With guest blogger, Gila Samouha:

“Excuse me… Do you know where this goes?” I doubtfully asked a hospital employee in my broken Hebrew, holding up a bag of blood. That was the beginning of a very fulfilling summer… As college students begin to get into the groove of the next milestone in their lives, desperately trying to figure out what they want for their future, their summers usually consist of trying to land the best internship to kick start their careers. I am not denying this. In fact, I wholeheartedly agree that it is very important to gain this invaluable experience before the real job search begins. But it can be such a drag. I used to go to summer camp and travel, now I only have time for my friends on the weekends IF I’m not too tired. Turns out, there’s a program where you can do both. Have your cake and eat it too…am I right? Intern during the day, learn in the evenings with friends, go out afterwards, sleep in a dorm, repeat. All while traveling – in Israel. Which program you ask? The OU-JLIC Summer in Jerusalem program.

Gila Samouha interning at Shaare Tzedek Medical Center

Back to the bag of blood, it was my first day interning so naturally I was very lost. Earlier that day, I had been dropped off at the oncology unit of Shaare Tzedek Medical Center in Jerusalem. The secretary and girls doing their national service, going about their day, warily looked at the woman who dropped me off, then at me, probably wondering what they would do with an inexperienced American girl who barely knew any Hebrew. My head was swimming.  Slowly but surely, I began to prove myself in the department. In middle of my first week one of the nurses asked me to pick up a few medications that were ready. By then I had grown used to some of the Hebrew terms and I automatically nodded my head and turned to leave. “Wait…are you sure you understand?” she asked me. I repeated the steps back to her and she smiled, pleasantly surprised. She tapped the secretary on the shoulder and said, “Sabrina, she understands Hebrew really well!” The secretary looked up at me through her glasses and said to the nurse “What are you talking about she doesn’t understand Hebrew at all!” I laughed and answered her back in Hebrew – “But I just understood everything you were saying.” She crossed her arms stubbornly and began to interrogate me in Hebrew. The grammar in my responses weren’t perfect but by the end she said, “Heyy, she does understand!” From then on they began to trust me with more and more work around the department. I dropped things off at the labs, answered patient room calls, served patients food, and even got to help the doctors with a few EKGs. I also started to develop relationships with the national service girls who made working at the hospital fun and exciting. We went out, outside of work many times during the summer, and I stayed by one of them for Shabbat. Though I sometimes struggled to keep up with their Hebrew, I became really close to the girls and still keep in touch!

After my mornings and early afternoons at the hospital, it was back to the “home beis” for an experience that made volunteering this summer unlike any other internship opportunity. We had a chance to unwind for a few hours at our dorms. These dorms weren’t just any dorms—they were right in middle of the Old City! I can’t say that I ever got used to walking down streets that held so much history or living just a few minutes away from the Kotel. Later in the evening we’d head to the Beis for chavrutah learning and shiurim. At the start of the program we got to choose from a few different tracks: Gemara Bekiyus or Iyun, Megillah, and a chaburah option. I went with Megillah and really enjoyed the classes given by Miriam Schwartz, one of the OU-JLIC educators from University of Maryland. We had a chance to go over the material with a chavrutah and discuss it afterwards with Miriam in a group. Along with these tracks we had amazing shiurim given by remarkable teachers, including Rav Menachem Schrader, Rav Binny, Rav Aaron, and Rav Yitzchak Blau. If there was ever a night where you felt like you needed some chill time it was totally fine to take a night off, maybe to stay in or spend some time out with family or friends. None of the classes were mandatory and the participants made their own decisions throughout the program, giving it a really relaxed vibe all through the summer. The learning at night was one thing that really attracted me to this program. Throughout the semester, learning while taking classes full-time is difficult. Having set classes gave me a chance to reconnect and learn with peers who felt the same way.

Being on the SIJ program this summer was an unforgettable experience.

I made lasting friendships (both American and Israeli), formed some new learning groups to stay connected to throughout the year, heard incredible shiurim, and got great work experience in the field that I plan to go into. I would highly recommend it to anyone who needs more than just an internship.

OU-JLIC’s Summer in Jerusalem Program is run in partnership with Orayta and World Mizrachi, with the generous support of Nefesh b’Nefesh.

Gila is a senior at Brooklyn College majoring in Psychology and is currently the president of LINK, an OU-JLIC club on campus.