Feeling connected

‘I want to live here as a citizen, not a visitor’

(photo credit: NADAV YUHJTMAN)
Judi Yuhjtman was born in Sunnyvale, Califor nia, and grew up with a strong connection to Israel. Her mother and father, both Israeli-born, grew up in Lod and Moshav Nir Zvi respective ly, and met during high school. Together, they-- attended the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, and both of Judi’s older brothers were born in Israel.
Silicon Valley lured Yuhjtman’s parents to California, where her father, a software engineering major, found lucrative work in the burgeoning hi-tech industry and her mother worked in design.
“I am the only American-born member of my family,” she laughs. “Although I did not go to a Jewish day school, I started Hebrew classes in frst grade and I was immersed in Israeli culture. Most of my friends were children of Israelis.”
When she went to the University of California at Berkeley to major in Molecular and Cell Biology, it was the frst time that she was not surrounded by Israelis.
“It was really great to meet other people and experience something new,” she says.
What she also experienced was the rampant anti-Israel sentiment on campus.
“I tried to stay away from these people,” she says.
“They did not understand the reality of what Israel was all about, and it was no use arguing with them.”
In the summer of 2014, Yuhjtman decided to go to Israel on a Birthright trip. It was her frst trip to Israel with a group, and not just to visit family. She chose a trip with other college students from New York and Texas. She was the only California girl.
“I wanted to interact with people from all over, to step out of my comfort zone,” she explains. “The trip was amazing. Despite the fact that I had been to Israel many times, I had never really traveled to the major attractions, or learned about the history of the country.
It just opened my eyes to so many experiences.”
Yuhjtman was so enamored with this new side of Israel that she segued from Birthright to participating in Onward Israel, an immersive six- to 10-week resumé-building internship program for college students.
“I was interested in the medical system and asked to be placed in an internship in a hospital,” she recalls. “I began working in one of the labs at Rambam hospital in Haifa.”
She worked from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. four days a week.
At frst, she was given simple blood samples and cultures to view under a microscope. When her mentor saw how quick and effcient she was, she gave her more responsibility to deal with complex specimens.
“My mentor taught me so much. It was this experience that planted the seeds for me to move from pursuing a career in health care to actually deciding to go to medical school.”
Yuhjtman lived in an apartment with other women from the Onward program.
“It was the frst time I was really independent. We did all of our shopping and cooking and cleaning. At Berkeley, I lived in a sorority on campus so I never had to deal with day-to-day tasks,” she says. “We also went to the beach and hiking, and once a week we had a trip with Onward and educational activities. I am still in touch with my roommates. I really matured during this time.”
She also experienced the threat of war. In July 2014, Operation Protective Edge broke out. Despite the rockets bombarding southern Israel and air raid sirens reaching Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa, she and her fellow Onward participants were determined to stay.
“My parents called me every day, but I wasn’t going home,” she says. “The only time we were really frightened was when freworks went off and we thought it might be rocket fre.”
She returned to California and decided to apply to medical school. Her mentor at Rambam wrote her a recommendation.
“I applied to a number of medical schools, including The Medical School for International Health at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. When I got accepted to this program, I visited Ben-Gurion University and it just drew me in. Here was a university in the middle of the desert, with people from all over the world and a program that focuses on global health challenges, including a two-month internship abroad in a developing country. I loved it.”
Yuhjtman made aliya in June 2017 and began medical school in August. She lives in Beersheba and loves the student life.
“I decided to make aliya because I feel so connected to this country and I want to live here as a citizen, not a visitor,” she says. “I feel like living here tests my strength and my will to grow and to persevere to achieve my goals. I am slowly but surely learning how to deal with the system and getting into my own rhythm.”