At the age of 15, I traveled to Israel with USY for eight weeks and fell in love with Jerusalem, Israel and the people there. I knew then that I wanted to return to Israel to study at The Hebrew University for my junior year of college, the one-year program. At American University I was an International Relations major and Jewish Studies minor. I also already knew that I wanted to dedicate my career to working on behalf of the Israeli people. Many students viewed this as a year to take easy courses,but for me it was an opportunity to focus on my studies and take advantage of such knowledgeable professors like Mordechai Abir. He inspired me even more as I learned not just about Israel but the entire Middle East and various ideologies such as Pan-Arabism. It was the most formative year of my life.
Moreover, I made some amazing long-lasting friendships. Instead of living in the dorm with the American students I opted to live in an apartment dorm with students from Israel and around the world.
I lived with another American, two Israelis, a woman from England and another from Columbia. It was a true melting pot of different sects of Judaism (two Orthodox women; one Israeli who celebrated holidays but never went to synagogue; and the Colombian woman who had dealt with much anti-Semitism in her home country so her family wanted her to go to Israel). Upstairs lived guys from Gibraltar, France and other Israelis. On Shabbat we would have dinner, sing songs and make it a very special time together. I also recall having to participate in guard duty once a month at night with an armed Israeli soldier, a very intimidating experience. All of the Israeli students had jobs to help pay for school. Some jobs included working for El Al, as a policeman and tutor. When I reflect on this, I realize that it is no different today for 90% of the students at HU – they work and/or receive scholarship support from AFHU.
Luckily for me, my American roommate in Israel, JoAnne (Nagler) Hochberg, became my closest friend and we continue to have this special relationship today. We travelled together throughout Israel visiting each other’s relatives and meeting Israelis with varied points of view. JoAnne had cousins on a kibbutz in Eilat where we stayed several times and explored the Sinai. JoAnne and I went to concerts in Jerusalem where we saw Frank Sinatra and Dizzy Gillespie, and Israeli singers like Chava Alberstein. I also will never forget the night after Shabbat when we went into town to have coffee and two blocks away a bomb in a refrigerator detonated. Several people were injured, including our Israeli roommate’s sister, but it never stopped us from going into town on Saturday nights, we were determined to not let terrorism deter us.
Being exposed to so many different experiences, people from all walks of life, made me a much more independent and understanding person. I developed an appreciation for the value of cultures and that people have very powerful backgrounds, which can all teach us something. I understood that learning about different cultures helps you expand and grow as an individual and you can bring back home everything that you learned. For me, it brought back home that I can help Israel in my own way by working for Jewish organizations that are helping Israel.
I have dedicated my entire career by working on behalf of Israel in the Washington DC community. When I heard AFHU was looking for a new executive director in the Mid-Atlantic Region, I called the former executive director (I knew her), had a phone interview within a few hours and got the job! I love my job because I am helping the students, researchers and scientists come up with solutions for the global world. It’s very rewarding to be a part of this.
There is an incredible opportunity for fellow Hebrew U alumni to return to Israel with AFHU this coming spring. The Inaugural Alumni Mission to Israel will be on June 4-9, with activities in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Alumni will be able to revisit campus and re-experience the magic of Israel through the university that brought us all together. Contact Alana Cooper, Director of Alumni Relation, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 212.607.8561 for more information.