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Humans of Hillel


From Israel to America: My Journey with Masa and Hillel

Charlottesville, VA | 2014

Debbie_Stone.Debbie was a member of the inaugural cohort of the Masa-Hillel Fellows. The fourteen fellows came together for a six-month professional development seminar during their time in Israel through a partnership between Hillel and Masa. Learn more about the cohort here.

Over a year ago, I got on a plane to become an Israel Teaching Fellow in Netanya through Masa Israel Journey. Little did I know, Israel would change my life. I immersed myself in Israeli culture through traveling, meeting Israelis and participating in Masa seminars on a multitude of topics. Specifically, the Masa Leadership Summit allowed me to delve into the question of what kind of leader I could be. Through the guidance of Emily Briskman, Director of the Israel Education Center of the Jewish United Fund/Federation of Chicago, I was inspired and coached through a week-long series of tough and challenging questions. Can I be a Jewish leader? Should I be a Jewish leader?  How do I become a Jewish leader? Through Emily’s inspiring facilitation, I was fortunate enough to be the recipient of engagement at its best. Serendipity? Beshert (destiny)? Just a little bit. After the seminar, I applied and was selected to take part in the Masa-Hillel Fellowship and once again, my life was changed.

Our first session opened with Esther Abramowitz, Hillel International Director of Israel Experiences. If you have had the pleasure of meeting Esther, then consider yourself blessed. Throughout the fellowship’s many sessions with Esther, and Jamie Schiffman, Hillel International Director of Professional Development, I was equipped with the necessary tools to become a Hillel Professional. As someone who thrives on education and the ability to effect change on young adults, my values aligned perfectly with Hillel’s. Jamie and Esther welcomed me into a profession where I was given leadership skills, engagement tools, educational strategies and a cohort of supportive people.

As the Masa-Hillel Fellowship neared its end, I secured my job as the Assistant Director for the Brody Jewish Center at the University of Virginia. I watched my last Netanya sunset, flew back to America with bitter sweet memories, and began to settle into to my role at UVa. I have learned that Hillel is a fast-paced, ever moving environment, but it is exciting and stimulating every single day. Thanks to my students who have welcomed me with open arms, the transition to UVa has been seamless. My students inspire me to be an important Jewish leader in their lives and I am motivated by their tenacity and drive in everything they do.  I am learning something new daily, rediscovering what it means to be Jewish and all the while fostering young Jewish students on their own complicated journeys.

As my nostalgia for Israel is ever present, I am reminded of my path to my current job. From Israel to America, I didn’t get to UVa by any one person; rather by my own will, amazing people whom I met along the way, and a little beshert. To everyone who helped me along the way - those mentioned above and also Osnat Spiegel, Director of Alumni and Community Engagement at Masa Israel Journey, who is always a voice of reason; Hilary Jampel, Hillel International Manager for Entrepreneurship and Talent, who I aspire to be in my role at UVa; and to those who still check in on me - todah rabah (thank you).

Debbie Stone is the Assistant Director of The Brody Jewish Center at the University of Virginia. She spent last year teaching English at an underprivileged school in Netanya, Israel as a Masa Israel Teaching Fellow. Prior to Israel, Debbie served as an Executive Assistant to the CEO for a hedge fund in Greenwich, Connecticut. She holds a Master of Arts in Teaching as well as a Bachelor of Arts in History and a minor in Religious Studies.