Heather Winegrad of Career Israel 18 is interning with the Jewish Agency in Jerusalem
When I was in Sunday school, we had an enormous floor map of Israel that made an appearance about once a year. Our teachers would tell us to find Jerusalem, Haifa, Tel Aviv, etc., and whoever was the first one to physically stand on the correct spot on the map was the winner. For a long time, that was Israel to me. It was some country very far away that we had to learn the geography of. As a child, they would tell me that this was a very special place, but that wouldn’t have true meaning for me until many years later.
I first came to Israel when I was 17 years old with the Diller program. We spent three weeks traveling around the country from Haifa to the Negev. I’m sure every person who has been to Israel understands when I say that the experience changed something in me. I understood what it meant to have a home in Baltimore and in Israel. I connected with people on a deep level who may not even understand the culture I come from. I finally got a taste of not being in the minority.
In between my trips to Israel, I graduated from high school and went to the University of Rochester. I studied abroad in Arezzo, Italy for three months and had the time of my life. At Rochester, I studied psychology and American Sign Language. I spent most of my time in college going between the Deaf and the Jewish community.
Since the day I came back from my Diller trip, I knew it was my responsibility as a Jewish American to stand for Israel in any way I could. I have volunteered for Yachad, Friends of the Israel Defense Force, Chabad on Campus, multiple synagogues, and with The Associated. There was clearly a pattern that had developed, so I knew that a career that involves Israel advocacy was right for me.
But how could I advocate for Israel if I had never fully experienced Israel? How could I make arguments for a country I felt a strong connection with, but did not really understand? This is what brought me to Career Israel. Not only was I looking to change professional fields, but I needed to really understand what I was fighting for. I came to Jerusalem and The Jewish Agency for Israel for those answers.
I’ve been in Israel for a month, and I can already say it’s been the journey of a lifetime. I’m living in the most unique city in the world. Everyday I learn and experience something new. I have already met people who have made a tremendous impact on my life. As I continue my work with The Jewish Agency, I will meet lone soldiers and new olim and hear their stories. Everyday I work with people who passionately believe in Israel’s survival, and it’s inspirational. I cannot wait for everything that is to come!
After Career Israel, I would like to work for a large organization like JFNA, AIPAC, FIDF, or other Jewish organizations with crazy acronyms for names. I believe that the global Jewish community has the capacity to be as strong as ever, but that does not come easily. Wish me luck!