Welcome to the Alumni section of the WUJS website. The WUJS program has been running since 1968 and has more than 8000 alumni. In this section you will find profiles of some of those alumni both recent and veteran. Spend time seeing what former WUJS participants are doing with their lives now or if you are a WUJS alumnus yourself, why not search for old friends with whom you have lost touch?
Abbie Silber is a singer and songwriter from Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Following her graduation from the University of Indiana, Abbie was a participant on the WUJS Arts Track and today is an up and coming artist with her own album.
Abbie was recently interviewed by her university alumni association. Check it out at http://alumni.indiana.edu/singinghoosiers/docs/sh-spring11.pdf
You can also check out Abbie's own site at http://abbiesilber.com/default.aspx
Jerusalem - Intern & Arts Fall 2010
Hometown: Albany, NY
Fashion Institute of Technology - Advertising and Graphic Design
I chose to participate in WUJS... after my husband and I made a last minute decision to come to Israel for the year. I was looking for a program that I could learn Hebrew, advance professionally, and still be able to travel and see the country as this is only my 2nd time in Israel. It was very important to me that I did not let this year go to waste professionally. I wanted to keep practicing graphic design, but break my way into the Jewish work world. I hope to return to the US and do graphics work for a Jewish organization (anyone want to hire me?). I work at Matan Media doing graphics for Young Judaea. I am currently creating a Facebook and Google Ad Campaign for Young Judaea's gap year program, Year Course. In my field, Facebook and online marketing is very hot right now. Here I am in Jerusalem enhancing my resume and work experience and after work I can go to the shuk and haggle over a sweet potato. Life is good!
What are the tracks like on WUJS?
It was not my original plan to participate in 2 tracks on WUJS, when I met the Ofra the art's track teacher I immediately fell in love. With my years of Art History this opportunity to learn about the history of Jewish and Israeli art sounded amazing. And it is amazing! The classes and trips we have are well planned, interesting and I find myself sharing and teaching my family and friends what I learn in my classes. My passion and love for art was established in college. Now, as I participate in my WUJS art's track classes they have helped strengthen my Zionist ideas and connection to the State of Israel.
What's one of your favorite moments in Israel?
I loved spending the High Holidays in Jerusalem. One image I will never forget is seeing a orthodox man on his scooter and kittel (white robe) on his way to Kol Nidre. That's when it hit me, I'm in Jerusalem, I'm a majority! The silence of the city for all of Yom Kippur truly enhanced the day, and as soon as the sun went down, and people enjoyed their food, the streets echoed with hammers and nails as residents built their sukkot. Where else in the world can you experience this? I am a New Yorker and am used to being surrounded by Jews, but I have found that there's something in Jerusalem for everyone. Bars are packed at 3am on Thursdays with 20 somethings. H&M just opened in the Malka Mall, the restaurants are amazing, affordable,and Kosher! I have found that no matter what my friend's level of observance is they have found a love for shabbat, sitting around the table with friends, eating, singing and drinking. What is usually said? "When in Rome do as the Romans do!"
What's been most challenging?
I thought it was really going to be hard keeping in touch with family and I'd feel 6,000 miles away. Skype has actually kept us closer, being able to see everyone's faces on Thanksgiving made the day go by much easier. What's even better is when you're in Israel so many people come to visit! I came to Israel really wanting to learn Hebrew. It's harder than I thought it would be! Being in Jerusalem everyone speaks English so it's very hard to practice. I loved our Ulpan program, the teachers are our peers and we play games and practice our Hebrew for practical situations. It has been a challenge keeping up with the work, practicing in between class and feeling confident speaking out on the street.
Tell us about your other world travels:
We had a short Hanukkah break. My husband and I took a trip to Paris. We don't know a word of French, we passed a clothing store close to the Moulin Rouge. As we shopped we were nervous because we had questions, but how would be communicate in our non existent French? I look over and see a Hamsa on the wall, that's usually a strong clue to speak Hebrew or defiantly NOT to speak Hebrew. I look closer and he has a "birkat hanoot" (blessing of the store) hung on the wall. Soon enough we said "Efshar medabear ivrit?" (can we speak hebrew?) His face lit up and started speaking Hebrew a mile a minute. Soon enough we were saying "le'at le'at" (slower slower!) He was an Israeli who grew up right outside of Tel Aviv and we know we made his night! This was not the first time our Hebrew has come in handy in our travels, now after 3 months of Ulpan I'm actually able to participate in these world wide encounters! After our year in Israel we are spending the month of June backpacking across Europe and visiting close to 9 different countries. We're excited to continue to explore the world and then return to "normal life" back in the states in July.
Abby just completed the WUJS arts and intern track in February. For the remaining amount of time in Jerusalem she's studying at the Conservative Yeshiva and helping out with WUJS marketing and the new machzor!
Want to know more about Abby's time is Israel? Check out her blog!
In his own words:
As a California boy, I never thought others would recognize me as anything but American, until this past year. People approach me on a daily basis assuming that I may be Russian, Israeli, French, British, Mexican, and even South African. This can only happen in the diverse city of Tel Aviv. It doesn't bother me at all and I am flattered to look like such a mutt. I think that means I have adapted quite well since I am no longer mistaken as the typical American tourist.
A year ago I came on WUJS (World Union Jewish Students), a 6 month internship program sponsored by Haddasah/Young Judea. The program allows you to pick an internship of your choice, in the field you wish to pursue your career in, become a volunteer for a non-profit organization, or venture out and work in a field that you may have never tried back at home. While working hard, 3-5 days a week, there are also weekly trips around Israel which include hiking, touring, and educational excursions. I finally saw the acres of green trees and forests made possible by the donations from JNF. The tree certificates we buy definitely make a difference. Ulpan or Hebrew classes are mandatory twice a week but necessary and worth while if you want to steer away from your everyday American lifestyle.
Just before I left PismoBeach, CA., I had been working in the hospitality industry at a small boutique hotel for a year, and really enjoyed it. I came to work in Israel in order to build my resume with some international experience. I got to Tel Aviv and two weeks later, without knowing much Hebrew, I was working behind the reception desk (kabbalah) at a large Israeli hotel chain, The Moriah Plaza (now the Leonardo Plaza). I thought to myself, how was I going to survive and actually have a worth while experience not speaking the native tongue? On top of that I think many of us assume that Israelis have no patience for Americans, at least this was was I thought. But my assumption was soon turned around, my manager and co-workers were actually excited to have an American working with them. They were patient in the training process and helped explain procedures in English, while here and there using important Hebrew vocabulary that would help me understand the language more in the work place. As they became more confident with me, like any job, my responsibilities grew and I was able to work with more and more Israelis customers with my broken Hebrew. I was having a blast while getting some valuable experience at the same time.
I lived just a short 20 minute ride from work, a 20 minute daily adventurous bus ride that is, which was also a new and different experience for me. Having driven a car for almost half of my life, I had never really taken public transportation, let a lone a city bus with the most insane drivers in the entire world. I was nervous at first especially with all the bus bombings we hear about in the states, but soon got over this fear and made the most out of it.
After the 6 month program ended, I decided to stay. Soon enough, I applied for a work visa, found an apartment and was offered a job at the David Intercontinental Hotel in Tel Aviv. Unlike the bad condition of the economy in the States, tourism is booming in Israel despite the "flotilla scare", most hotels were sold out this summer. The salary is not great, rent is expensive like in New York, but there are jobs, people still go out to have fun, and its a great feeling to say "Shabbat Shalom" to your neighbor.
I have been here for a year now and have not yet decided when I will come home. I still manage to stay close with my family via Skype and keep in touch with my friends through Fantasy Football. This amazing Israel experience would not have been possible without the financial support from The Jewish Federation of Fresno. They had granted me a generous loan which helped me pay the tuition for the program. I recommend this adventure to anyone in search of a career path, a new experience, and life long friends.
Thank you so much!
In her own words:
Dear Arts track
I just wanted to say thank you to everyone. I grew in terms of my art, and I found myself in ways that I could never have experienced in America. I am very glad that I made the decision to come to Israel. But even more so, I feel so lucky to have had the privilege of being a part of the arts track group. More than anything, you all, as a group, provided me with a sense of security and comfort here in Israel. Within a larger group of almost 40 WUJS participants in Jerusalem, it was invaluable to have a smaller group with whom I had so much in common. To be able to sing without fear, explore the Israeli art scene and do group activities based around trust and creativity with fellow artists was really special for me and a really important part of my Israel experience. I'm honestly not sure what I would have done without it.
So, thank you so much and I wish you all the best luck in the future. All of you are so talented in our own ways and I look forward to hearing how far you've all gone in the next few years.
Hometown: Sharon, MA
Employer: Mark Burnett Productions
University: Washington University in St. Louis
Major: Film and Media Studies
How did you decide that going to Israel was the right option for you?
I hadn't been in several years, and I wasn't sure what I wanted to do after college at the time, so I started looking into programs.
What Masa Israel program did you participate in?
WUJS Intern Tel Aviv
Why did you decide to participate in WUJS Intern Tel Aviv?
I wanted to do something productive while in Israel, not just tour around. I wanted to do something relevant to my career path, and feel like a real working Israeli.
What did you do while on WUJS Intern Tel Aviv?
I was an assistant technician at Meirav Productions in Ramat Gan. I also made a weekly video update about the other WUJS participants' internships.
What was the highlight of your internship?
In my internship with WUJS, it was getting to read/hear the feedback from my videos each week as I put them up.
What skills/lessons did you take away from your internship that you still use today?
During my internship at Meirav Productions, I learned a lot about technical editing and post-production equipment, that are all very relevant to what I do now since it's mostly the same stuff.
Is there a story or anecdote that you can share that reflects your experience in Israel?
Most of my group went to an American bar to watch the Superbowl with other Americans. It was great, because after five months in Israel, absorbing their culture, we suddenly had a night where all the Americans came out of the woodwork to join in a true cultural event for US. It was also great because the game started at 1 AM and went until 5.
What are you up to now?
Now I'm living in Los Angeles, working as a Post Production Coordinator at Mark Burnett Productions. I'm new to the city and adjusting to life here.
Has your time in Israel impacted your future/career plans?
Pretty directly, for two reasons: 1) I met the guy who hired me through a friend of Mike Mitchell, director of WUJS, and 2) I was hired for this position partly on the basis of what I did at Meirav Productions in Israel.
If you could meet any Israeli from any point in history, who would it be and why?
Eliezer Ben Yehuda. I'm not sure if he counts as an Israeli, but he did reinvent the Hebrew language, so I'm kind of awed by him.
Taken from http://masaisrael.wordpress.com/2010/06/28/alumni-spotlight-jacob-kieval/
After studying hotel management at Indiana University in Pennsylvania and working in the business for two years, Pittsburgh-native Ben Levine decided that he needed to take some time to explore his Judaism. "I knew that I wanted to start defining myself as a Jew. It had been pushing through my head during college," says Ben. "And I knew that if I wanted to go overseas, I had to do it before I got caught up in work."
Ben turned down a promotion at work and enrolled in WUJS Jerusalem Learning that includes Jewish and Zionistic studies taught in a pluralistic environment, weekly field trips, hikes, meetings with Israeli peers, and volunteer opportunities.
Though Ben attended Solomon Schechter Day School until the eighth grade, he had not been involved in Jewish life at college because of his busy sports schedule. With WUJS Jerusalem Learning, Ben was able to take courses in a variety of Jewish subjects, including Talmud, Kaballah, and the Arab-Israeli conflict, visit different parts of Israel he had never seen, including the Yemenite community in Rosh Ha'ayin, and experience daily life in Jerusalem. "On a short organized trip, it's all sight-seeing," says Ben. "But, in six months, we were able to live like Israelis--riding the bus and shopping at the market--and adapt to the culture."
His teachers, who Ben describes as "some of the greatest I've ever had," the WUJS courses and Jerusalem life helped Ben determine how he could live a Jewish life. "The program didn't push me towards any new religious nature, but it did show me how I might adapt myself to being the sort of Jew I want to be," says Ben.
Though Ben recently returned to the United States, he definitely sees a future for himself in Israel--be it through future visits or another extended stay. "The way Israelis interact is refreshing--like the sabra fruit, prickly on the outside and sweet on the inside," says Ben. "When I was in Israel, I met many families who treated me like a son."