I spent my junior year with the American Friends of the Hebrew University one-year program in 1967. This engendered a life-long bond with Israel and positive Jewish identity.
Arriving within a month following the Six-Day War, I witnessed a new heroic generation proud of their work defending the State of Israel. However, as our group of 125 young, naïve Americans quickly ascertained, we were not completely welcomed by the Israeli students returning to Givat Ram’s campus following their harrowing experience. They saw us as untested by the realities of living in a tiny nation surrounded by enemies. Soon after we arrived, some of us were taken to visit Mount Herzel- to pray alongside our new classmates at the graves of their young friends who had given their lives too soon in the Six-Day War. Unlike us, they would not return to complete their studies or fulfill their lives. This experience was a watershed moment for me.
I requested to live in the Givat Ram dormitory with a religious student from Morocco so that I could practice French. As it turned out, my roommate requested an American so that she could speak English! We made a pact when we met that when her friends came to visit we would speak French, and when I had friend visit we spoke English. I studied side-by-side with a variety of students including newly arrived Moroccan immigrants in French literature classes (there was a surge in French-speaking Moroccan immigrants to Israel following Morocco’s independence from France in 1956), and with the “sabras” studying art history in Hebrew.
In the span of a year, I got to know family members I had never seen, such as my cousin and her parents, my aunt and uncle. Their family hosted me for Shabbat and even made accommodations, as I was more observant than they were. I am still very close with this cousin and continue to visit her. It was my time at Hebrew U that enabled me to have this experience that brought me closer to my family and Israel.
I returned with a life-long love of learning languages, which I later applied to developing my skills working with international business. Following my graduate studies in French Literature, I spent a year living and working in Tel Aviv for the Israel Industrial Subcontracting Authority, in the early stages of setting up the electronics industry in Israel. Back in the U.S., I served for almost two decades as the Executive Director of the British American Business Council of Greater Philadelphia, and concurrently, as Executive Director of the Chilean-American Chamber of Commerce. Sharing a “wall” at work with the Philadelphia Israel-America Chamber of Commerce, I established a collegial and collaborative work environment because of my connection with Israel. I conferred almost daily on strategies for developing bilateral trade with the Greater Philadelphia region. I got to interact with their membership and programming.
Now retired, I continue to visit Israel regularly where I have a huge family, both Haredi and secular. I have a weekly session with an aspiring Israeli (Jerusalemite) singer so that I can maintain my fluency in Hebrew- thanks to the amazing roots of the immersion ulpan at Hebrew University.
Having traveled to Hebrew University on a full scholarship, I have devoted my volunteer efforts to sustaining young people with their college dreams. For almost a decade I was a board member of the US Airways (now American Airlines) Education Foundation, culminating in my service as Board President. The Foundation offered the opportunity for the child of every US Airways employee, at every level, to apply to the Foundation for a college scholarship.
Finally, as an incredible turn of events, while I was living and learning on the Givat Ram Campus in 1967-68, my future grandfather-in-law to be, Samuel Rothberg, was visiting Israel to scout a location for a vocational high school. In 1969, he built the Minnie & Kalman Rothberg High School in Ramat Hasharon.
While it is no longer a vocational high school, the Rothberg High School continues to welcome students from a wide array of backgrounds to its spectacular academic, high achieving school. Together with my husband of 40 years, Peter Rothberg, we are fully engaged in preserving the heritage of the school. I will be there next month.