We’ve been seeing a similar trend for a while–young people graduate from college and can’t find jobs. They spend a few months tinkering with commas on their resumes, writing reverential emails to potential employers, and when all else fails, panicking. Finally, they make the decision to do something more productive for their professional development. For example: an internship–and better yet, one that’s abroad because they’ve heard that international professional experience is an excellent addition to their resumes. Of course, if they’re lucky enough, they learn that these opportunities exist in Israel and that they can get funding to make it feasible.
Fast-forward five to 12 months, and they’re back home with sparking resumes, work experience in the Middle East (!), and quickly land the jobs they want. They look back, thankful that their experience helped them with their careers–and gave them a chance to be young and beautiful in Tel Aviv (or Jerusalem).
But with Israel Teaching Fellows (ITF), a 10-month program which places Jewish North American college graduates as volunteer teachers’ aides in Israeli public schools, we’re seeing something new. Young professionals in the States are actually leaving their jobs for the teaching program. Julia Kingsdale, a Harvard alumna, worked in Boston’s healthcare industry for two years before deciding she needed to get out of the office and explore a new field in Israel.
“There’s something sort of spontaneous, albeit chaotic, about Israel,” Kingsdale told me. “Teaching in Israel requires a mindset shift where you can’t intensely plan every detail; you need to focus on the situation at hand, which is something I find really refreshing.” Now, in addition to fulfilling her required hours, she’s also launching an after-school reading program. Another Fellow, Teach for America alumnus Chris Harty enrolled in ITF to expand his professional insights. Both of them first experienced Israel through a short-term trip: Birthright for Kingsdale and REALITY for Harty.
The truth is, I’m not surprised. Through ITF, Jewish young adults not only gain professional experience in Israel, but also make a real impact on Israeli kids, and quite literally, the Jewish state’s future. Anyone who’s done service work in Israel knows that there’s also something especially revitalizing about volunteering there. In the 63-year-old, ever-changing country, Jewish young adults are leaving their mark. They have a hand in changing Jewish history—their history.
I may be biased: I work for Masa Israel, a project of the Jewish Agency for Israel and the Government of Israel, that runs 200 internship, service and academic programs in Israel. But then again, my job puts me in touch—every single day—with hundreds of young adults who tell me about their life-changing experiences in Israel. They’ve fallen in love with the fast-paced culture, the Middle Eastern hospitality, Israelis’ tough love and shocking honesty, the respect for individuals’ ideas instead of their titles, the Jewish holiday calendar which always means another celebration is up ahead, or some Jewish guy or girl they met along the way.
Having started with 68 participants serving in communities throughout Israel, ITF has now opened 200 spots due to high demands. Applications are not due for another few months and yet, hundreds are already in.
In Israel, volunteer work isn’t just kind-hearted service. It’s personal. It means that young people with 2,000-year-old shared histories are helping to make their ancient homeland a better place, and most importantly, a place that they can feel proud of.