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Onward Israel: Stepping off the plane felt like coming home

Aug 16, 2019

Olivia and two friends
By Olivia Cohen, UNC-Chapel Hill '22

I will never forget the time I saw my boss’s band performing on a Tuesday night. I will never forget Miranda’s text saying that Neil Patrick Harris drank from her water bottle. I will never forget the time my favorite restaurant, Saluf and Sons, gave me a free hat because I was “becoming a regular.”

This summer was full of moments I will never forget. 

Israel is not just a place you visit. Israel makes you feel like you belong. 

Stepping off the plane felt like coming home. I didn’t know why--I knew no one and nothing here. However, there was a sense of comfort in the Hebrew on every sign. The buzz of a language I didn’t understand was not frightening--it was inviting. I was supposed to be there. 

I grew so much as a person. Onward forced me out of my comfort zone and for that I am grateful. Whether it was living with 27 people or trying to travel on Shabbat, each day opened my eyes to new ways of thinking and situations I had never experienced. 

For my internship, I worked as a project management intern at Keepod. This company distributes $7 PC’s to communities and schools in developing countries. Through my job, I was able to tell the stories of the people Keepod had benefited, as well as write scripts for their PR videos. During my final week, I spoke on behalf of the company in an article for a national Chinese newspaper. 

I was fortunate to be surrounded by such kind people. Whether bonding with my bosses over malawach (a Yemeni flatbread) or sharing a Shabbat with our madrich (counselor) Zoë’s family, my experience was enriched by the wonderful Israelis who let us into their lives. 

Travelling around the country helped bring our group together and exposed us to a different way of Israeli life. We wandered the graffiti-covered streets of Beer Sheva, enjoyed the aroma of the Jerusalem Shuk (the market), and marveled over the view of Haifa’s Baha'i Gardens. 

Although our time came to an end, my connection with Israel lives on. My Jewish identity has never been so powerful. Onward crafted one of the most meaningful experiences of my life. This summer is one I will never forget.

Onward Shabbat


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210 West Cameron Avenue
Chapel Hill, NC 27516
(919) 942-4057

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