Today we are in conversation with Marissa Adler, discussing her experience interning while at NYU Tel Aviv.
What is your school affiliation and what year are you? What is your major?
I am a junior in the College of Arts and Science, majoring in Politics.
What inspired you to study in Tel Aviv?
I think I always felt that if I was going to study abroad, it would be in Israel. Not only do I feel a religious connection (I’m Jewish), but I’ve been there a few times before, with family, friends, and school too. The only thing missing from those visits was the fact that I had never felt like I actually had the opportunity to live there. By spending 4 months there over the course of a semester, I felt like I had the opportunity to experience Israel not just as a visitor, but as an Israeli, which was really amazing for me.
How was your experience? What was most inspiring, surprising, or moving about your time there? What did you find challenging?
In short, my experience really was incredible. It might sound over the top, but honestly, there was something inspiring, surprising, and moving about every activity we did. NYU took us on amazing trips to Jerusalem, the North, the desert, and all over the country. I got to see gorgeous waterfalls while hiking the Israeli-Syrian border and then swim in a nature reserve in the Mediterranean in the North. But if I had to pick a specific moment that I know I will never forget, I think it would have to be the night of the holiday Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur is a fast day and one of the holiest days for Jews. In Israel, everything shuts down. No stores are open, no one drives, there’s nothing really on TV; everyone just spends time with friends and relatives. So that night, after I had come back from synagogue with my friends (some of whom weren’t Jewish and just wanted to experience the holiday), we decided to play cards because that doesn’t involve using electronics. We played cards long into the night, and then at around midnight, someone had an idea: “wait, there’s no cars guys, let’s play in the middle of the street!” So there we were, at midnight, sitting on a spare sheet, while kids rode by us on their bikes, laughing and playing cards in the middle of the street. I can’t tell you how amazing that was because it just made me feel like I was exactly where I belonged; I felt so at home.
I understand that you interned with the Israel Religious Action Center while at NYU Tel Aviv. Can you tell us about the organization and how you came to intern there? Was this an academic internship or a non-credit internship?
The Israel Religious Action Center started out as an arm of the United Reform Judaism organization and advocating for the Reform community in Israel. It was, and still is, difficult for Reform congregations to get recognized in Israel, so IRAC (our acronym) is there to support them. As the organization has progressed, their legal advocacy has expanded to other minority groups with a presence in Israel like the Israeli-Arab community, LGBTQ community, women, and several other groups. Our main goal was always, first and foremost, to obtain equality for all people living in Israel.
I was fortunate enough to get this opportunity through Ilana Goldberg. She and I discussed my interests over the course of the summer, and she reached out to several organizations she thought would coincide best with my interests. When she suggested IRAC and advised me to research their work, I immediately knew that it was where I wanted to be. It was also a for-credit internship.
What did your work at IRAC involve? How did you find the experience?
My primary work at IRAC was to research and develop a process by which a college student could create an on-campus group that is affiliated with IRAC. Throughout the course of the semester, I was in contact with several leaders of other groups (like Jstreet, Hillel boards, etc.) from a few universities in the North East. They advised and encouraged me to develop a plan that outlined my ideas for a potential group, and most importantly, how my group would be different from other social justice groups on campus. I also reached out to groups such as NFTY (North American Federation of Temple Youth), which is a youth group for the Reform movement, in order to gauge their reactions to a potential collaboration. Additionally, I did work around the office that required any additional help and was at the disposal of the Human Resource team.
The experience was definitely life-changing. I realized how much one organization can accomplish in multiple areas of society. Though my primary work was to research the college group development process, there were days where I helped with other events like in the organization and implementation of a march against discrimination. I got to hear discussions about press releases, talk to attorneys in the legal arm of the organization, and just be a part of everything at the office. It was incredible to see how much of an impact IRAC could have in the community in Jerusalem and Israel at large.
Do you feel as though the work you did as an intern was valuable and did you see its impact? I understand that IRAC is the public and legal advocacy arm of the Reform Movement in Israel and works to advance pluralism in Israeli society. Did the experience change your understanding of issues civil and human rights and the issues of religion and state in Israel? If so, can you describe how?
I really do feel like my work had value and impact. In the immediate sense, I suppose I felt it when I helped with the march against hatred we did in October. In the long term, it was my research and the networks I established through the process of developing an outline of what an on-campus group affiliated with IRAC could look like. I also felt like I was having an impact just by being in the office, or maybe it was the office environment that was having an impact on me. I suppose it worked both ways, and for that, I am incredibly grateful.
My work with IRAC definitely gave me a better understanding of civil and human rights issues in Israel. I was familiar with many of the current events and issues, but not in the way IRAC allowed me to be. I not only heard about certain issues, like threats from members of the Orthodox community made against members of the Reform movement at a congregation in Raanana, but I got to see how the organizations fighting these issues would react when these challenges arose. I knew about the Women of the Wall movement but I got to hear Enat Hoffman, one of the chairwomen, talk about dancing at the Western Wall with torahs and how significant that progress is for Jewish women. I felt more involved in what was and is going on than I ever had before, which was incredible for me.
How do you feel your internship experience has complemented your academic experience at NYU Tel Aviv?
Well, while I was in Tel Aviv, two of the classes I took were politics classes. I took “Comparative Radical Politics,” and “Diplomacy and Negotiation.” While we talked about different political theories and beliefs in those classes, I got to see their implementation while I was in the office at IRAC. I knew the beliefs associated with the right and left in the Israeli political system, but by working at IRAC I saw how the policies were effecting the members of the population and the implications those policies had on the way IRAC conducted its work. So my academic work and my internship definitely had a tremendous sense of cohesion.
Has your time studying at NYU Tel Aviv or interning at IRAC informed your thinking about your future plans? If so, how?
I think it really affirmed for me that I need to work with people. Not just in a literal sense, but I need to be in a work environment where our goal is the betterment of different populations’ ways of life. There is so much that inhibits various groups of people around the world from living the way they want or even need to, and from my experience as a Jewish woman, I feel a connection with those groups. I want to help people, from a legal or perhaps non-profit perspective, work towards having the lives they want and deserve to live. I’m pretty sure law school is definitely part of my future at this point.
Is there anything else you’d like to share about your time in Tel Aviv or while at NYU?
I guess I can’t say enough how amazing it was. It allowed me to grow in so many ways, as a person, a Jew, a woman, and even more. I really want other people to experience Israel, regardless of their religion, because it is an incredible place that gives you a life changing spiritual experience.