A model immigrant

Ro Yeger, 24, from New Jersey to Givat Shmuel, 2012.

Ro Yeger on an Im Tirtzu trip to a farm and vineyard. (photo credit: ITAI SCHREMER)
Ro Yeger on an Im Tirtzu trip to a farm and vineyard.
(photo credit: ITAI SCHREMER)
Rachel (“Ro”) Yeger recently returned from an international Model UN competition in Barcelona with an Outstanding Delegate award.
She is co-president of BarMUN, Bar-Ilan University’s Model UN club, and was one of 27 Israeli students at the conference – the second-largest Israeli MUN delegation in history. She was among 13 Israeli delegates to come home with a prize.
“Home” these days is an apartment she shares with four roommates in Givat Shmuel, near the Bar-Ilan campus. She entered the university four days after making aliya in October 2012.
“This community next door to Bar-Ilan was a good option for me,” Yeger says. “Givat Shmuel has a lot of immigrants learning what it means to be Israeli, so it was a safe, cushioned spot for me to land in.”
A second-year student of macroeconomics, political science and sociology, Yeger joined BarMUN primarily as a way to meet Israelis. It also fits well with her general life plan: After her bachelor’s degree, she wants to continue for a master’s degree in political communications and then go into politics.
“I want to impact change, and politics is a good place to do it on a macro scale,” she says. “Fresh ideas are needed in this country, and I spend a lot of time grooming myself to be able to make that difference.
MUN is a good tool for that, because it teaches you diplomacy and conflict negotiation; it’s all about the give and take, being accommodating of others’ ideas, learning how to listen and how to resolve differences.
“Often politicians close themselves off to other ideas, and I feel that can change in the future generation of politics.”
She is already involved in politics as vice president of Young Likud on campus. “We bring MKs to campus and have debates throughout the country, participate in a lot of Likud events and sponsor social events on campus.”
In addition, she is a member of the Zionist campus advocacy group Im Tirtzu and is a StandWithUs fellow.
“We learn Israel advocacy, and over the summer we’re doing a project to help improve Israel’s image in the world,” says Yeger.
She even volunteers to translate documents from Hebrew to English for Im Tirtzu, an impressive ability considering that when she arrived her Hebrew skills were weak.
“My Hebrew has improved miles. I did a couple of months in ulpan but I wasn’t learning conversational Hebrew, so I took myself to the streets and forced myself to be in situations where I had to speak Hebrew.
My friends had a lot of patience with me.”
Culture shock Yeger is not afraid of tackling difficulty. She was born in Lakewood, New Jersey, and moved to Monsey, New York, when she was 10. She attended a haredi high school but was not happy there.
“I was very confused religiously,” she confides. “I had grown up ultra-Orthodox and my family became more hassidic in Monsey. I didn’t understand a lot of the practices and I had a lot of questions that I could not ask in my high school. I was very frustrated.”
Her single mother, who had begun moving away from ultra-Orthodoxy while Yeger was in high school, did not want her daughter to feel her religious choices were all or nothing. She consulted with Yeger’s uncle in Cleveland, Ohio, a veteran Jewish educator and administrator at a Zionist school. An Israel adviser on his staff spent hours on the phone with Yeger to determine her best options.
With her mother’s strong encouragement, she went off to Machon Ma’ayan in Beit Shemesh after high school. She remained there for two years, from 2008 to 2010. Toward the end of that period, her mother and two younger brothers relocated to the Modern Orthodox enclave of Teaneck, New Jersey.
“When I came to Israel, I didn’t know what Modern Orthodoxy was, and it was complete culture shock,” Yeger recalls.
“I spent the first year reprogramming myself and relearning Judaism. Machon Ma’ayan became a place where I knew I could have questions answered and feel at home. It showed me a way of being Jewish where I could feel comfortable. I have a pretty close relationship with the rabbis who helped my transition.
“It’s still weird because being national-religious is so different from how I grew up, but I relate to the religion a lot more from this perspective.”
The seminary took students on frequent trips around Israel. “I fell in love with the country,” she says. “I started speaking to Israelis and asking about their lives. I love Israelis and I love watching a country like this go from a fledgling idea to something much larger. The country amazes me every day.”
Couldn’t stay away Given those sentiments, it’s not surprising that she wanted to live in Israel.
“When I went back to start college, I knew I had to come back to Israel because I couldn’t stay away anymore,” she says.
After one year of college, Yeger did return to Israel.
She worked as a madricha (counselor) at Machon Ma’ayan through June 2012, went back to Teaneck for the summer and made aliya in October.
In the fall, both of her brothers will be here as well.
Yehuda, 22, is already in Israel finishing his service in the IDF and will begin studies at Bar-Ilan while living near his sister. The youngest sibling, Yakov, just finished high school and will attend a gap-year yeshiva in Jerusalem.
“My mom comes to visit sometimes,” says Yeger.
“After her first visit she said she really understood why I wanted to stay.”
Her biggest challenge, she admits, is staying afloat financially. “I work two jobs; in the university’s external relations department doing English content for the website, and for the dean of students for the English- language program.”
She can think of no other negatives about her life in Israel.
“I have found a lot of support in the community and among my friends,” she says. “My favorite part about being here is the patience my Israeli friends have for olim. They want to make sure we’re successful so we’ll stay. I think that is the sign of a great country.”