Lauren Plunka
2008-2009
WUJS combines Jewish and Middle Eastern Studies against the backdrop of a living classroom, as well as volunteer opportunities. Having visited Israel on only two short-term trips, I was finally able to not only see a multifaceted Israel on WUJS, but to become a part of it.
 
In addition to taking an intensive Hebrew ulpan course, the group traveled to diverse sites around Israel, which ranged from the Independence Hall in Tel Aviv to Kibbutz Metzer, the only kibbutz where Israelis and Palestinians live and work together, to Sderot, where we visited playgrounds, which serve the dual purpose of bomb shelters. 
 
While our trips throughout Israel gave us a real framework for our studies, volunteering gave us a place in the community. Throughout my time in Israel, I volunteered at Amir Stables, a farm that offers riding lessons as therapy for terror victims, children with disabilities, and even Holocaust survivors.  As my Hebrew grew and I learned how to relate to the sometimes-pushy Israelis, I grew more at ease in Israel and began exploring it with friends—spending a few days in the Golan Heights and attending the Rainbow Gathering, a hippie festival in the middle of the desert, and then camping out at the Dead Sea. On WUJS, I was finally able to explore Judaism in its central location and experience Shabbat all over the country—from Haifa to Zichron Yaakov to Tzfat. 
 
Though I studied biology in college, my volunteering with WUJS made me realize that my calling is in helping people through hands-on interaction. I never would have expected to see myself in Israel a year after graduation. However, I am so lucky I chose that path. Not only did I make life-long connections, visit beautiful places, experience a country so full of life, but I discovered the sort of person I want to be. 
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