OTZMA was and is an amazing experience. Having traveled to Israel with Taglit-birthright and later attending Hebrew University my Junior Year abroad I felt like I never connected with Israel. The majority of my time over that year I felt like a tourist, hopping from city to city on buses, representing Rothberg and not meeting Israelis. Toward the end of the semester I knew I needed to come back to Israel to really have experience where I felt apart of the country and not an outsider.
I learned about OTZMA from friends and after researched realized it was the PERFECT program. OTZMA places you in situations where you are learning and experiencing the country through its people and not the windows of a bus. Living in an Absorption Center, learning Hebrew with new Olim (immigrants), volunteering with the locals I began to forge relationships with not only the members of my group, but those I worked with and learned Hebrew with. Following my three months in the Absorption Center, I was placed in Chicago's partnership city of Kiryat Gat. When you ask anyone in Israel where's Kiryat Gat, you get two answers. 1. The INTEL Factory is there and 2. OH!!! My Birthright bus stopped there on the way back from Eilat at the mall. My goal was to leave K-gat with more knowledge of it and the surrounding cities and the people who lived there. Working in an adult care, with children in after school programs and with immigrants on learning how to use computers (setting up email, online banking...even understanding how to "double click" to open an application,) I felt I was able to give back to a small city and leave with so much more. The last part of my journey on OTZMA was living and interning in Jerusalem. Being back in Jerusalem for the first time since Hebrew University, I really wanted to be a part of the city, the culture and day to day life that happened.
During both part 1 and part 2 of my time in Israel with OTZMA I was able to travel to all the different cities my co-OTZMAnikim were living in and meet their friends, work with them in their placements and experience Israel in a broader sense. I traveled from the North to the South and East to West and when I left Israel to return to the States, I knew I was leaving one home to return my old home.
OTZMA gave me the opportunity to fall in love again with the Israel I first new and leave loving the country, its people and the land so much more. Living, working and hiking among Israelis and my fellow participants has made my bond with Israel stronger.
OTZMA will give you a chance to be a part of something bigger than yourself. Educational days, speakers, hikes and the volunteering will change your life for the better. You will leave feeling a better version of yourself than when you arrived 10 months earlier.