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  • Hillels of Georgia

A New Perspective in Israel

By Talia Segal, Georgia Tech '24

The past two months in Israel have been nothing short of phenomenal. About a year ago, I started my second year of college and moved into an on-campus apartment with my Arab best friend. A few weeks into living together, she overheard me on the phone setting goals for a fellowship I was doing with the Israel on Campus Coalition. After a year of close friendship, this sparked our first fight over the Israeli Palestinian conflict. Having grown up in a heavily Jewish area of South Florida, our fight was the first time I experienced antisemitic, anti-Israel criticism, and I was deeply hurt. I knew in that moment that I needed to spend the next year solidifying my Zionism, strengthening my relationship to Israel, and making sure that the next time I encountered a similar situation, I would be prepared to face it head on.

When Hillel at Georgia Tech scheduled a birthright trip for winter break of 2021, I jumped at the opportunity. Unfortunately, that trip was canceled because of COVID, but it definitely worked out for the best. When the trip was rescheduled for this summer, I signed up as soon as I could, and I figured if I was going to Israel, I should stay as long as I could. Onward Israel was a perfect addition to my summer in Israel because it also allowed me to gain internship experience. Through Onward Israel I could enjoy my time there while continuing to be productive and work towards my career goals.

In early June, I moved into my apartment in the middle of Tel Aviv and quickly settled in. I began work under the Civil Engineer at Innovation: Africa (iA), a non-profit that uses Israeli solar technology to deliver water and light to people in rural areas. I have always been interested in global development and using engineering to help people worldwide, so working at iA was a dream job. Day to day, I oversaw construction of water towers, conducted price analyses for future projects, worked with bills of quantities, and analyzed technical drawings. I learned so much from the internship, and I am confident that the skills I have gained will be of great use in any future job.

When I wasn’t working, there was always something new to do and explore in Israel. Many Thursday nights (the equivalent of Friday nights in the U.S. because the Israeli weekend is Friday & Saturday) were spent partying on Rothschild, often with Americans from similar programs, but we met our fair share of Israelis as well. Some Shabbats were spent relaxing on the beach, and on others, I took the train to visit my Safta in Modi’in. One weekend, a group of friends and I planned a trip to Eilat, where we did a jeep tour, snorkeled, and even went for a boat ride in the Red Sea.

I have truly loved and cherished every second of my time here. Getting to interact with Israelis, it became clear to me that even though they can be harsh on the outside, they become family within 30 seconds of conversation. There is something so unique and empowering about being independent in a country where you know you are safe and supported by your Israeli family while away from home should anything go wrong.

Beyond that, I have seen how strong we are as a Jewish people. Between the end of my Onward Israel program and the beginning of my trip with Hillel International’s Israel Insight Fellowship, I stayed with my Safta, and war broke out with Operation Breaking Dawn. Of the four or five times I have been here, it was my first-time experiencing war. I had made friends who were serving in the IDF, even one working for the Iron Dome. Thinking about and talking to them brought new perspective. It was also interesting to see the media portrayal of Israel being under attack versus how it actually felt on the ground. While my family and friends at home panicked, people here were calm, and I felt safe. The way I saw Israelis continue to live their lives without letting terror interfere made me proud to be part of such a resilient nation.

As my time here in Israel comes to an end, I think about how I’ve made some of my fondest memories this summer. I look forward to bringing them back to campus to share with my peers this year, and I am even more excited for the next time I can come home to Israel.

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