by Shahni Ben-Haim, San Francisco State University
As an Israeli-American who has identified more with my American side, I always had trouble finding an outlet that accepted me and incorporated Israeli culture. While I was drenched in Israeli culture at home thanks to Ema and Aba, I experienced a lack of culture once I moved out and decided to become active in the Mishelanu community. I finally found a home where I can unapologetically be a leader in my community.
This weekend, I attended my first Mishelanu Fellows retreat and I learned what it really means to be involved in my identity. Mishelanu Fellows from Seattle to Santa Cruz gathered at the Sunnyvale Comfort Inn, unaware of the conversations we would have or what we would experience as a group that would help us build leadership skills. I was feeling optimistic.
Friday began with bonding activities, in which we shared our favorite places in Israel. I learned that I wasn’t the only one whose favorite place was my grandma’s house in Haifa. We played Capture the Flag with a dog and a chicken. Don’t worry, they were stuffed! We spoke about the campus climate and our experiences as Israelis on our college campuses. I realized that I wasn’t the only one having trouble.
We bonded late into the night over rolled ice cream and magic tricks and it showed on our faces the next morning. Thankfully, there was coffee! As our coffee cups emptied, we listened to Lital Cohen, who simulated why the negative aspects of ourselves shouldn’t be the only things we talk about. I’ve found it difficult to say, “I love myself because,” and learned that I others felt this way, too. As a group, we closed our eyes and imagined seeing our younger selves and telling them that it was all going to be okay. We got emotional but realized the importance of reflection and building ourselves up with positive words.
Thanks to Lital’s influential message, we felt confident in taking part in more bonding activities. We learned fun facts about our fellow Mishelanu Fellows through guessing games, which brought me back to my camp experiences with friends. Bonding continued into lunch, during which we enjoyed authentic Israeli food at Café Stop. I especially enjoyed the iced coffee, which I can’t find anywhere besides Aroma.
After lunch, we returned to the Comfort Inn ready to hear about how NOT to present a presentation. Yuval Shchory really made us think about the importance of our presentations as Mishelanu Fellows. It all came down to asking the simple question, “why?” Why is what we are doing important? I asked myself, “Why am I here?” My answer was: to spread my knowledge and to create a community that I want to be a part of.
After a whole day of reflecting and learning, I now know what to take back to my Mishelanu community at San Francisco State University. I’m so thankful for finally being able to be myself. I also want to thank Gili Segev for being a huge support and allowing me to express my identity in Mishelanu and for organizing the regional retreats that have created so many memories and friendships.
Experience 4 days of nonstop Israel celebration and education alongside hundreds of pro-Israel students. Register for the IAC Mishelanu Conference now!