I’ve always felt at home in Israel, ever since my first trip when I was 9. When my mother chatted with the locals in Hebrew, it made me feel like a native (even though I didn’t speak Hebrew myself). I’m proud to be Jewish, and Israel is a place where I can really feel that pride and connect to the broader Jewish community.
The tragedy last October deepened that connection. I live in Squirrel Hill, less than a mile from Tree of Life synagogue, but I was in Penn State when I found out what had happened. My parents were calling, my friends were texting, but it all felt surreal. And then I came home a few weeks later and my community felt different. There was a sense of vulnerability, like nowhere was safe anymore. But at the same time, we felt closer to each other — and to Jews all over the world — than ever before.
Two months after the shooting, I went to Poland, to the concentration camps. I wanted to learn more about anti-Semitism and its devastating effects. It was a really difficult experience. The horrors of the Holocaust were on a far different scale than the Tree of Life shooting, but underneath both events have the same root: Jews being targeted and murdered just because they’re Jews. Suddenly, the Holocaust wasn’t just something that had happened to my great-grandparents — I had become part of a larger story, a continuum of history. Anti-Semitism is still destroying lives.
I always knew I wanted to go back to Israel, but now I felt even more strongly that it was where I wanted to be. I’m looking forward to continuing my Israel experience with Masa Israel Teaching Fellows.
I’m excited about the program because of the chance it gives me to connect with the worldwide Jewish community on a different level — through its children. I got a taste of how rewarding this bond can be when I interned in Gan Bein Cramim V’sadot in Rishon LeZion a few years ago, teaching eight kindergarten boys on the autism spectrum. Even though I have a brother on the spectrum, I didn’t realize until I got there just how diverse the classroom would be: There was one child who asked me every day to teach him more English words, and there was another who couldn’t really speak and ate dirt and grass. I loved how I could relate to each of them on a different level. I’m hoping for a similar experience with Masa, because, even though the children don’t necessarily have autism, each child still learns differently. As a future speech pathologist, I’m eager to find out if I can help any kids in my classrooms with speech delays or learning disabilities, and to see how the process differs in America and in Israel. I hope I can impact my students’ lives — and maybe learn a little Hebrew, too.
But, maybe more importantly, I think going to Israel is really important for young Jews today. I’ve seen myself how visiting the country opens people’s eyes, especially if it’s their first time there. I’ve seen people discover a new connection to Judaism and pride in being Jewish, and I think that’s an important thing for every American Jew to experience. Not to become more religious per se, but just to see that there’s a large community of people who are similar to you, who are there for you and support you.
Because at the end of the day, in this crazy world where Jews are murdered for being Jews, Israel is a place we belong. pjc
Rachel Adelsheimer is a 2019-2020 Masa Israel Teaching Fellow, teaching in Rishon LeZion as part of the Israel Experience programs.