The atmosphere was exquisite: neckties and high heels, freshly cut fruit and fine cheeses, lively chatter about exams and fellowship projects. Thus commenced the graduation of the 2012 StandWithUs Fellowship. The warm summer evening marked more than just a ceremony of diplomas for us, the Israeli student fellows; it marked our launching into the big, wide world. A world that, for me, having only made aliya four short years ago, is very familiar. The difference is that now, after receiving a wealth of training and information about Israel, I feel as though I am re-entering the world as a new and improved, updated version of myself.
As far back as I can remember I have struggled with my Jewish identity. In public school I emphasized my Mom’s Catholicism and that I, too, celebrated Christmas. At Hebrew school only my closest friends knew of my conversion to Judaism as a baby. My conflicting worlds seemed irreconcilable until age 21, when I came to Israel for the first time on a Birthright trip. As I gazed upon the Sea of Galilee, it was certain that neither my past identity struggle nor my impending plans to move to China could do anything to change the newfound feeling that overwhelmed me – I was home. Home in a place where I could look around and feel proud about my identity, about my religion and about my history. I knew that I wanted to do everything in my power to make Israel my own, and over the past few years that is precisely what I have done. From serving in the IDF in the Negev to working with the physically handicapped in Nahariya, I feel blessed and honored to live in a country that challenges, inspires and encourages me constantly.
Re-entering the world of academia this past fall as a master’s student in the Braun School of Public Health at Hebrew University, I found myself searching for a meaningful extracurricular activity. Throughout my life I have strived to create a well-rounded lifestyle, maintaining a balance of academic, professional, social, environmental and physical challenges. When I heard about the StandWithUs Fellowship I immediately knew it was something I wanted to take part in. After a selective interview process, it was clear from our first meeting that I was among the best and brightest students chosen to be Fellows – 150 out of a pool of 1,500 applications. Over the course of the year I was impressed time and again by the exceptionally high level of professionalism, intelligence, commitment and love for Israel that was prevalent among the group members. I left each meeting not only feeling informed and equipped with the tools presented by StandWithUs speakers, but also inspired and motivated by the enthusiasm and creativity brought forward by my peers. This positive energy continued to grow as we brainstormed and developed our very own Fellowship project, a four-day conference to take place this August in Jerusalem, featuring international social entrepreneurs, called S.E.E. Israel. As a team, our hope is to bring to Israel organizational leaders who otherwise would not be exposed to our wonderful, dynamic and contemporary country.
Like many of my peers, I feel a responsibility and desire to share the beauty, innovation and unique aspects of Israel with my American friends and the international community at large. We see ourselves as “ambassadors.” From emails, to Facebook posts and media reports, there is a plethora of information circulating around the world relating to Israel. Thankfully, StandWithUs has equipped me with a strong, informed and accurate message that I can share with whomever I come into contact.
Perhaps my complex background is an asset when reaching out to others regarding Israel. In any case, as an “ambassador” for this country, I feel confident that wherever I may find myself in the future, whether it be on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, in my US hometown, or addressing an international audience, I am able to respectably and honorably represent the State of Israel, a place that I proudly call home.