Bonding with Israel’s fallen heroes

Like most of my friends, I came to Israel on an organized summer program.  For a number of reasons, I switched gears halfway through and became an intern at OneFamily, Israel's leading national organization solely dedicated to the rehabilitation of victims of terror attacks and their families.  I knew that OneFamily did important work, but I could never have imagined how my time there would change my life.   

Operation Protective Edge began immediately after I slipped into my internship role, and my days were filled with shiva calls, visits to injured soldiers, and following the OneFamily staffers from one location to the next to assist in whatever way I could.  As the IDF offensive intensified, and the casualties began to mount, I took on the project of researching and developing profiles for the fallen soldiers.

As I sat there, hour after hour, piecing together the lives of each soldier and reliving the sacrifices they made for the people of Israel, I became invested in the project in a way I never had before.  I was developing a personal connection with each hero. I began to feel as if I knew them all. 

For most of the soldiers, the amount of information available was overwhelming.  I became intimately familiar with their families and friends, the highlights of their army experiences, key moments in their childhoods, and the details of their untimely deaths.  I had too much information, and it became increasingly difficult for me to decide which information to choose to best summarize the lives of these fallen heroes.

But how can you accurately convey a person’s accomplishments, hopes and dreams in a couple of paragraphs? And who was I to be making such decisions?

On the flipside, there were several soldiers for whom I couldn’t find much information at all. I scrambled trying to find something, anything, just to fill up their pages.  Why should these soldiers have an inappropriate tribute simply because there was less information about them on the internet? I felt a strong connection to them and was determined to make it right, turning over every stone to make absolutely sure that they received the respectful send off they deserved.

I believe it was the soldiers’ ages that helped me connect with them so quickly and so deeply.  At the age of 16, I am halfway through high school and have not yet decided which college I want to attend, much less what career I want to pursue.  I have not yet started dating, and my bucket list remains untouched. In essence, I haven’t really begun my life as an adult. 

When I turn 18 and gain legal independence, I will need to chart my path and begin making some important life decisions.  In Israel, young men and women take on adulthood by risking their lives for their country.  In many case, they even give their lives for their country. 

As I drafted 38 profiles for two 18 year olds, five 19 year olds, seventeen 20 year olds, and fourteen 21 year olds who had given their lives to protect the land of Israel and its people, a new reality came into focus for me. 

Since the beginning of Operation Protective Edge, 66 IDF soldiers have fallen in Gaza and countless more have been injured and traumatized for the rest of their lives. All of these soldiers made the ultimate sacrifice, and they were only slightly older than me. 

When I visited the military cemeteries and saw their names on newly dug graves, I felt bereft.  These were names that I came to know.  I felt like I was mourning close friends. 

I came to realize that, in Israel, each death is national a tragedy. It’s not just the parents, siblings, friends, and next of kin that mourn each loss.  The whole nation cries. 

As I reflect on my internship experience, I have to admit that this summer is definitely not what I expected.  Instead of hiking with my friends, I ended up spending most of my time aiding victims of terror and memorializing war heroes.  

Following my internship at OneFamily, I now appreciate Israel in a very different way.  I finally understand the importance of Israel’s constant fight for survival, and how crucial it is to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice for the State of Israel and support their families. 

I won’t soon forget the details of those 38 lives that I connected with this summer.  I will keep those heroes alive in my heart always.  

Asher Sebban is a resident of Los Angeles, CA and a junior in high school.  He spent the summer interning at OneFamily (, OneFamily is Israel's leading national organization rebuilding, rehabilitation, and reintegrating the lives of Israel’s injured and bereaved victims of terror and war.

Eilat shooting raises questions about recruitment for Israel programs

The recent shooting of an Israeli hotel employee by an American Jewish intern is raising questions about how Israel internship programs for Diaspora Jews recruit and screen applicants.

The assailant, William Herskowitz, was killed by police following a brief standoff last Friday shortly after the fatal shooting, in which he reportedly used the firearm of a hotel security guard to kill 33-year-old Armando Abed in the dining room of the Leonardo Club Hotel in the southern Israeli resort city of Eilat.

Herskowitz had been enrolled in Oranim’s Eilat Hotel Experience, an internship program for American Jews interested in the hospitality industry. He had worked in several positions at the hotel and took a course in hotel management. Oranim is a tour provider that offers long- and short-term Israel programs to young adults.

According to Oranim, Herskowitz had lost his job a day earlier for lack of discipline.

To get into the program, according to current and past Oranim employees, Herskowitz had to fill out an online form, pass a two-part phone interview with Oranim recruiters and send in a medical history form.

Past recruiters at Oranim and other long-term internship programs in Israel noted the difficulty of gauging the personalities of potential participants from across the ocean.

“On one hand you can have a phone conversation with someone and they sound fine, handle themselves well,” said a former Oranim recruiter who asked to remain anonymous. “You can have a doctor sign off on this form and not report certain medical disorders, and how would you know? People can seem completely normal on the phone or Skype, and then things surface once they get to Israel.”

Oranim's spokesman, Yuval Arad, said that Herskowitz had a clean medical record and no criminal history. While Oranim's online application included a resume, Oranim did not ask Herskowitz for references or a personal essay on why he chose the program — safeguards required by similar programs.

A recruiter for the WUJS Intern Tel Aviv program, which like Oranim combines work with Hebrew study and travel, said her program requires a personal essay and a video interview — and references, if deemed necessary — in order to ensure that recruiters know which applicants to watch closely, even after they arrive on the program.

“It is possible for people to fall through the cracks, but if you work for a program you know who your red flags are from the first conversation and monitor their behavior closely on the program,” said Amy Gross, the WUJS recruiter. However, she added, sometimes “all the monitoring in the world can’t prevent someone from doing something crazy.”

Career Israel, another long-term internship program in Israel, requires applicants to submit a recommendation.

Herskowitz also received funding for the program from Masa Israel Journey, an umbrella organization for 200 long-term Israel programs. In order to receive the stipends, which run into the thousands of dollars per person, participants must be Jewish and aged 18 to 30.

Following the shooting, the Jewish Agency for Israel, which governs Masa, said that it would be convening a panel “to examine the processes by which the American participant was accepted to the Oranim program in Eilat,” according to an email. A subsequent statement to JTA called the incident “a truly anomalous event.”

The former Oranim recruiter, as well as the group’s spokesperson, said the phone interview was enough to determine whether an applicant was fit for Oranim’s programs.

“You can tell by having a conversation with somebody if they sounded competent, if they sounded strange or if they had a strange reason for coming to Israel,” the former recruiter said, adding that recruiters sometimes called applicants’ grandparents to get more insight into them.

Arad, Oranim’s spokesman, said the organization has to rely on the applicants themselves to provide reliable information.

“You don’t ask a person, ‘Are you crazy?’ ” Arad said. “They need to give medical assurances. What can you learn from the resume of an 18-year-old?”

Israel internships

For colleges graduates, landing the dream job has become even more difficult in these recent economically challenging years. Also, going straight from college into a job may not seem the most attractive prospect. Many grads want to travel, but the need for money sends most straight into their careers. 

What if you could do both? Spreading your wings and working abroad at the same time is a feasible option. For college graduates looking for short-term, professional experiences away from home, Israel has always been a fruitful source of opportunities.

With a wide range of internship programs available to build up your résumé while living in a completely new and exotic culture, there isn’t much you can’t do in the Jewish state. 


The Hamilton Fellowship

The Hamilton Fellowship was specifically created for high-achieving Jewish college students and college graduates who want to expand their business skills, build a marketable résumé and learn the intricacies of day-to-day operations in emerging international markets.

The fellowship offers a placement in Buenos Aires, Argentina, commonly referred to as the Paris of Latin America.

Buenos Aires has the third-largest Jewish population in the world behind Jerusalem and New York City. Although the community is large, it is extremely close-knit, and you will meet like-minded Jews from all over the world and have the opportunity to attend meetings at the Buenos Aires office of the world’s largest Jewish student organization.

For more information, visit


Israel Way-Oranim

Founded in 1986 as a travel company geared toward the young Jewish traveler, Israel Way-Oranim offers graduates a multitude of opportunities.

Oranim’s Tel Aviv Internship Experience allows you to spend five months in Tel Aviv, where graduates are exposed to new career opportunities. Internships are available in almost all career paths, including business, technology, finance, arts, sports, communications, politics and education. Receive hands-on guidance and practical training while working on several important projects. Essentially, you will bypass the American tradition of working your way up from the mailroom and instead experience the Israeli way, where on day one you’re treated as though you’ve already been working there for years.

Oranim also offers short-term and summer internships in Israel for students and professionals of all ages. An internship placement coordinator will work with you to build the ideal experience. Internships are available for two months and longer, and in every field. All graduates of the short-term Internship Experience will, upon completion of internships, receive a certificate of accomplishment from Oranim and their supervisor.

The Israel Way-Oranim project also includes other programs such as See Galilee, a program aimed at young Jewish leaders who are concerned about social issues in Israel, and the TOV program, which combines an internship with volunteering experience.

For more information, visit


Masa Israel Journey

Masa Israel Journey offers university graduates and young professionals more than 200 internship, academic and career development opportunities all over Israel, lasting from five to 12 months. 

Real Life Israel offers a five-month immersion and interning program in Jerusalem. The program includes Hebrew-language learning, countrywide tours and local activities in addition to your choice of top-level internships. The program is designed to give you an authentic experience of life in Israel.

Career Israel is a five-month professional internship program open to college graduates from all over the world, offering you an online database of more than 500 internship opportunities.

Choose from a variety of internship opportunities and gain the knowledge, skills and experience you need to be competitive in today’s global economy.

For more information, visit



OTZMA is a 10-month program divided into three parts. In the first part, you join an absorption center with other immigrants, where you learn Hebrew, volunteer, get to know fellow participants and take part in educational seminars. In the second part, you  participate in community service. 

In the final part, you intern for top Israeli service organizations in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv, living in the centre of Tel Aviv or at campus apartments in Jerusalem at Hebrew University. During this stage of the program, each participant will work in a top-level NGO that is dedicated to making real change.

In addition to the 10-month program, OTZMA has launched a new five-month program for 20- to 30-year-old Jewish adults. 

With the OTZMA Leadership Scholarship, the program can be experienced starting at $1,000. OTZMA’s next program begins Jan. 22, 2013. 

For more information, visit


WUJS Israel — Intern Tel Aviv or Jerusalem

WUJS Israel is a five-month post-college program that offers the ultimate Israel experience for Jewish young adults from around the world. The program is based in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. WUJS Israel allows graduates the opportunity to intern with one of Israel’s leading companies or NGOs, with the additional benefits of a regular Hebrew-language course, weekly field trips, overnight hikes, meetings with Israeli peers and a variety of fun and enriching activities. Participants on WUJS Intern Tel Aviv are required to intern 25 to 30 hours a week.

There are internships available in startups, finance, high-tech, arts and culture, science and medicine as well as museums.

For more information, visit