Posted in Participant Stories on 27. Jun, 2012
Here is a recent interview with Cincinnati Lieberman, a recent Shalem participant from Charleston, West Virginia, who will be returning to Israel this next year.
Why did you decide to come to Israel?
I went to the American Hebrew Academy for high school. Junior year, our entire class spent 3 months on the Alexander Muss High School in Israel program. It was the first time I came to Israel and it changed my life. I experienced the land of my ancestors with my 35 closest friends by my side. Nothing could have been better. I fell in love with this country and knew that I had to come back as soon as I possibly could. When it came time to plan for the year after high school, I started looking for seminaries or programs and found Shalem.
How did you decide to choose Shalem?
Because I am a Ba’alat Tshuva (someone who has “found” Orthodox Judaism), I thought that going to a seminary would be too intense for me. I wanted to learn Torah and be in Israel but was afraid that I wouldn’t fit in. I also wanted to be in a co-ed program.
When I spoke with one of my high school teachers last year, she told me that her sister came on Shalem and volunteered at a veterinarian’s office. This was the answer I was looking for, as I hope to go to vet school one day. She told me about the classes and that Shalem is a Modern Orthodox co-ed program. I was sold.
What have you done so far this year on the program?
I spent the first 6 months living in apartments in Jerusalem. We studied Hebrew and many topics in Judaism including medical ethics, Tanach, issues in Modern Orthodoxy, women in Judaism, the Holocaust, Zionism and more. I also volunteered at the Lone Soldier Center and The Jerusalem Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (JSPCA) Vet Office. After two trimesters, in Jerusalem I moved to Kibbutz Yavne. I worked in the olive fields, the chadar ochel (dining room), and in various other jobs. The work is hard but I feel like I have accomplished something by the end of the day.
Do you feel like you’re immersed in Israeli society?
I feel like living in Jerusalem for 6 months in my apartment, grocery shopping, and finding my way around the city has certainly helped me feel like I really live here. Being here while Gilad Shalit was brought home, sharing in the controversy and joy that the country felt, volunteering to give back to the country that has given me so much, and making friends with all kinds of people who live here have all brought me closer to feeling immersed in Israeli society.
As I begin life on Kibbutz Yavne, I learn of a new side to this country. I have spent two weeks working in the olive fields, cleaning the dining hall for Pesach and learning how life works on kibbutz. I feel like this is an essential part of my immersion into Israeli society because I have spent so much more time here talking to the people who live in this country. Now when someone tells me that they were born on a kibbutz but moved to a city, I am able to better understand why they did that, where they came from, and what both worlds have to offer.
What is the most meaningful volunteer work you’ve done this year?
I volunteered at the Lone Soldier Center in Memory of Michael Levin. I worked in the office most of the time, doing whatever needed to be done: writing thank-you notes to donors, creating blog posts, making phone calls, and helping organize paperwork. I loved that part of my work because of the people who worked in the office and some of the soldiers who came needing help. I was able to help the Center by doing the office work and at the same time learn about Israel through the eyes of lone soldiers.
When the Center had events, I was recruited to photograph them. I loved doing this because it gave me a reason to see everything that was going on and talk to many people I wouldn’t have otherwise. Many soldiers would tell me how much they appreciated the center and the ways we have been able to help make their service easier. At the end of the day, my photographs were posted on our blog, in the Center calendar, and in a few newsletters. Many times these publications would reach parents of lone soldiers and give them an idea of how their kids were doing.
I loved volunteering there and still try to make my way to Jerusalem for their Friday night dinners that they hold once a month. I hope that I will be able to find time next year and for many years after that to continue to contribute to the Lone Soldier Center in Memory of Michael Levin.
What do you do on weekends and free time?
Free time in Jerusalem, I spent exploring the city. No matter where I turned, I could always find something new to see and learn about.
Weekends I spent either with family friends or in my apartment. We had many many potluck dinners together for Shabbat. These were some of my favorite times with Shalem because we were able to hang out in a big group of random people, whoever was home for Shabbat. These meals were always really lighthearted and warm. Nothing better in the world.
What are the best parts about the program?
My favorite parts of the program have been the religious backing and opportunities. The discussions we had with our madrich (counselor) almost always had a Jewish base and through them over the course of the year, we could see how we had learned and grown. I also have loved the different opportunities we were given, like living on a religious Kibbutz for example.
As part of that theme, being on the program with other kids with similar backgrounds and/or ideas about Judaism has enhanced every experience we had together because we were seeing it through similar eyes.
How has your connection to Israel changed since arriving?
My connection to Israel has not changed, but rather grown. I have learned more and gained a fuller awareness of what this country is really about. I have lived in the city and on a kibbutz and learned what each of those is like and the challenges facing the residents of both. I have heard the news of everything going on here and really seen its effect on the people.
How has your Jewish identity or observance changed?
My Jewish identity has not changed, but I have definitely increased in my observance and understanding in a lot of ways from learning both in and out of the classroom.
What do you plan to do after Shalem ends?
Coming into the year, I was deferred at Virginia Tech. A few months into the year, I met with Nefesh B’Nefesh to look at my options for staying in Israel. I came to the point where I had no idea what I would do in Israel but that I had to stay. I finally decided to enroll at Bar Ilan University-Mechina and will be making aliyah.