My Hebrew middle name is Lev, which is the word for “heart.” Not being raised Jewish, I never had a Bat Mitzvah. When I was on Birthright last July, one of my American tour guides, Matt, had informed the group that we could have ceremonial Bar or Bat Mitzvahs on the top of Masada if we so desired. One of the guys elected to have a Bar Mitzvah and myself and two other girls elected to have Bat Mitzvahs. Aside from reading a Torah passage out loud to the rest of the group, we had to pick Hebrew names. I settled on Talia (“dew from God,” “female lamb,” whatever you want to call it) for my first name as it was easy to spell and I had once considered changing my name to the Greek name Thalia. Picking a middle name was harder. Matt told me I should pick Lev. When I asked him why, he told me that I “have a good heart because [I] work with kids.”

I always thought I had a strong heart for working with kids; hearing that I had a good heart was a new one as I have been mocked mercilessly for years for my decision to work with children. Talia Lev works for me and it showed on Birthright; a woman had left her stroller with a baby in it with me and two other girls in the group while she ran to the bathroom and on the flight back to the US from Frankfurt to New York, I offered help to a mother who had a crying infant. I told her I was a teacher and she handed me her baby while I tried to console him. No one else offered to help, but kids are my expertise.

I certainly didn’t give up my life in the States to come to Israel to teach underprivileged children for the money. No one goes into teaching for the money. I was talking to one of my Fellows tonight, Dascher, who I know that as I get older will be one of the most beautiful and kindest girls that exists in this world, and I told her that while I may not have had a thrilling life in the States, I still gave up a lot to come here. I’ve been here three weeks now and adjusting is still sometimes a challenge (but it’s been much easier than when I lived in London) but I know that I needed to do this. This trip is my quarter-life crisis—perhaps it’s that way for many of my Fellows—but I don’t regret it. I don’t do things without putting my heart into them.

And kids, they are my heart. As I continue to work with my students, I hope that I can touch their levavot, just as they, and all the kids that I babysat and nannied for back in Massachusetts, have touched mine.