COLLEGE STUDENTS STRENGTHEN THEIR CONNECTION TO ISRAEL THROUGH INVOLVEMENT IN ISRAEL GROUPS ON CAMPUS, INTERNSHIPS AT ISRAELI COMPANIES AND ORGANIZATIONS, AND OU-JLIC SUMMER PROGRAMS IN ISRAEL.
Sitting in my friend’s dorm room at Brandeis University, I begin to look around the room. Everywhere I look there are pictures of Israel: an Israeli flag, beautiful flowers in the Golan and a poster of the model of the Beit Hamikdash; Israel and Zionism are inescapable in this microcosm of an Orthodox Brandeis student. While my friend and I talk, we turn towards her pictures, and begin to share stories about our individual experiences in Israel. Throughout our conversation, there is a tangible longing towards the Holy Land and excitement about both of our upcoming trips to Israel.
The State of Israel is an intrinsic, integral piece of my Jewish identity, and my love for and connection to the State of Israel has only grown as I’ve gotten older. Throughout my two years at Brandeis (I am currently a sophomore), I have discovered much about my relationship with the State of Israel. My parents, throughout my life, consistently emphasized the importance of Israel to my siblings and me: we try to visit Israel often, we have family there and we give a large proportion of our tzedakah money to Israel each year. I am extremely fortunate to have spent a year in Israel before I began school at Brandeis. My gap year in Israel truly fortified my connection to the land, and made Israel feel even more like a home to me than it had previously. Israel became my own as I explored the streets of Jerusalem and created unforgettable memories there.
Leaving Israel to attend “secular” college in America was a daunting step for many of my friends and me. What was our Yom Ha’atzmaut going to look like? Would I encounter any anti-Zionism for proudly hanging up my Israeli flag in my room? Could I speak openly with other Zionists about my true opinions regarding Israel? The questions were endless.
“Leaving Israel to attend “secular” college in America was a daunting step for many of my friends and me. […] Would I encounter any anti-Zionism for proudly hanging up my Israeli flag in my room? Could I speak openly with other Zionists about my true opinions regarding Israel?”
Upon my arrival at Brandeis University, all of my doubts and fears quickly vanished. Attending a “secular” college has actually helped me deepen my Jewish identity and connection to Israel in ways that I never thought were possible. Within the first week of school, I attended an event run by BIPAC (Brandeis Israel Public Action Committee). I felt right at home as I sat in a room amongst other individuals who were passionate about Israel. When the board position of social media coordinator for BIPAC became available, I jumped at the opportunity—even though I was only in my first month at Brandeis. My involvement with BIPAC has positioned Israel as a focal point of my campus experience over the past two years.
Through my role on the BIPAC board, I have also become involved with Hillel at Brandeis’ annual Israel Week. This experience has been incredible for me; it has given me the tools to better frame the way I think about Israel and my connection to it. Hillel’s Israel Week features an array of events, which each celebrate distinctive aspects of Israeli culture. The culmination of the week is a blowout BBQ for Yom Ha’atzmaut. Coordinating the Israel week events has given me the opportunity to portray Israel the way I believe it should be portrayed on college campuses and has become yet another way for me to maintain my love for the State of Israel.
My connection to Israel has been strengthened not only through my work on campus, but also through my trips to Israel, both leisure and career oriented, over the past two years.
This past summer, I had the incredible opportunity to be a participant in OU-JLIC’s Summer in Jerusalem program. The program, which takes place in the Old City of Jerusalem, consists of interning and a nightly learning program. Living in Jerusalem, studying Torah there, and working in the Israeli workforce further solidified my personal connection to Israel. Simply living in the Old City of Jerusalem for a week could inspire a person and affect their connection to Israel for a lifetime. Walking through the streets with Orayta’s Rabbi Binny Friedman, I realized the holiness of each step I took, and the history of the streets I called my home this past summer. Waking up every an even greater appreciation for the fact that Israel, and specifically the Old City, is ours.
“This past summer, I had the incredible opportunity to be a participant in OU-JLIC’s Summer in Jerusalem program. The program, which takes place in the Old City of Jerusalem, consists of interning and a nightly learning program. Living in Jerusalem, studying Torah there, and working in the Israeli workforce further solidified my personal connection to Israel.”
My experience didn’t end in the streets of the Old City; I was also an intern in the marketing department of OrCam Ltd. located in Har Hotzvim, the high-tech industrial park of northwest Jerusalem. OrCam is an Israeli company that utilizes artificial vision technologies to help visually impaired individuals all over the world. At OrCam Ltd, I received valuable lessons about the world of marketing, and gained an understanding of the working world in Israel. Perhaps most significantly, I learned that a person can work in Israel without speaking Hebrew, and that speaking English, in certain professions, is actually desirable. I realized that many of the classes that I am currently taking at Brandeis can also be applied to the Israeli workforce.
My experience this summer on OU-JLIC’s Summer in Jerusalem helped me improve my connection to Israel in concrete ways. Not only did I gain more of a religious connection to the land of Israel, but I also gained a more nuanced understanding of potential fields of employment.
My experiences in college have undoubtedly strengthened my relationship with the State of Israel. Because of my time on campus and participation in OU-JLIC’s summer break program, I have learned valuable lessons about Israel advocacy and have realized that living in Israel and working in the Israeli workforce is a completely realistic possibility for my future.
Liat Fischer is a sophomore who is is double-majoring in Business and Near Eastern Judaic Studies at Brandeis University, and will be graduating in May 2020. She grew up in Denver, Colorado, and attended Denver Academy of Torah from K-12.