While applying for a doctorate in clinical psychology, I decided to head to Israel. I had just spent the year working as an Early Intervention Specialist for toddlers who demonstrated signs of autism or other pervasive developmental disorders. Yet, I knew that I still needed something else to set me apart from other applicants. I enrolled in Masa Israel’s Career Israel, to gain professional experience abroad.
My experience during those five months after college could not have been more distinct. I began Career Israel in September 2008, during the time when Qassam rockets were fired regularly from the Gaza Strip into Sderot and were making their way towards Tel Aviv. I was in Israel when the army responded with Operation Cast Lead, and saw many of my Israeli peers leave to fight. Still, despite the fact that I was living in a “war zone,” I felt safe.
Maybe this was because, in Israel, a small country colored with conflict, petty worries are dismissed and life feels immediate. I experienced this while taking part in discussions about current events and my day-to-day internship responsibilities. At Kadima, an after-school program for disadvantaged youth with a variety of behavioral and emotional issues, I was able to develop a variety of important skills and truly feel connected to an Israeli team of volunteers. The sense of community in Israel enabled me to feel emotionally safe.
At Kadima’s Jaffa location, which served Jewish, Arab, Christian, and Ethiopian Israeli youth, I worked with the staff to prepare meals and activities. Given the opportunity to explore the world of counseling through hands-on work, I took three individual students for one-on-one time each day, helping them with homework, playing games, and just talking in Hebrew. My students’ resilience amazed me, as did the dedicated staff members, 18-year-olds who postponed army service for a year of community service.
While in Israel, I found that daily life seemed more meaningful. Surrounded by a diverse community that celebrates the Jewish faith, it was incredible to experience the Jewish calendar as the national calendar. There was nothing more comforting than seeing Hanukkah lights brightening the entire city or enjoying the weekly tradition of Shabbat dinners followed by a true day of rest. It was also thrilling to be able to light the Hanukkah candles alongside Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, an opportunity provided to me, thanks to Career Israel.
Being in Israel during a time of heightened conflict allowed me to experience the collective passion and perseverance of the Jewish people whose common goal is to maintain a Jewish homeland. I found this reality remarkably humbling.
Now back in the U.S., I am in my second year at a Psy.D. program at the Adler School of Professional Psychology in Chicago, en route to becoming a child and adolescent clinical psychologist. I think about my Career Israel experience frequently and I believe that my letter of recommendation from the Career Israel program helped me gain acceptance to some of the more competitive psychological externships in Chicago.
Last summer, I returned to Israel to interview first-aid responders of Magen David Adom (MDA) as part of a clinical research project. As I progress with my studies and clinical work, I hope to become professionally involved with the mental health field in Israel. Israel is one of my homes, forever woven with my identity and I simply can’t get enough of it!
Masa Israel Journey connects young Jewish adults to 5-12 month immersive, life-changing experiences in Israel. For more information or to find the right program for you, contact Aimee Weiss at firstname.lastname@example.org and visit www.masaisrael.org.