So you want to study abroad, but you’re not sure where? Before you start thinking about Australia or Rome, here’s why Jewish students should consider studying abroad in Israel- and why it might be the most important decision of your life.
1. Diverse Cultural Hub with side of Middle Eastern Spice
Nestled above Africa and not too far from both Europe and Eastern Asia, people from all over have settled here and made Israel their home. You can interact with so many authentic cultures from around the world. Of course, there is a middle eastern flair to everything, from the shuk (middle eastern markets) to the kabab, to the people themselves. You can also hop on a short plane to Europe and see many European cities for flights as cheap as $50. You can’t find a more central location for sightseeing; the world is yours!
Studying abroad in Israel allows you to interact with other cultures while feeling like you belong. You have the novelty of a foreigner with the comfort of being surrounded by your own history and values.
2. Experience your own culture like you never have before
In the great American melting pot, it’s easy to miss opportunities to experience your cultural identity, the things that make you unique. Your background is a huge part of who you are, and whether your are Ashkenazi or Sefaradi, Yemenite or Morroccan, Persian or Hasidic- in Israel you will have endless opportunities to explore your heritage.
You can experience Shabbat with an Israeli family, and other Jewish students from around the world. Learn what yerushalmi kugel is and why you’ve been missing out on it all your life! Not only that, but in Israel, you can experience the Jewish holidays as real holidays that other people actually believe exist (how many people have you had to convince that Shemini Atzeret is a real thing?) Not to mention days off of class for nation-wide celebrations! You can reflect on your past experiences, or have new ones (have you ever eaten a real Israeli date on Tu’Bshvat, a holiday celebrating nature and greenery?) You can learn their meaning and significance, and take it with you for the rest of your life (the Matza might still taste like cardboard but hey, it will be more exciting).
3. Respect the generation that came before you, by learning about their heritage
Why is Israel regarded as such an important part of Judaism? That’s a great question. You can start to uncover the answer by investigating its rich history. There are tons of opportunities to delve into history through Israel’s many archeological sites and attractions.
Learn the history of your ancestors, why they made this land a home, and why you should care about it. Learn why such a small country is important to so many religions, nations, and politicians, and why it is such a hot topic of debate. The only way to experience the past is to learn about it. It is the best way to honor those that came before us.
Many of our grandparents, and great grandparents, only a short 70 years ago, witnessed the cruel and devastating genocide known as the Holocaust (or Shoah in Hebrew). In Israel you can experience Yom Hashoah, a national holiday dedicated to remembering and mourning the 6 million lives lost. You can interact with holocaust survivors through various programming, or visit Yad V’shem, the world’s most comprehensive holocaust education center. I’m sure you have learned about it at some point in your schooling, but viewing it through the lens of a mature adult is a worthwhile experience. It’s important to your grandparents, to you, and to future generations, to never forget.
4. Make a difference
In Israel, there is a lot of work to do. There are many disadvantaged populations that need people like you to step in and make things right. Through student activism and volunteer work, you can make a difference in the lives of others. Social responsibility and social justice are Jewish values known as ‘Tikun Olam’ - perfecting the world by standing up to injustices and helping those in need. The volunteer opportunities in Israel are endless, here are just a few:
Magen David Adom Volunteer Overseas program-
If you are pre-health oriented, and would love the ability to save lives in Israel, serving as volunteer first responder would be an incredible experience for you! Spend 10 days of intensive learning, plus six weeks of on-the-job training volunteering on an ambulance in the city of your choice!
Save a Child’s Heart-
If you like nurturing, playing, and caring for kids, Save a Child’s heart is a life changing experience. Meet children from around the world who have come to Israel for access to vital health care. These children are born with cardiac defects that have no available treatments in their home countries. At Save a Child’s heart, they are given the proper care while being nurtured by loving volunteers. Read more about Save a Child's Heart here.
Volunteer on a Kibbutz-
Spend time picking fruit, learning Hebrew, and hands-on experience with Israeli culture! A kibbutz is a small self-sustaining community where everyone pitches in to help get the job done. In return for work, you get housing and food, and get to meet many like-minded people. Learn more about volunteering on a Kibbutz here.
GoEco- Israel Wildlife Preservation Center -
Work with professional rangers, get up close and personal with leopards and oryxes, and enjoy breathtaking views of Israel’s desert scenery. You can study desert wildlife while working to preserve nature’s sanctity for all. Learn more about Israel's Desert Wildlife Program here.
5. Find out why Jews are changing the world
In Israel you can be who you are. You don’t have to worry about how the world will view you differently because of your Judaism. In fact, you can connect with like minded individuals that share Jewish values that you do. You can join forces with other students who are passionate about their identities, and can work together to create solutions that make the world a better place for everyone. You can meet rising entrepreneurs, professionals, and top-notch researchers at stellar educational facilities, with whom you share a common identity. There are fantastic networking events, internships, academic programming, for people who are passionate about being successful Jewish thinkers and leaders.
Think about it. Then ask yourself: Do I want to be a well-rounded, well-educated, confident and successful leader? If the answer is yes, then studying abroad in Israel may be an important step on that journey, giving you the experience and tools to excel in your academic career and beyond. It will do more than just make your grandparents proud; it will empower you to think of yourself as a link in an ongoing chain that is improving the world with each generation.
Read about the study abroad options in Israel in our blog post here.