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  • Hillels of Georgia

The Road to Understanding the Importance of My Israeli-Jewish Identity

By Tal Shenholz, SCAD '21

I was born and raised in Tel Aviv, Israel. At 13, I moved to Shenzhen, China, for four years before moving back. I completed my last year of high school in Israel and was drafted to the IDF as a non-commissioned officer serving at the Allenby Crossing Bridge between Israel and Jordan under the International Relations Unit. After my military service I enrolled at SCAD where I completed my first year of college in Hong Kong and the rest of the degree in Savannah, GA. After graduating in 2021, I moved to New York City, where I now work as a Technical Director for the animated TV show South Park.

It is almost fitting for me as a Jewish Israeli to live this sort of Diaspora-like life! I can say that growing up in Israel, my ‘Jewishness’ and my ‘Israeliness’ were not things that I concerned myself about. They were simply a given: my family is Israeli, my friends are Israeli, everyone is Jewish, speaks Hebrew, and celebrates the Jewish Holidays; this was something I was born into, and it was the comfortable reality I was familiar with. While I was in China, I did miss Israel, but at the same time, I was with my family. We went to Chabad frequently for Shabbat dinners and holidays, spoke Hebrew at home, and visited Israel multiple times a year.

It was only after my military service, when I enrolled at SCAD that I was truly on my own, far from my family and friends in Israel. Suddenly, when I didn’t have that something that I took for granted, I realized how much it meant to me; it hit me that being Jewish and Israeli means the world to me. It was the first time in my life that I had to make the choice to stay in touch with my roots and heritage. Hillel was the answer. Hillel gave me a strong sense of community, and I met wonderful people through Hillel. There is something almost magical about coming together for Shabbat dinners and celebrating the holidays together with your people. Of course, I met some great non-Jewish friends during my time at SCAD, but I find an extra level of understanding when I meet other Jewish people. There are nuanced conversations about what it means and feels to be Jewish or seeing certain things on the news that won’t have the same impact if I were to share it with someone who is not Jewish. I feel very grateful to Hillel for providing me a place where I can feel that comfort and community in Savannah, GA.

It is now two years after my graduation from SCAD, and I am living my best life out here in New York City! I continue to make the choice to stay in touch and strengthen my connection to my heritage; of course, it is so much less challenging to connect with the Jewish communities out here in comparison to Savannah simply because there are Jewish people everywhere! Working for a multiple Emmy-winner show like South Park as a Technical Director makes me feel very proud on a personal level. I am in a unique position as I am the only non-American, let alone Israeli, working for the company. Being in such a position makes me someone art students reach out to for advice. For instance, I have had multiple animation students from the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design of Jerusalem reach out to me. I was so happy to give them my input on how to make it in the animation industry. I am in a position where I can provide and direct other people in the Jewish and Israeli communities, and this is another layer of meaning I have found as an Israeli Jew living in the United States.

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