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Personal Narrative: Studying Abroad in Israel

By Ksenia Lyubov Novikova

In the fall of 2019, I studied abroad at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. This meaningful experience changed my life. I got more in touch with my Jewish identity and became particularly interested in the different Jewish communities in Israel. I am particularly interested in the Former Soviet Union (FSU) community that immigrated to Israel in the 1970s and 1990s. My family is also from the FSU, so I felt especially connected to the community during my time in Israel. I also had the opportunity to learn more a

bout the Yemenite Jewish community and the Ethiopian Jewish community.

Jerusalem was unreal. It is impossible to describe the spirit and character of the city because it is such a unique place. It is a very old city filled with conflict and history in every corner. Yet it is also mysterious, religious and diverse. Jerusalem is spiritual and mystical. Amos Oz, an Israeli author, described Jerusalem best.

In My Michael, Amos Oz describes Jerusalem as a “brooding city” with “no end.” He says it is “an illusion” where one can never “feel at home…even if one lives here for a century.” 

I lived and studied in Mount Scopus, a neighborhood in northeast Jerusalem. It is an uphill area, so I could see the Jerusalem sun setting over the center of the city. There is a fast light-rail in Jerusalem that takes you all around the city. My friends and I frequently used it to go into the Old City. The Old City in Jerusalem is home to many holy sites. It has four quarters: the Jewish quarter, the Christian quarter, the Muslim quarter, and the Armenian quarter. It is a very interesting place to go to. It has holy sites like the Western Wall, Dome of the Rock, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It is one of the most religiously significant places in the world to so many people. This makes the Old City a very spiritual and emotional place as well.

My friends and I often got hummus at Hummus Ben Sira, an amazing hummus place right by the Old City. In Israel, hummus can be eaten as a full meal. Some restaurants are entirely devoted to hummus. You dip onions, different vegetables, and pita bread into the different types of hummus.

I also had the chance to travel around Israel. I went to Ashdod, a port city in the Southern part of Israel. Ashdod has a huge population of Russian-speaking Jews, so I felt especially connected to my heritage there. I went to Tel Aviv a few times during the semester. Tel Aviv is a very young city known for its nightlife and beautiful beaches. It is an international city with a lot of different influences. Tel Aviv and Jerusalem are the two major cities in Israel, but they could not be more different from one another. My favorite part of Israel is the north. Akko and Haifa are beautiful cities in the north. Both are home to mountains, green spaces, and the glistening Mediterranean sea.

My mom visited me in Israel during our break for the Jewish holidays. Our family dreamt of Israel for generations and generations. It felt extra special to be there with my mom. 

During my semester in Israel, I also had the privilege to intern and volunteer. I interned at Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust museum. It was a profoundly meaningful experience and I heard life stories from many Holocaust survivors. Yad Vashem is unlike any other Holocaust museum. The museam is dedicated to Holocaust education from a Jewish perspective. It is a specifically Jewish museum, unlike other Holocaust museums. The museum ends with a picturesque view of Jerusalem to show that the Jewish people have finally made it back to the land of Israel. 

I also volunteered at Yad LaKashish. Yad LaKashish is a nonprofit that empowers low-income seniors through the work opportunities that they provide. There are several creative stations where seniors do different tasks. There is a bookbinding station, crafts stations, and decorating stations. It is an amazing organization that provides stipends to low-income seniors who come in and do this work. Not only is it a work opportunity, but it is also a place full of friendship and positivity. The seniors love it there. I had the chance to interview many of the FSU immigrants that were there. I wrote profiles about them and their beautiful life stories.

My time in Israel is something I will never forget. Israel has such a special place in my heart now and I feel truly humbled after the experience.

I was able to have my experience in Israel because of the Gilman scholarship. The Gilman scholarship is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State. It is a scholarship that allows college students from low-income families to study abroad. They offer generous scholarships and I would not have been able to study abroad at all without their help. Not only does the Gilman scholarship provide you with financial assistance, but also it provides emotional support through many of their international education resources. If you are planning on studying abroad or you know someone who is, tell them about the Gilman scholarship. It is an easy online application with a few essay questions. I cannot recommend it enough. Without Gilman, studying abroad would not have been possible.


Ksenia Lyubov Novikova is a junior studying Political Science and Communications at AU. She is originally from Brooklyn, NY. Ksenia works at the Center for Israel Studies and plays an active role in the Russian Speaking Jews club. Ksenia loves writing, traveling, all things Brooklyn, and learning about Jewish communities all over the world. 

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