What it’s Like to Live in Israel Post-Birthright

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Hey, Jessie! Tell me a bit about yourself.
J: My name is Jessie Ziff and I’m 19 years old from Westchester, NY. I am going to be a junior at Penn State University, where I’m studying Human Development and Family Studies.

Greek life is a huge part of college life at Penn State so I joined a sorority– AOII. Of course, it is one of the few Jewish ones. Being in a Jewish sorority was important to me because I was raised in a kosher home and celebrating Shabbat each week. I have a 17 year old sister who will be attending Lehigh University after embarking on her journey to Israel for the year. I also have a 10 year old brother who will be going to Solomon Schechter next year after always being in the public school system.

Tell me, what brought you to Amirim? What has your Amirim experience entailed?
J: After deciding that I needed to be in Israel for the summer, I started researching different programs that would allow me to come here and intern for two months. I found Amirim and it seemed like a great fit. I am interning at The Peres Center for Peace, which is a non-profit organization founded by Israel’s 9th President, Shimon Peres. The mission of the center is to integrate Arabs and Jews to find a way to make peace.

Not for a split second was I nervous to come to Israel. I have never once felt unsafe here. I will say that transitions are really hard for me so after being on a structured trip for 10 days and coming directly here, I was panicked. The first two weeks were very exhausting and draining. I did not know how to get around or how to communicate. I was very homesick. Now that it has been some time, I am finding my way around and enjoying every second to the max.

The thing that I enjoy most about Amirim is the level of independence. Never in my life did I think that I would be able to get dropped off at an apartment in an area I don’t know at all and be able to figure it out. Yes, it took time, but now I am comfortable. I am excited that I was given this opportunity to grow on my own and I am eternally thankful for it.

What is a good reason that you would give your peers to come to Israel? Have you been here before?
J: I cannot give only one reason to come to Israel. The better question would be why would you NOT come to Israel? It is amazing. Absolutely amazing. Tel Aviv, the beaches, the museums, the land, the history, the people, The Kotel, Yad Vashem, the clubs, the food… should I continue? Israel is a secure place for me. I feel at home the second I land.

I have been to Israel four times prior to this trip. I came three times with my family, and once with a group of friends through my JCC on a penal exchange program. I stayed at Israeli’s houses, and they then came to NY and stayed with me. When I came in the past, I experienced nothing like I am experiencing now. I was on a strict program, either touring or with my parents in which I was not given freedom. I also have never been here for this long. I did birthright right before this, and again, why not go on birthright? Birthright was hands down best 10 days of my life.