By Samantha Altit, Lewis Summer Intern
Junior, University of Illinois at Urbana- Champaign
Bachelor of Science in Communication
Samantha, second from left, at Masada
When I left the University of Illinois at the end of the school year I didn't realize that my summer was going to be all about Israel. I had amazing plans to visit Israel and afterwards be a part of JUF's Lewis Summer Internship program and work in the Israel Education Center (IEC).
My summer began by traveling to Israel on Birthright and I was very fortunate to be given this opportunity through the amazing trip provider Shorashim. My experience was much different than the other participants on the trip because my father is Israeli and I have been to Israel many times before. I already had a good understanding of the culture and language, and have visited some of the attractions on our itinerary.
Our journey began when we boarded an El Al plane to Israel. We were definitely lucky to fly direct. Twelve hours later we landed in Tel Aviv-Yafo and headed directly for the Golan Heights, where we would spend our first weekend. Our first adventure was hiking in the Zavitan. This hike seemed to last forever and just when we thought we were going to pass out we reached a beautiful waterfall and everyone eagerly jumped right in. After the hike, we went back to Kibbutz Afik and prepared for Shabbat.
Sunday morning we listened to Israeli music as we headed to Jerusalem. Jerusalem was such a spiritual city and I was able to make a connection to Israel and Judaism during my time there. We visited Yad Vashem, and had a spectacular tour guide who shared stories about artifacts and heroes. Jerusalem will definitely be the place I will always remember.
We left Jerusalem early afternoon and our next stop was Tel Aviv. Exhausted, I forced myself to stay awake and look out the window at the beautiful scenery. When we arrived in Tel Aviv we got to spend time on the beaches and swim in the lovely Mediterranean ocean.
The following morning we drove south to the Negev, where most of my family lives. They came from Beer Sheba to have lunch with me. I hadn't seen my family in two years, so I was happy to spend time with them. Then we stopped at an elementary school in JUF's Partnership 2Gether region of Kiryat Gat-Lachish-Shafir. We spent a few hours learning Hebrew while teaching the children English, and after we had a dance party with the entire school.
Next we were off to sleep in the Bedouin tents. We were rewarded by riding camels early the next morning up a mountain in the middle of the desert. It felt like we were waiting for Moses and our ancestors to appear. And the most amazing part of the trip was next: floating in the Dead Sea. Everyone rushed out to put mud on themselves and float in the sea. After the Dead Sea we drove a short distance to Ein Gedi. It was a short hike that led us to an amazing waterfall in the middle of the desert.
As our trip came to an end, I knew this wouldn't be my last encounter with Israel. By traveling to Israel I was able to gain a new appreciation for the Jewish state and I now had a chance to use my knowledge and passion for Israel and give back to the community. I was about to go work at JUF's Israel Education Center for the rest of the summer as a Lewis Summer Intern and my internship immediately began when I returned home.
As an intern this summer I am completing a variety of projects such as: helping the IEC create a social media plan for the Israel Interns, crafting a strategy plan to fight against the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement on college campuses, planning an Israel event on campus for fall semester, and planning a post Birthright reunion in Chicago.
Also, as a Lewis Summer Intern I am given many opportunities to listen and learn from Jewish professionals in the Chicago-land area. I hope to take the skills I learn from JUF and the IEC and apply them to my coursework and in my future career.
This fall I want to go back to my campus and help promote Birthright--it's the best way to create your own personal connection to Israel. Also, through much hard work and devotion I know my work here this summer will have an impact on other college students and guide them in the right direction by helping them shape their own image of Israel and share that with others.
Now it is my turn to help other students find their connection to Israel. I plan to help encourage others to learn about Israel and become more involved with the Jewish community on campus. The IEC, Jewish community and Hillel have so much to offer and every Jewish student should take advantage of this great opportunity. I plan to go back to Israel for the spring semester to study abroad at Tel Aviv University. I am excited to go back on a new journey and find new adventures in a place I truly love.