Published in the Boston Jewish Advocate: In Tel Aviv, rediscovering Yom Kippur

This article was published in the Boston Jewish Advocate  in September 2012.

by Jill Weiner, Career Israel alumna

For nearly 20 years, Yom Kippur was always the same: Shabbat-type dinner, Kol Nidre services on Erev Yom Kippur, Shacharit in the morning, and the Book of Jonah and Ne’ilah before break-fast. A monotonous and solemn 26 hours of fasting and praying, hoping to be inscribed into the Book of Life.

It was not until I was in Israel that this experience changed for me. During my first time in Israel for the High Holidays, I was studying abroad at the University of Haifa. On Yom Kippur, I went to a synagogue overlooking the hills of Haifa. Right around sunset, a brilliant blue and red shimmered in the sky as father and son harmonized the prayers of Ne’illah. As the echo of their voices bounced off the walls, I sensed that the glowing light held more than the eye could see. Or, maybe I was just hallucinating from the lack of food.

The second time I was in Israel for the High Holidays, I was on Israel Experience’s Career-Israel, a five-month internship program that placed me in a pre-school with blind and vision impaired babies.

On the few weeks leading up to Yom Kippur, I lived in Tel Aviv, one of the most secular cities in Israel. Many stores, restaurants, and tourist attractions are all opened on Shabbat. Sheruts (small service buses) run 24 hours. Though families can be seen walking to synagogue on any given Saturday morning, it is more likely to find a family walking to the beach. The dorms where I resided were stationed smack in the middle of the city. I could walk to the shuk (outdoor market) or jump across the street to a coffee shop. Everything I needed was within a 10-minute walk.

Having grown up in Lexington and studied at a university located near farmland, I was excited to be in the city. The noise of the metropolis never disturbed me and I barely glanced at the crowded sidewalks and loud Israelis. Every morning, I heard conversations, ambulances, and laughing children right outside my window. Only once, during Yom Kippur, did this not transpire.

On this day, there were no stores open nor were any cars being driven. Complete silence captivated the city. As Kol Nidre services ended, a sea of white overtook the intersection of Dizengoff and King George. The crowd began singing in the middle of one of the busiest intersections in Tel Aviv. When Ne’ilah approached, the small one-room synagogue where I was praying quickly became too crowded. Congregants overflowed outside, standing and praying to G-d one last time.

Whether American, Russian or Israeli secular, religious or fervently Orthodox, everyone was turning towards G-d, chanting the songs of Ne’ilah. Everyone was having a heart-to-heart with G-d.

The chanting and harmonizing of the melody created more than just music. It created a community in which we were able to connect both to one another and to a higher being. The passion and fervor that flowed from the congregants’ hearts as we sang the somber Aveinu Malkenu made the hairs on my arms rise. And while I was cold from sitting beneath the air conditioning and the lack of food, these chills were something more soulful. G-d was here.

Tekiah Gadolah blasted from shofars across Tel Aviv, signaling the conclusion of Yom Kippur. The bustling city was now free from sin, rejuvenated for the coming year.

Career Israel alumna Jill Weiner is from Lexington and is currently working at a pre-school in Newton.

Working with Autistic Children in Israel

My name is Michelle Fogelson and I am from Minneapolis, Minnesota. I graduated from University of Minnesota in December, and I will begin graduate school this coming September.  This window of time was the perfect time for me to spend time in Israel, and Career Israel was the perfect way for me to grow professionally and have and independent experience in Tel Aviv for a few months.

I am currently interning with the Association for Children at Risk, which is an organization that provides therapeutic service to young children with Autism. I work in a “gan” (kindergarten) with eight pre-school age children who are each on the autism spectrum.  My time is split between helping in the classroom with the educational staff, and working alongside the therapists in physical, speech and occupational therapy. The highlight of my experience has been getting field experience in therapies with children with autism. This is an experience I would have never gotten in the US at this point in my educational and professional career. As I begin my graduate studies in social work I will call on these experiences.

In addition to the internship, Career Israel provides us with trips and seminars every few weeks.  My favorite seminar this year was the Yom Hazikaron seminar during which we learned about Israeli Memorial Day which is celebrated very differently than I am used to celebrating Memorial Day. Being at Latrun when the siren sounded throughout the country announcing the start of the holiday was a memory I’ll have forever.

Cleveland and Pittsburgh Delve into Israeli Current Events

Now with only two weeks left the group is trying to make the most of every opportunity and experience.

Last Monday evening there was an optional talk from an army officer who served during the Cast Lead operation in 2008. Those who went said it was fascinating to see pictures and hear about his personal experience.

Wednesday evening was dedicated to learning about the social protests and the group heard from two different speakers. The first was Elion Schwartz who spoke about the  protests and the effects they have had on Israeli society. The second was Yonatan Levy, a young Israeli who is very involved in the protests both last year and this year and shared his experiences and answered lots of questions from the group.

Thursday was a highlight for many participants. We went to Kishurit, a community that works with adults with disabilities to provide employment and housing. During our tour we saw people working at the toy workshop, dog kennels, stables, and with the goats and more. Then we returned to Tel Aviv so the group had a long Shabbat to rest and explore Israel.

Yesterday evening was their final meeting with the Israelis and they explored three different social issues in Israel – African refugees, social protests and the Tal Law.

Their internships are progressing nicely. We have heard from interns and employers about that impact they have already made on their organizations. For example, the research that interns have conducted in business development has been integrated into company  decisions, work with adults with disabilities has impacted their development, and an
intern’s contribution has raised the capacity of the Medical Tourism department in Ichilov Hospital to treat patients from abroad.

Giving Patients One-on-One Care in Israel

My name is Blair Funk.  I am from Livingston, NJ, and I graduated from the University of Miami in 2011 with a degree in Chemistry and Psychology. This coming August, I will be attending Medical School at the University of Miami, so I had a few months to take some time to travel and do something to gain hands on experience through the Career Israel internship program. I came to Israel because I fell in love with the country when I spent three months here during high school. I always knew I wanted to come back, so I took a year off from my education in order to gain some more experience in the medical field while spending time in my favorite place.

With that in mind, I decided to volunteer with Magen David Adom as a first care provider on ambulances. One thing I love about the people I work with in the ambulances is their dedication to their job. No matter what kind of call it is, from a CPR call, to an elderly lady with a back ache, the ambulance drivers and paramedics treat the patients with compassion and patience. Having seen and taken part in caring for patients in such a compassionate manner, I know I will be able to continue this type of care when I go back to medical school in the US.  I would not have been able to come to Israel and learn so much about patient care had it not been for Career Israel.

My favorite trip we went on as a group was the trip to the North. It was amazing to get out of the hustle and bustle of Tel Aviv for three days to go hiking on the beautiful trails Israel has to offer.

Boston Gets into the Hi-Tech Scene in Israel

Participants get a hi-tech crash course at Microsoft

Debbie here, back with another update from our Boston Onward Jerusalem group. The group has been busy with programming and exploring Israel on their own, but before I get to that I thought I’d update you a bit on a major part of the participants’ trip- their internships.

The participants have been at their internships for about five weeks and have settled in and are actively involved in their work environments. Participants are involved in a wide array of
fields including politics and government, business and finance, technology start-ups, and social services. Through the internships they are experiencing another aspect of Israeli society through their contribution to the workplace and with interactions their Israeli colleagues. Internship coordinators have visited the participants at their internship during these past few weeks and have heard feedback from the participants and their mentors. Some participants are enjoying their internship so much that they have decided to continue interning from the U.S. when they return to school!

Participants test drive a Better Place car.

Last Thursday the participants took a break from their internships and we went on a hi-tech tour of Tel Aviv with StarTau, where they learned about the current financial and business climate in Israel and got to see the Start-Up Nation for themselves. The day began in the Israeli branch of the multinational electric car company Better Place, where the students learned about their solution to the fossil fuel crisis and the implementation in Israel. Then came the hands on portion of the tour- each participant was given an opportunity to test drive the electric cars. The day continued at Microsoft’s Research and Development Center in Israel, Microsoft’s accelerator which supports Israeli developers. From there they continued to Hamifal Hub and the Junction where they heard from app developers and a venture capitalist who explained what goes into developing and marketing unique ideas. They also got to see firsthand the various sorts of environments that have evolved to support hi-tech start-ups, through cash, resources
and connections.

Meeting with venture capitalists and app developers at Hamifal

On Monday Michael Eglash organized an evening focused on what the participants can do when they get back to their campuses. Ari Applebaum, the director of the David Project, spoke about ways to advocate for Israel and get people involved. David Kramer, founder of the NU campaign, helped the group design t-shirts based on their experiences here so they can proudly share them when they get back home.

Tuesday night was our final meeting with Israelis. We split up into smaller groups and discussed current issues facing Israel, like the reversal of the Tal Law and the stalling of the peace process. Now we’re gearing up for our last week. It will be a busy one.