If someone had asked me where my life was turning as I finished college, I never would have said that I’d be moving to Israel. I graduated from UCF in December 2010 with a B.S. in Biology. I began exploring different areas of my field by working in the laboratory at SCF and then working in surgery at Venice Regional Medical Center, but I still felt like a lost soul. Of course I always loved Israel and had been to visit a few times (my first time being with Taglit with UCF’s Hillel), and have always wanted to live here, but the thought of it becoming a reality seemed pretty far-fetched. I took my third trip to Israel to visit a friend in November 2011, and that’s when I decided, “Why not start making a life here?” When I returned to States that December, I started looking into different ways I could make a plan for myself to get established in Israel. I needed to go to graduate school, not just find a job. My younger brother, Alex Balno, had already made aliyah and was in the army here, so I knew that if he could do it, I could too!
Since I had been involved with the Jewish community in Sarasota my entire life, I knew I could turn to the Jewish Federation for guidance. I didn’t want to make aliyah without a plan, so I decided to start with a Masa Israel program. Jessica Katz and Len Steinberg were so helpful in introducing the Masa programs to me. I did some research and decided that Career Israel fit my needs perfectly. This five-month program set up an educational internship in the place or field of my choice, while giving me the chance to meet people from all over the world, and explore the whole country of Israel.
During the first week, the whole group of 80 young adults met and toured in Jerusalem. The next three weeks, we lived in Tel Aviv to attend ulpan classes and got to experience the unique cultures of Tel Aviv. Most of group was matched in internships in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem; however, I decided to live in Haifa to do my internship at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology. A few times a month for the next four months, the group met for trips and seminars. Together we explored all of the different scenarios that the Israeli people and the Israeli government are faced with. Some of these subjects included: whether or not Israel is a real democracy because of the Orthodox laws enforced by the Knesset, the struggle of Ethiopian Jews and Sudanese refugees, the loose laws that allow education and collaboration of terrorists in Israeli prisons, the stereotypes of Jewish Americans verses those of Israelis, how Jews in the Diaspora and Jews in Israel are interdependent for various social, political, and economic reasons, and the importance of developing and inhabiting the Negev.
I chose to do my internship at the Technion because it’s one of the best institutions in the world, especially in my field of microbiology. I am currently doing research under Professor Dan Zilberstein Ph.D. on the amino acid transport of a parasite called Leishmani donovani. This parasite is transferred to humans through the bites of sand flies and causes the disease Leishmaniasis , which can produce cutaneous and visceral pathology in those who become infected. This disease is prominent in most regions of the world; however the medication available for treatment is highly toxic for humans and has low potency towards the parasite. I am fascinated with this field of research and am looking forward to publishing my findings in the near future. Dr. Zilberstein has invited me to stay in the lab, so I am planning to attend graduate school at the Technion in the Fall. I will hopefully be doing a direct track PhD program in Biology.
On a lighter note, the greatest parts of living in Israel are my growing knowledge of Hebrew, the incredible bus system, the springtime in Haifa, the beaches, the overall Israeli culture (most of it), the people I have met from all over the world, the fact that everyone speaks English, the sirens on Yom Hashoa and Yom HaZikaron, my laboratory, and the way that every city seems like a completely different country. I’ve been to so many diverse places since I’ve been here: The Negev in Sde Boker where Ben Gurion lived, the Machtesh, Mitzpe Ramon, goat farms, the Ein Gedi and Dead Sea, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, the Golan, illegal and legal Druze Villages, East Jerusalem boarders, Netanya, Carmel, Sderot, and Gaza. I’ve also gained a thicker skin and become very self reliant, but that’s the reality of the life here. Israel is a magical place and I have a feeling I’ve only begun to scratch the surface.