My name is Victoria Kimerling and I grew up in Birmingham, Alabama. Although not a large Jewish community, Birmingham has a strong, tight knit community that my family has been a part of for generations. I grew up going to a Conservative synagogue for Hebrew School, the High Holidays and my B’noat Mitzvah (which I shared with my twin sister). While my synagogue certainly helped to bolster my connection to Judaism, it was really my experience at Jewish summer camp (Camp Barney Medintz) and Jewish youth group (BBYO) that solidified my connection to Judaism and sparked my initial desire to understand and explore my Jewish identity.
In 2005, I came to Israel for the first time with my extended family, including my grandfather. My great grandfather, or Big Zada, had recently passed away and in his honor my grandfather made a donation to a community center in Rosh Ha’ayin that my Big Zada and Bubbe had built years earlier. On this trip we were able to visit the center, see their plans for renovation, and meet many of the patrons. Seeing my family legacy within Israel and our long-standing relationship with the Jewish nation, and experiencing this with my family, was awe-inspiring. On this trip we also toured the country and got a small taste of the rich history and remarkable people of Israel. I knew this would not be my last time in our homeland.
In 2011, I had the opportunity to come to Israel with my mom on 2 organized women’s missions. One was for Jewish women from all over the United States and one was for Christian and Jewish women from Birmingham, Alabama. Seeing the sites and travelling the country with such powerful and insightful women was amazing and definitely offered a perspective on Israel different from my previous journey.
In August 2012, I was lucky enough to participate in a Birthright trip organized by the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington (JFGW) for young professionals from the DC area. I was already somewhat involved in the young leadership programming for JFGW, but I was looking forward to meeting more Jewish young professionals from DC and to going to Israel with my twin sister, who was also going on the trip. What I was not prepared for was what an emotional and inspirational whirlwind the trip was going to be. Unlike my previous vacations in Israel, the programming on my Birthright trip was not only site seeing, it was reflective and thought provoking, asking the questions “what do you want Israel to mean to you?” and “how do you see your relationship with Israel, now and in the future?” It was my answer to these questions that made me realize 10 days would not be enough and that I needed to come back to Israel on a longer program once I finished graduate school.
A year later, I arrived back in Israel on the Masa program – Career Israel. I’m working here as a project management and development intern at a start up nonprofit organization called the Am Yisrael Foundation. Our organization funds and organizes social and philanthropic initiatives to assist and empower young professionals, primarily in Tel Aviv. Since the day I landed everything has been going up for me. I love the people I’ve met and the programs we’ve had, but primarily I love the way that being in Israel makes me feel. I feel challenged and forced to think about issues that I never had to confront at home. I feel valued and trusted in my internship in a way that I never have been in previous positions. What has been so incredible about this program so far is that I’m able to build my resume in an unprecedented way while actually making an impact in my organization and the community we serve, all the while being able to learn about Israel and to explore my Jewish identity and connection to the Jewish nation. I feel so fortunate to have had such an amazing experience so far and can only imagine how great these last 2 months of the program will be.