“If you ever have a lot going on you can always just come to Hillel,” Sydney said. “We kinda call it ‘the Jewish sorority.’ All your friends are there, you know everyone, and you fit in. That’s how I describe it, a co-ed fraternity-sorority I guess.”
Every other year, Hillel offers a leadership mission for some of its highly involved students. This winter break, Sydney went on the Israel Leadership Mission (ILM) and it was #IsraelUnreal.
The 10-day trip was packed full of tours, Israeli food, and community service. Along with Hillel staff Jay Lewis and Melissa Kingston, the group of 20 students visited schools for at-risk youth, learned about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at the Gaza border, shopped in Tel Aviv, and taught English to children at Ramla’s English Center.
It was a very eye-opening experience for Sydney. Elementary school classes in America would have 25-30 students, but in Israel, classes are usually much bigger, making it harder for teachers to control the room. This is one area where the students on ILM could help. They played games and did activities with the children while teaching English.
“I was working with a younger girl and was asking her what activities she likes to do and she replied ‘hamburger and pizza.’ I laughed because she obviously didn’t understand the question,” Sydney said. “So I asked her, ‘is this because I’m American?’ She nodded her head and laughed. I found it so funny that although she hardly knew any English, she knew that I was American and could make fun of me for it.”
One of Sydney’s favorite parts of the trip was having lunch at a market in Ramla. During the winter months, locals are used to the numerous Birthright trips going around Israel, but Ramla was different. It’s not a typical touristy city. There are few Americans. The vendors didn’t know English. Signs are strictly in Hebrew. It was different, giving her an authentic local experience, and Sydney liked that.
“ILM gave me a deeper connection to the land of Israel which I will forever be thankful for,” Sydney said.
ILM is not the typical touristy vacation. It combines volunteering, touring, and learning about Israel to give leaders a more intimate experience abroad. Overall, ILM’s main goal is for participants to gain leadership skills that they can bring back to their communities in order to lead in the future. The program brought Sydney and other Hillel leaders together in a new way -- where they could all gain inspiration by learning from one another.
“I’m a firm believer that a Husky bus trip is the best way to get to know others, and I learned a lot about the people on my trip, even those I was already friends with going into it,” Sydney said. “I learned a lot about myself as a leader and how I can best use my leadership skills.”
Traveling helps people realize the world is BIG and changes their perspective on things. After going on ILM, Sydney learned important values and life lessons she will carry with her for the rest of her life. She has formed a personal and spiritual connection to a country more than 6,700 miles away. Its claimed a piece of her heart and will inspire an urge to travel many years from now.
“ILM gave me a deeper connection to the land of Israel which I will forever be thankful for,” Sydney said. “I feel more attached to Israel and want to spend more time there learning about the issues and the culture.”
This summer Sydney will be returning to Israel for her fourth trip. This time, she will be interning at Alexia Aflalo Design Studio. Congrats, Sydney!