The first semester of my year in Israel, during the Nativ College Leadership gap year program, I studied intensive Hebrew at the Milah Institute Ulpan in Jerusalem. I learned a bit of Hebrew beforehand at summer camp, in casual synagogue classes, and in my senior year at a Jewish high school, but I was far from confident in my skills and even farther from fluent. I was the only Nativ participant in my class at Milah, as the others were placed into the first introductory courses. In the beginning, a classroom full of strangers was intimidating. But soon I found comfort in the incredible community that was created among us.
I studied next to men and women from around the world—Paris, England, Chile, Brazil, South Korea, and more. The only language we all had in common? Hebrew. Along with our lessons, questions and instruction, the hellos and good mornings among the students were always spoken in Hebrew. Each student enrolled in ulpan for his own reasons, and we all shared and learned about our personal goals and experiences with each other. I sat next to a Palestinian woman from East Jerusalem, and her friendship inspired me to begin learning Arabic at Columbia University my freshman year. In the next row, an Italian nun learned Hebrew to help her understand religious texts. A young man from France had just made aliyah with his fiancé, but he hadn’t known a word of Hebrew before he stepped off the plane. I often shared my notes with a Hasidic couple from Canada. The stories of my fellow students can go on and on. Both during and outside of class time, we discussed literature, history, politics, social justice and education.
My time in ulpan class was the most pure immersion into Israel that I have ever experienced. There, I was not a tourist. I was not an outsider looking in. I was part of a community. This community, to me, represented something like a microcosm of Israeli society as a melting pot of different peoples, narratives and goals, uniting together in a common land with a rich, authentic and meaningful language. For the first time, I had the opportunity and the responsibility to be completely independent. I built a strong confidence in my Hebrew due to such comfortable and serious immersion, which helped me succeed in my volunteer job at Kfar Hasidim Youth Village during the spring semester. I shaped my year in Israel with new insight about the remarkable possibilities that may be found within the country. With the unforgettable opportunities provided through Nativ, I created a unique, personal experience toward harboring the learning, openness, diversity and exploration that I had so appreciated in my ulpan classroom.
By Lucille Marshall.
Written for an internship application. Essay question: Describe an experience on your long term Israel program that significantly impacted your life. 500 word limit.