I never would have imagined that seven months after my Birthright trip in June 2008 I would return to Israel to develop my career. Birthright was a fantastic whirlwind trip. I met amazing people and fell in love with Israel, but I did not expect to return for at least a few years.
The summer wore on as I resumed my day-to-day office life at a Boston PR firm. The contrast between the excitement I felt in Israel and the monotony I felt in my present life made it clear that I needed a change. But suddenly the economy began slipping, lay-offs increased and it was not the right time to begin job searching. Ultimately this proved to be a blessing; I took advantage of the situation and enrolled in Masa Israel’s Career Israel, an internship program for college graduates in Israel. Not only would it allow me to return to Israel, but it would also enable me to explore a new career path.
While living in the center of Tel Aviv, I worked at Save A Child’s Heart (SACH), an Israeli-based international, humanitarian project that provides cardiac care for children from developing countries. Using my experience in public relations and communications, I helped raise awareness, set up young leadership boards across the globe, and promoted events and volunteer programs. I witnessed first-hand how cardiac surgery and appropriate rehabilitative care transformed these children into active, happy and healthy children who were able to return home with a second chance at life.
In addition to finding a new professional path, my knowledge about Israel increased dramatically. Before I embarked on the trip, my friends back home envisioned me going off to live in a war zone. As a result of American media which so often presents Israel in a biased way, I lacked the information to repudiate their ideas and to stand up for the country. Once I actually experienced daily life in Israel, I gained realistic perspectives about the country. In my interactions with Israelis, I gained a sense of the Israeli lifestyle, culture, and idiosyncrasies. Through Career Israel’s weekly activities, which included trips to enemy borders and dialogues about religion with Israelis peers, I was further able to expand my knowledge of Israel while discovering my own Jewish identity.
I attended Jewish sleep away camp and I studied abroad, but I have never met people like the 100 diverse young adults on this program—each with a unique story. The program brought us together regardless of our reasons for joining Career Israel. I didn’t go on Career Israel with the intent of finding my hidden “super Jew” nor did I find it. But I did come back with a stronger connection to the country, my Israeli peers, family, and young Jews from all around the world.
I returned home from Israel full of stories from my adventures in Israel and additional travels to Greece, Turkey and Jordan. Upon reflection, I can see how much I grew and matured during my Israel experience. Not only did I return with a renewed sense of self and more confidence but as a result of my internship at Save a Child’s Heart, I solidified my determination to pursue a career in public health. Soon after I returned to the States, I moved to Washington, D.C. to work at the American Public Health Association. I am currently pursuing a Masters in Public Health at George Washington University.
My hope is that more young professionals looking for career development opportunities or just trying to explore their identities will consider a Masa Israel program. It was a big leap for me but I am so happy I had the courage to embark on this adventure because not only was the experience unforgettable; it was also life changing.