Exploring Israel On My Own Terms
By Mira Mutnick, Georgia Tech '23
If you would have told me a year ago, even six months ago, that I would be spending my summer in Tel Aviv, I would not have believed you. Not only living in the center of Tel Aviv, but working on meaningful research at Tel Aviv University while checking incredible adventures off my bucket list. This summer was a dream, and I wish I could do it all again.
The last flight I took before the Covid-19 pandemic was in December 2019, coming home from Birthright. In a full circle moment, the first flight I took after the pandemic was in June 2021, going back to Israel. As we landed in Israel, I was overcome with emotion and disbelief that this was actually happening. After more than a year of isolation, Onward Israel allowed me a rare opportunity to travel, and I vowed I wasn’t going to take it for granted. As a resident of Georgia and a student at a Georgia university, I went on the Hillels of Georgia Onward Israel program, and I was able to connect with Jewish students from other Georgia universities, whom I wouldn’t have been able to meet otherwise.
If I had come to Tel Aviv without the support of Onward Israel, I am not sure I would have had the same fulfilling experience. I didn’t have to worry about finding a place to live or affording the cost of living. I was able to focus on personal and professional growth, gaining a deeper connection to the land of Israel.
As a rising third year biomedical engineering major at Georgia Tech, Onward Israel helped me secure my dream internship - conducting biomedical engineering research at a university. For the duration of the summer, I worked on improving a customizable 3D printed hand splint for children with cerebral palsy. I gained many skills related to my field of interest from working with computer assisted design software to learning to communicate and collaborate directly with clinicians. My opinion and perspective were valued throughout the project, and by the end, I had a physical model to show for it.
Outside of the internship, I was able to explore not only Tel Aviv, but all of Israel. Onward took us on a few day trips to various places, including Jerusalem, Haifa, the South, and Atlanta’s partner city of Yokneam. Each region of Israel is unique and being able to interact with the different environments and people was eye opening. From biking along a trail overlooking the border with Gaza to having dinner with locals in Yokneam, my experience in Israel was enriched beyond being a tourist in Tel Aviv.
We even got to travel on our own on the weekends and really personalize our experience. For a long weekend, I went to Eilat with some other program participants. I had the opportunity to go on a Jeep tour in Timna Park, an ancient copper mine in the middle of the desert. I also checked off a bucket list item and went scuba diving in the Red Sea!
On another weekend I went to Be’er Sheva and had the most international and interesting Shabbat dinner I’ve ever experienced. My friend and I, both Americans. The host and hostess, British and Canadian, respectively. A Brazilian family who recently made Aliyah from Rio. A German man who converted to Judaism and made Aliyah a few years ago and finally settled in Be’er Sheva. The next day, I met a woman who recently made Aliyah from the French part of Switzerland with her two kids. Being able to interact with people from so many different walks of life but sharing a common thread of Judaism and a connection to Israel was something I won’t easily forget.
Even though all the day trips and weekend trips were incredible, I loved living in Tel Aviv! Everything from beach sunsets to the cozy coffee shops was mere perfection. The bookstore cafe, the Shuk HaCarmel, the Old City of Yafo, the pink bakery near the beach, the abundant greenspaces, the museums. I will forever miss the food, from the Shakshuka to the vegan shawarma (Tel Aviv is the vegan capital of the world!) to the authentic Ethiopian cuisine.
The best way to end the summer was to see it all from above. Every day on the bus to work, I would pass this hot air balloon, and every day I would promise myself that I would go on it. The last week of Onward was quickly approaching, and the moment finally arrived. Walking through the park, I was nothing but excited to see the city from 400 feet above. The balloon went up, and I was in awe. The sun reflected off the Mediterranean Sea in a shining yellow glow. All around and below were the buildings of Tel Aviv, and in one direction, I could even see the building I worked in all summer. After being physically in the city all summer, it was nice to see it from a bird’s eye view and reflect on just how many things I did, places I went, people I met, experiences I had, how impactful this summer truly was.
Even before I left, I searched how I would be able to come back. Tel Aviv has become a home for me on the other side of the world, and I am seeking opportunities to continue to build my connection with the city and people. Meanwhile, Onward has given me a network of Jewish students in my local area with whom I shared this experience. I am so grateful for the communities Onward has helped me build, the meaningful research to which I was able to contribute, and the numerous memories I have from these unbelievable, once-in-a-lifetime experiences.
Onward Israel is an immersive 6 week internship program in Israel sponsored by Hillels of Georgia with the generous support of the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta. To learn more, go to hillelsofgeorgia.org/israel-experiences