that I really wanted to pursue a career in student life and higher education,” says Kayla.
Through her internship, Kayla forged some of her closest friendships with co-workers and students, and enjoyed traveling with them outside of the city to camp at the Kinneret, Dead Sea and Jordan River.
Towards the end of her time in Israel, Kayla decided that she wanted to look for work in the Jewish world when she returned to the States. “In Israel, I didn’t have to try to be Jewish because Judaism was all around me,” says Kayla. “But, I was worried about returning to a life without Judaism and going into a career that had no Jewish connection.”
Back in St. Louis, Kayla was happy to get an email from a Birthright NEXT staff member who wanted to meet with her to hear about her Israel experiences. “I told him that I now wanted to pursue a Jewish career path and he put me in touch with a lot of relevant people,” says Kayla. Through these contacts, Kayla found out about a job at Penn State Hillel and was hired to be an engagement associate, through which she helps Jewish students feel comfortable about getting involved in Jewish life, and leads Birthright trips to Israel and alternative spring breaks. She calls it a “dream job.”
“This is the first thing I’ve done that I know I’ll stay with,” says Kayla. “Working in the Jewish world means that Israel and Judaism are part of my everyday life.”