By Rachel Dunphy
Back in the country for less than a month after her semester abroad in Jerusalem, Charlotte’s Noa Urbaitel, 17, is having a little trouble adjusting.
“It’s not that I don’t want to be here,” Urbaitel said, “it’s just that I don’t want to not be there… my world keeps getting bigger.”
Since she was a freshman, Urbaitel was seeking an opportunity to travel while still in high school. Originally she thought about programs in France and Ireland, but neither option panned out. That was when she stumbled across Tichon Ramah Yerushalayim (Ramah Jerusalem High School), an organization that takes Jewish-American teenagers to Israel with the goal of educating them in the complex cultural, political, and religious history of the region.
“There was a class… an Israeli-Jewish history, and for the class we would learn about something and then go to the place that it happened, so we went all around the country,” Urbaitel explained. “We stayed in the West Bank, we went up to the border with Lebanon, we went all the way down South. It was very cool.”
Urbaitel has always taken her Judaism seriously and considers herself religious, but she said that being in Israel gave her a completely new perspective on what being Jewish really means to her. “It made me want to be more religious,” she said, adding that she and her family have been more active in their religious practice since she returned.
She also commented that the sheer concentration of people who shared her religion made her cultural experience in Jerusalem much richer than anything she’d experienced before. “It’s a lot different being in Israel and surrounded by Jews than being in Vermont, and the holidays there were fantastic,” she said. “There’s one holiday called Purim, which is like Jewish Halloween, and it lasts a month there, not just a day like it does here, so you’d go down to the grocery store and see everyone dressed up in Snow White costumes or Shrek costumes. It was very funny.”
Among the other highlights of her trip, Urbaitel enjoyed spending a week at an Israeli army training camp. Every Israeli citizen is drafted for two to three years of military service when they come of age, so knowing a bit of what they go through during that time is essential to fully understand the nation’s culture, she said. “I didn’t realize this about myself, but I really like directions and orders,” she added smiling, “not so much coming from my mom, but when it comes from a commander in the army…”
Urbaitel, who will be returning to CVU in September for her senior year, is uncertain of her future plans. She hopes to travel around Europe, specifically the UK where she can further pursue a passion for Irish step dance, and eventually return to Israel and enlist in the Israel Defense Forces, she said, citing its strong national pride and sense of family as being among the reasons she’s considering settling there.
“Everyone in Israel is like a big family,” she said. “Everyone feels like they need to take care of everybody.”