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Shaare Zedek Hospital, the Justice Ministry and the Israel Museum in Jerusalem may not appear to have a great deal in common, but this summer, they are among more than 50 institutions that are employing student volunteers from the Diaspora.
For the seventh summer in a row, the Yavneh Olami religious Zionist organization is hosting 80 aliya-minded college students from around the globe in its six-week-long Summer Internship Program. The students work in their field of interest, gaining experience in the Israeli workplace.
"Yavneh Olami enables students to consider aliya as a serious option for the future," said the NGO's Director Ze'ev Orenstein on Wednesday. "It allows students to live like regular Israelis by getting up and going to work in Israel on a daily basis, and it also enables participants to make connections with professionals working in their fields to help them in the future if they decide to move here."
Students come from all over the United States, Canada and Britain, and are employed as volunteers five days a week. The internships are diverse, ranging from observing therapy and medical treatment in hospitals to working in business or for nonprofit organizations, to conducting scientific research and caring for animals at a shelter.
Many of the students are considering aliya, either right after college or sometime in the future. "It's something which is in the back of everyone's mind," said Orenstein.
"I would like to make aliya, and working here this summer is a stepping stone to get a feel for what my industry is like in Israel," said Yaffa Soffer, 21, from London. She is studying building engineering and currently works alongside a project manager at the IDF's Tsrifin base in Ramle.
Others on the program agreed. "This is a really valuable opportunity to get hands-on experience working in my field," said Cheryl Lieberman, 20, an aspiring music therapist from New York. She volunteers in the psychiatric ward at Herzog Memorial Hospital in Jerusalem, along with eight other interns.
What drew many to Yavneh Olami was the chance to forge connections with experts in their fields. "I feel that I've made some very good contacts and I hope to capitalize on them when I move here," said Phil Getz, an intern at the Present Tense Institute for Creative Zionism, a summer program in Jerusalem "dedicated to transforming the way the Jewish people think, program and work."
Others are enjoying the chance to immerse themselves in Israeli society and culture. "Being in an Israeli society is a useful experience to have if I'm going to live here," said Mia Lazarus, who is working in a robotics lab at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan.
"I definitely feel like I am contributing to the political situation here, by keeping media bias about Israel in check," said Emily Watkins, a Columbia University student interning at NGO Monitor. "It's good because I'm in Israel but I'm not just a tourist - I am actually part of the work force."
Canadian Deena Rende works at Maaglei Tzedek, an organization that works for social justice. She too feels that her work benefits Israeli society. "Sometimes it's hard to tell when you're making a difference, but even when you're doing mundane things, you have to remember that you're working for a good cause," she said.
Others such as Ben Freedman, who works for the Jerusalem Municipality, are getting an inside look at how government operates. "It's good to be able to see how politics works a bit in Israel," he said. "To be able to do it with like-minded people who also want to make aliya is a great opportunity."
The internship program is based in the capital's Bayit Vegan neighborhood, at Yeshiva University's Israel campus. Yavneh Olami provides weekly evening programming to participants such as recreational activities, lectures and seminars on Israel advocacy. Most importantly, they give students the tools to explore aliya and the process behind it. Recently, participants attended a workshop presented by the Nefesh B'Nefesh aliya organization and were also able to speak to recent young immigrants about their experiences.
"Yavneh Olami is proud that so many talented and capable students are in Israel again this year," said Aviva Poch, the Summer Internship Program's coordinator. "We are pleased to be continue being involved in bringing such fantastic potential olim to Israel."
A large proportion of students from previous summers have since made aliya. "We really sell the program by encouraging aliya," said Poch. "Many of our employers keep having interns year after year because they see it as a valuable opportunity to help bring young people to the country."
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