“Why don’t you try NFTY?”

Growing up in South Africa, from the time I was about eight years old, I was a member of Habonim; a
Zionist youth movement. This was the time of Apartheid, and as my awareness grew, I found that I
identified less and less with the country in which I was living. With the State growing more and more
repressive, I decided that my future lay not in my country of birth, but rather with my people – the
Jewish people. Being Jewish was very important to me, which also added to the challenge of staying in
South Africa as my youth movement days were coming to an end and, as I wasn’t religious, I didn’t see
how I could be Jewish in a meaningful way.

All of this culminated on February 5, 1985, when I boarded a flight to Israel and exercised my right under the Law of Return to make Israel my home. I made Aliyah (immigration to Israel) together with eighteen other members of Habonim, and we spent the first 5 months together doing an ulpan to learn Hebrew. From there it was down (up?) to Jerusalem to continue my education. I attended the Hebrew University where I majored in English and History and did a two-year teaching certificate course. Probably the hardest part was learning Hebrew, with some memorably embarrassing moments, including one incident on a bus when the bell wasn’t working and instead of yelling to the driver that I wanted to get off, I shouted that I wanted to give birth!!! (In Hebrew the words are almost identical – “laredet” and “laledet”.) That set back my willingness to speak Hebrew by about three months, but I got over it.It was during my studies that I first got involved with the Reform Movement. I wanted to work during the summer as a counselor with visiting teen groups, but the main employer – the Jewish Agency – was hiring only after army duty, and I had not yet served. I was sharing an apartment with an American student, and when I told him the story, he asked “Why don’t you try NFTY?”. I said “OK! What’s that?” The rest, as the saying goes, is history.

After working for NFTY Summer in Israel for a number of years, in 1996 I heard about Heller High (then EIE) and started as a general studies teacher. At that time I was teaching mornings in an Israeli High school. As time passed, I added more and more courses and responsibilities at Heller High, until in 2005 the then principal asked me to become full-time. I didn’t need to be asked twice! I really enjoyed  my work at the Israeli school, but that was work. Heller High is a mission!

This school is a transformative experience for the students, and it is truly a privilege to be part of the team that makes that change happen. Most of our students come with at best a tenuous connection to Israel. It’s incredibly rewarding to see that bond grow, as they learn that they are part of a People, witha shared history and a common future; even if we don’t all live in the land. It’s not always an easy process, and there are definitely challenges involved, but the reward is seeing the students at the end of the process, and in many cases when they come back (whether to tour, to study or to live). There is nothing quite like hearing them talk about the impact that the school has had on their lives.

I truly feel that I am privileged not only to be a part of Heller High, but also to do so while participating in the greatest experiment in Jewish self-determination in nearly 2000 years.

Announcing a New Heller High Partnership

By Rabbi Rick Jacobs, URJ President We are writing to share the exciting news that the URJ Heller High school has entered into a partnership with Jewish National Fund-USA's Alexander Muss High School in Israel (Muss). Beginning this fall, URJ Heller High will take...

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English Class With Barry

Not every class at Heller High is oriented around Judaism. Students continue their general studies from back in the United States as well. I was most interested to see how an English course functioned in this unique environment, since I was a teacher of literature...

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Heller High Successfully Achieves Re-Accreditation

Quotes from committee: we have found the Heller HS to be an exemplary educational family, community, and facility The high level of continuity in staffing and leadership results in a high standard for planning and executing classes and activities, including half and...

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Masada: Then and Now

By Yael Lewis, Jewish History Teacher We have just officially completed the third full week of classes at Heller High! Last week ended with a bang for me. Right before another jam-packed week ended and the fun weekend started for the group in Eilat, we had a tiyul, a...

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19 Years and Counting…

In January I began my nineteenth year in Israel. I made Aliyah in order to stop being part of a minority in a multicultural, yet Christian-rooted, Australia. I wanted to live in my state, with all the trappings of statehood – anthem, flag and state symbol. I wanted to...

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