Throughout my life, my family concluded our Passover Seder in Youngstown, Ohio with the traditional words “Next year in Jerusalem!” It took me twenty years, but finally I found my way to Jerusalem and studied at Hebrew University’s Rothberg International School.
After taking the course Culture and Contemporary Israel my freshman year at The Ohio State University, I changed my academic career and began studying the Hebrew language. It didn’t take long for me to realize that the best way to fully grasp the language was to study in Israel. Although all the university programs in Israel have their unique benefits, I felt that Jerusalem was the heart of the land I loved, and I yearned to spend time exploring the city’s walls and its people.
What I experienced in Jerusalem will always stand as some of the most incredible memories of my life. I spent days mastering Hebrew in Ulpan in addition to taking courses ranging from Ethiopian Jewish history to peace transition and reconciliation. While all of my classes at Hebrew University deepened my passion for Jewish knowledge, one highlight of my experience was my class with Professor Maya Kahanoff. She brought leaders from peace organizations into our classroom to discuss the work they were doing to help reconcile the Palestinian Israeli conflict. Being able to discuss the conflict in a safe educational environment with a close group of peers gave me an opportunity to use critical thinking skills and expand my perspective. Without a doubt, Professor Kahanoff’s class helped me grow into a more thoughtful, open-minded person.
Another amazing opportunity in Jerusalem is the student group Advocates for Asylum. The group of Hebrew University students provides English language classes and translates the Sudanese refugee’s testimonies into English. These men and woman, who had been through so much hardship in life, were the most grateful and friendly people I have ever had the pleasure of working with. Spending two evenings a week with the refugees and my fellow teachers became some of the most rewarding enjoyable times I had overseas.
Although I could write forever about all the amazing experiences I encountered while living in Jerusalem, the journey wouldn’t be complete without the amazing friends I spent time with in and around the city. During our five months, we prepared potluck Shabbat dinners, hiked both up north and in the Negev, danced, swam, laughed, and ran to catch the last Egged bus. There is something to be said for finding friends that feel like family when you are so far away from home. They helped me grow into the best version of myself, and to this day I hold the time we spent together as some of the happiest, richest moments of my life.
Since returning home from Jerusalem, I have participated in many wonderful opportunities. Last year I became a Masa Israel intern for Ohio State University. Together with the help of OSU’s Hillel I assisted students in helping them find the right Masa Israel program and informed them of the grants available to them. It was delightful to hear when someone made the decision to travel to Israel, and the internship prepared me for my current job at the Columbus Jewish Federation as Israel Experience Coordinator. In addition to my professional involvement in the Jewish community, my love for dialogue hasn’t diminished with the end of my stay in Jerusalem. I participate in and lead a Beyond the Conflict book club in the Columbus area where people are given a safe space to discuss their feelings about the current situation in the Middle East in hope that with time people will be capable of humanizing the perceived “enemy.”
I found that when I came home from Jerusalem, I was a more confident and mature than before I left. Living in Jerusalem was challenging, exciting, and most of all rewarding. I came home with a deep sense of appreciation for all the people who work so hard to bring peace to the region and also for the wonderful people from multiple organizations that work to keep Jews connected to their homeland.