Alyssa Harstein is our Onward Israel intern at Young Judaea Israel
Hi there! My name is Alyssa Hartstein and I am a rising junior at the University of Delaware, originally from Scotch Plains, New Jersey. This summer, I am a participant in the Northern New Jersey delegation of the Onward Israel program, a two-month internship experience that allows me to immerse into the day-to-day life of an Israeli.
This program is a joint-venture between the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey and Young Judaea, and I am so thankful to be a part of it! From the first moment I was told that this internship program existed, I knew that it was perfect for me. I had been to Israel twice before- once on a three-week BBYO leadership program in summer 2012, and the other on Birthright this past January. These experiences were similar yet different, both giving me only “tastes” of Israel and leaving me craving more experiences in this incredible country. My wishes came true, and here I am living in Bat Yam with three other Northern New Jersey girls, working four days a week for Young Judaea’s marketing department, and exploring Tel Aviv and greater Israel for nearly two months.
I have always been torn between two career paths: one in a Jewish nonprofit organization, where I would work directly with people in the community everyday, or social media marketing. When speaking with Young Judaea’s fabulous internship coordinator, Dafna, I told her I would be perfectly happy in either type of setting. Dafna, who is the incredible tailor of YJ’s specialized internships, found the perfect internship for me that meshed both the communal Jewish aspect and social media. It happened to be right next to her office, in the marketing department of Young Judaea.
The entire office has welcomed me in with open arms, and these people have taught me so much in the short amount of time that I have been here. It is so incredible to be working for the organization that brought me to Israel this summer in the first place. I have already gone to Tel Aviv to interview Birthright participants with intriguing background stories, been a part of an amazing social media strategy meeting, edited many documents, and I am only looking forward to seeing what other cool things I get to do these next six weeks!
The great thing about this program is that though I am the only intern for Young Judaea, I am not alone in the experience. There are twenty people my age from my area who are here to live, learn, and explore by my side, and an incredible madrich to address all of our questions, concerns, and neuroses. We all have different day-to-day experiences in regards to the workplace, yet at the end of the day we all go home to our apartments with fellow participants. Another great part of this program is that the internships are only four days per week, and on Tuesdays we take day trips around the country.
Last Tuesday, we went to Jerusalem for a three-religion tour. In addition to seeing The Kotel, we got to see the Christian church and the Dome of the Rock, which is an incredibly beautiful mosque with that gold dome that you see from pretty much anywhere in Jerusalem. It is a rare, amazing experience to see it if you are not Muslim, and I am so glad I got to have it. We also get a lot of time to explore Tel Aviv on our own, so I have taken advantage of my two favorite hobbies: eating and shopping. Eating-wise, I made a bucket list of restaurants I HAD to go to while here, and have already crossed off three: Cafe Xoho, Tamara Yogurt, and Dr. Shakshuka. As for shopping… Well, if I want to not be strapped for cash for the next six weeks, I need to stop doing that.
The first weekend, my group traveled to Rosh Hanikra, Akko, and Nahariya. Since we were all exhausted from the first week, some of us still jet-lagged, almost none of us were interested in taking this trip. However, when we saw the breathtaking views from Rosh Hanikra, our first stop, I think some of us changed our minds about not wanting to be on this trip. Our expectations were only further proven wrong when we arrived to the hostel in Akko; let me just say that I have never been so upset to leave a hostel. It was brand new, clean, and amazingly comfortable. That night our group went to get drinks at the beach together, and it was incredible to have a glass of wine so close to the water.
Our time in Akko then came to a end and we had to go take a “short water hike” (I am not going to elaborate on this, because I do not want my readers to think I’m angry) and spend Shabbat with host families we did not know in Nahariya… Thrilling. I was paired with a family I did not know with a girl in the group I barely knew. However, the experience ended up being very nice as I was fed a great meal, slept in an amazingly comfortable full size bed, and spent a relaxing Shabbat at the beach. The second weekend was spent in Tel Aviv, and I spent Thursday and Saturday nights out, Thursday with an old friend and Saturday with my roommates, and on Friday went to Dr. Shakshuka (overhyped, but good) and Nachalat Binyamin artists’ market. Saturday was spent walking along the beach, which was a relaxing end to the week.
If you come to Israel and do not randomly run into anyone that you know, are you really Jewish? I’m two weeks into this experience and my count is eight people between the flight, Birthright trips, and camp friends. It is great to see old friends while you are halfway around the world, and that is what I love about Israel. On the one hand, I cannot believe I have already been here two weeks, and on the other I feel like I have been here forever. In the coming weeks, I am excited to see how my Hebrew language skills continue to improve, how my internship continues to inspire me, and what amazing brunches await! Talk to you soon, or in Hebrew, ‘l’hitraot’!