By Sarah Langerman
With a churning stomach and a fluttering heart, I said goodbye to my dad at JFK airport in New York the summer of 2013 to attend what was then called NFTY EIE. I was not fully sure what to expect being it was my first time to Israel, let alone out of the country. I came with an open mind and open heart and my life was changed forever.
Throughout the six-week program during the summer I learned Jewish History and travelled around Israel to learn about the topics we had discussed in the classrooms. Every day was a new adventure and slowly but surely, I started to fall in love with this country. When it was time to say goodbye, I felt like I hadn’t finished discovering all that was left to learn here on this program and country and found myself coming back to this magical land for the Fall 2013 semester.
Heller High (formerly known as NFTY EIE) is an experience of a lifetime. We learn in depth about Jewish History (both ancient and modern), Hebrew, as well as general studies. The program manages to combine a perfect balance of intense study as well as trips outside of the classroom. The bonds the students make with the country, kibbutz, and one another is unlike any other connection I have ever seen. To this day on almost a daily basis I speak to my friends from my semester.
I fell in love so much with Israel while I was here that it became apparent to me that this is where I feel at home. After returning home and graduating high school, I was on my way back to Israel for a gap year. I knew I wanted to make Aliyah and join the army but due to my parents’ wishes I did a gap year to make sure it’s what I wanted to do before I committed. The following August of 2015 I was able to officially call myself an Israeli citizen and four months after in December I was officially a soldier for the next two years in the Israeli Defense Forces.
Drafting into the army was tough, at first getting by with the basic Hebrew I learned while attending Heller High two years prior, but eventually my Hebrew improved and I felt myself becoming more Israeli every day. I was released December 2017, and prior to my release I thought about the program where this dream all started. I started to long for my home in Israel which I hadn’t been back to in the past four years and now being freshly out of the army I am proud to say I am now staffing as a counselor for the students on Heller High.
It is a beautiful adventure to experience this semester on the other side. To help the kids live and learn and to grow a deeper understanding for the country that I love so much. I remember sitting exactly in their places and discovering new information every day. Spring 2018 is composed of 76 students who have grown into one big family. The students may not be fully aware how much of a home and community they have become but I am positive that the second they return to their homes abroad they will long for the friends, community, and country that they have come to know during the past four months.
I am forever grateful that I have landed upon the Heller High community. Even though I finished being a student on this program four and half years ago, the bond will never be broken. This program is the biggest family that I have come to know and I almost wish I could turn back my age and experience this school all over again.