The Israel Government Fellowship was a life-changing time for me. All my life I had grown up wondering what it would be like to spend an extended period of time in Israel and what affects that would have on me. After graduating college, I went to work for a few years before I finally decided to take the plunge. It was important to me to experience living in Israel at some point in my life and equally important for me to not just bum around, but to be able to add something to the country as well. Additionally I wanted to explore my own 'Jewishness' in a non-pushy environment. The IGF program allowed me to both give to the State and help, in my own, to help to build it. Further I found, through the process of living here, I was able to get a better understanding of my own Judaism and my personal relationship with Israel.
So what do I mean when I say that IGF has allowed me to give to the State and help build it? Despite all of its accomplishments and leadership in many things from agriculture to high tech in the world, to be quite frank, Israel is only 62 years old and the opportunity to influence and build here is very apparent. Imagine being able to join the US government in 1838 (President Andrew Jackson)! It's not exactly the same situation to be fair…but if you are the first person to do something here (many IGFers had the ability to be the first to do something, create a webpage for a Ministry, sign a bi-lateral agreement with another country etc) it fills you with a similar amount of pride and a feeling of creation. IGF is the FIRST program that lets one who is not from Israel into the highest levels of government. My good friend worked for the President of the State, another with a Minister and I have been able to work directly with the Accountant General. You get a point of view here that you wouldn't be able to get back anywhere else in the world without years of work. Because being a government fellow is still a new concept to the people in the government, you really have the ability to shape your own experience more so than in domestic fellowships back in the US or elsewhere. They literally don't know what you can do and if you show that you are willing to work hard and have good ideas, then you are part of the family and can have a great influence in your department and the country overall. I've found that IGFers are often the only person in their department, floor or even building with an international view point and they appreciate the immense amount of added value you give.
One of the side-effects of the program, but in reality a main-effect, is the experience of living in this country for a year. I was a pro-Israel student activist on my college campus and although I knew the arguments for Israel and could tell you what Resolution 242 was and all that, I hadn't actually been to Israel since my Bar Mitzvah! I had all these feelings about Israel, but hadn't actually lived here or knew it on such a personal level. Israel, everyone can agree, is a very complicated place…very nuanced and depending on the weather, the geopolitical state and even the quality of coffee your bank teller had that morning has a huge affect on your day. You become frustrated with the country despite all that makes it great, but more importantly you learn to LOVE the country despite all that frustrates you. On a typical day I have the option of taking a super quick bus ride to the beach on Tel Aviv or throw my Kippah on and go pray at the Kotel. To live not only in Israel, but Jerusalem the city the Jews have been dreaming about for 2,000 years, really lets you choose your own level of religious observance, the amount of Jewish culture you wish to participate in and overall raise and lower whatever aspect of your "Jewishness" you feel comfortable with. Not everyone fits into a reform, conservative or orthodox box and here you can feel out what is right for you.
The draw and curiosity of what I could add to Israel and what Israel could help me learn about myself has kept me here another year. I have friends who went back to their respective countries having had an amazing experience and are enjoying their lives and I've also had friends make aliyah and I'm watching them enjoy their lives here. As for me? Well I haven't made that decision yet, but just like the State…I'm working on it.