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.

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Making the Switch from Law to Medicine in Israel

My name is Nina Baker and I was a recent participant in Career Israel, a Masa Israel-accredited internship program.  I majored in Anthropology at Bucknell University and then worked as an Intellectual Property paralegal at the firm Kirkland & Ellis in New York City for two years.

After realizing medicine is actually where my interests lie, I quit my job and enrolled in the Post-Baccalaureate Pre-Health program at NYU where I satisfied the pre-med classes required to apply to health schools.  My decision to come to Israel was twofold: I wanted to gain hands-on experience in the world of medicine and therapy, as well as have the opportunity to shape my Jewish identity.

I interned at the Israel Sport Center for the Disabled in Ramat Gan.  I worked very closely with patients afflicted with cerebral palsy at the day center where they are provided daily activities.  In addition, I observed physical and physio therapies for the disabled athletes.  This internship allowed me to not only have hands-on patient experience, but to learn about therapies I didn’t know existed.  These experiences are invaluable when applying to health schools as well as figuring out which path in medicine I would like to follow.

The opportunity I was awarded through Career Israel allowed me to experience Israel in a way Birthright couldn’t.  Not only was I exposed to the Israeli medical world, but I also learned about religion and the state as well as other hot topics in Israel.  My favorite experience was the four-day cross-country hike, called Yam L’Yam, which I did with several other participants during Pesach break.  I hiked 80 kilometers from the Mediterranean Sea to the Kinneret.  Though it was the most physically challenging thing I’ve ever done, I was able to see and experience so many different types of terrain Israel has to offer.  It was a great way to feel a connection with the land of Israel in a way that listening to a lecture can’t offer.

The picture above is from the day we finally made it to the Kinneret.  I am holding a small bottle of Mediterranean Sea water.

How Career Israel Helped Me Land My Dream Job

by Mara Kurlandsky

I went on Career Israel from 2009-2010. I interned half at Beit HaTfuzot, the Museum of the Jewish Diaspora, and half at Omanoot: Israel through Art. I loved living in Tel Aviv, but to be perfectly honest, I suspected at the time, and thought for a while after, that my time in Israel had been at best, a fun way to spend time while applying to grad school, and at worst, a bad financial decision. I had already spent 8 months traveling after college and going back to Israel (I spent my junior year abroad there) was a way to continue avoiding the real world.   

My experience ended up playing a large part in securing my dream job.  I just finished my M.A. in Museum Studies in Washington, DC and I’ve started working at a very well-known museum exhibit design firm, which happens to be redesigning the new permanent exhibitions at Beit HaTfuzot. I couldn’t have gotten the job without my master’s degree, but my edge was definitely my experience at Beit Hatfuzot as well as the ability to read Hebrew.

I’ll be working on a number of different projects that alone would have been enough to make the job fantastic. But getting to work on the Beit Hatfuzot redesign – with the possibility of travel to Tel Aviv for work – is a dream come true. And for that, I’m grateful for my Career Israel experience.

From Jewish Journal: An Office of Passionate People: My Internship Experience in Jerusalem

Life after college is a confusing time.  What are your options?  Work?  Graduate school?  Travel?  These were the questions I asked myself upon graduating from Colorado College with a B.A in Religion in May of 2010.  I decided to move back home and weigh my options.  My lifelong dream had always been to either spend a substantial amount of time in Israel or to make aliyah.  My dilemma was how to proceed in such an endeavor.  During my Birthright trip in 2008, they had explained to my group that there were ways of returning to Israel, but I was not very clear on the options available to me.  Initially, I looked into the logistics of moving to Israel for a year or so and trying to find work and an apartment on my own.  This proved much more complicated then I had originally anticipated and the idea quickly fell by the way- side.

During the summer of 2010, I volunteered with Birthright NEXT in the San Francisco Bay Area.  After expressing my concerns on the process of traveling to Israel, the Director of NEXT put me in contact with a Masa Israel representative who met with me and carefully explained a wide range of programs that fit my criteria. Masa, which means “journey” in Hebrew, is an organization funded by the Jewish Agency. An overwhelming sense of excitement took hold of me as I rushed home to review the program booklet.  After a month of research, I had narrowed my search enough to feel confident in applying for the Israel Experience’s program “Career Israel.”  Career Israel offers both a five month and a three month internship program in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem.  Their database was extensive and I was easily able to compile a list of potential internships I was interested in applying for.  The application process was straightforward and the staff was always happy to answer my questions.  With the help of a grant for Masa, the program was much more affordable.

Before I knew it, I was flying to Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv with a world of possibilities ahead of me.  I was still unsure of what the future held, but I knew my trip to Israel would provide me with some clarity regarding the future.  For instance, I had always considered aliyah, but I wanted to spend some time in Israel before making such a life-altering decision.  Read more in the LA Jewish Journal.

A Very Social Internship

My name is Jodi Geller, and I graduated from the University of Technology in Sydney, Australia with a Bachelor of Business.  I decided to participate in the Career Israel internship program to discover how it really is to live in Israel.  After touring Israel numerous times, I felt that interning and working in Israel would be a new experience and help me decide if this is a place I could see myself living in fully while gaining professional experience. I had considered making Aliyah and felt that this would be a good opportunity to determine if it’s right for me.

I intern at ConnecTLV. Organizing our weekly language exchange events has given me a better understanding of how to organize an event from start to finish.  I have learned that no matter how much you prepare for something, something always goes not as planned, and there will be some balagan (chaos).  However, through this experience I have learned how to handle small hiccups, and that if you keep calm and focused you will find a solution. Organizing these language exchange evenings where new olim (immigrants) come and learn Hebrew while exchanging their languages with fellow participants has been really satisfying, as I can very much see that all who participate not only gain a lot but really enjoy the social aspect of it as well.

My favorite trip on Career Israel has been the trip to the North where we traveled in the Galilee and the Golan Heights.  This is an area I have rarely been to, and it is such a beautiful part of Israel that a lot of people do not get to see. The hikes were truly amazing and the scenery was just breathtaking. It was also very nice to be taken out of our busy lives and the busy Tel Aviv area to an area that is so peaceful and beautiful. It felt as if we were being taken out of the ‘bubble’ that is Tel Aviv and into a place totally out of Israel.

Attempting to Reignite my Passion for Law in Israel

My name is Jill Farkas, I am 26 years old, and I was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois. I earned my undergraduate degree from DePaul University and currently attend law school in Ann Arbor, Michigan. After my first year of law school I decided to take a year off in order to “rediscover” my passion for law, and I decided to do so in Israel. I found the Career Israel internship program through Masa’s website, decided it sounded perfect for me, and applied right away.

Through Career Israel I got an internship at Itach-Maaki in Tel Aviv: Women Lawyers for Social Justice. The firm has three offices in three different cities, all comprised of women lawyers and volunteers who advocate for women’s rights. When I first heard about the internship, I thought, “This is perfect for me!” Before going to law school, I always thought I was going to practice criminal law, but after a year in school I was no longer sure that was the path I wanted to take, and I knew corporate law was also not for me (thanks to a year of working in a corporate law office before law school). But here was my chance to work in another type of law, one that hopefully would rekindle my passion for the profession, so I jumped at the chance to work at Itach.

While working there, I have also been participating in many events and activities through Career Israel as well. I have toured the Negev desert, Northern Israel, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and some places in between as well. I have been to seminars that discuss hot topics in Israel (the Tent Cities of last summer; immigrants from African countries), and ones I would have never thought to be an issue here (is Israel a Jewish state or a Democratic state?). I have seen not only the culture of Israel, but the other cultures that reside here as well (Ethiopians, Russians, etc). I participated in a Masa ceremony for Yom Hazikaron, a Passover Seder, and stood with others in silence as all of Israel commemorated Yom HaShoah and Yom Hazikaron. For me, there is no one special or unique trip or seminar; they all come together to make the entire experience special and unique.

Even though I have yet to rediscover my passion for law while I am here, I have discovered my passion for Israel.  I have discovered my passion for the people, the culture, and the way of life here. The women at my internship fight for others every day, fight to bring them justice through a system they believe in; the people of Israel fight for what they believe in every day as well, for what is theirs (whether it is their opinions, parking spot, or country), and it has all inspired me to go back to law school. It has inspired me to go back and fight for what I believe in, because while I may not have rediscovered my passion, I discovered I do still believe in the system I am studying.