Texas Hillel Welcomes Jewish Agency Israel Fellow Shimi Mizrahi
Shimi Mizrahi. Credit: Avichai Edri
This fall Shimi Mizrahi joined the Texas Hillel team as the Jewish Agency Israel fellow. Mizrahi, who had never been to the United States before starting his new position, left his job at a tech startup and moved to Austin last summer. Texas Hillel staff talked with Mizrahi to learn more about background, his position and his experiences.
Texas Hillel: As the Jewish Agency Israel fellow, what is your role at Texas Hillel? How did you become involved with the Jewish Agency Israel fellow program?
Shimi Mizrahi: As the Jewish Agency Israel fellow, my role at Texas Hillel is to create the best environment for students to connect to Israel in their own way. Through programs and activities, I educate the students about Israel and help them to experience it. It’s really important to say that I’m part of the Israel team at Texas Hillel with Ashira Boxman, the Birthright Israel IACT coordinator, and Arielle Levy, the engagement director. We are all working to strengthen the connection of the students to Israel.
When I was a student at Hebrew University I participated in Birthright. That was the first time I met Jews from outside Israel. After Birthright I remained curious about the Jews in the diaspora, what they feel about Israel and why. A friend of mine participated in Jewish Agency summer camp and he told me about the opportunity to be an Israel fellow on a campus in the United States.
TH: What are some of your goals as Jewish Agency Israel fellow?
SM: My pretty modest goal, at least for the first year, is to share my own story as a Zionist Israeli and Mizrahi Jew that lives in a place called Ma’ale Adumim in Israel. It’s a very beautiful place, you should visit there. Since Israeli society is diverse, and I represent a part of it, my hope is that the students will get to know that part.
TH: What Israel-themed programs have been successful so far this school year?
SM: So far we have had two Israeli-cultural events with falafel and hummus and they were great. The students really connected to Israel through the culture. Another program that we had is the minorities project. We also hosted four speakers from Israel, each one of them representing a minority in Israel. There was an Arab Christian, a Druze, a Christian and a Christian from Lebanon. They are activists in their communities, so they came here to share their own stories, and to tell the students about their lives in Israel. The program was really interesting. I think a lot of things are said about minorities in Israel, so this was a good opportunity for our students to hear from the minorities themselves. We plan to bring more educational content like this to our students later this year.
We also have a Mishelanu group here at Texas Hillel. This group is for Israeli students, children of Israelis or students who want to be part of the Israeli experience. The group started last semester, before I got here, so it’s still growing and developing.
TH: Where did you work before Texas Hillel?
SM: I worked in a high-tech company call Mobileye. It’s a really cool Israeli startup that is trying to develop autonomous vehicles and save lives.
TH: When and what did you do in the Israel Defense Forces?
SM: I was in the Israeli Air Force. In Israel there is a brand of high schools called “Ort.” These schools are kind of like semi-military high schools. In these high schools, students study different professions that will be helpful for their service in the air force. The different areas of study include things like physics, electronics and computer programming. I studied electronics in my high school in my home town, Ma’ale Adumim. In the Air Force, I was a technician in a unit that takes the planes apart, fixes and maintains even the smallest parts, and then rebuilds the planes again. My job was to fix the generators, the part that gives electricity to the planes. There were six or seven members in my department and we worked on all the planes in the Israeli air force. It was hard job with a lot of oil and coal, but I’m very honored that I served my country. I also met friends who became my family and still continue to be a big part of my life.
TH: What are your impressions of Texas Hillel? Of Austin?
SM: Texas Hillel is impressive, not just the building, but the staff. It’s impressive to see the commitment of the stuff to the student’s experience here at UT. Hillel is home for all the Jews on the campus but it also opens its arms to everyone. Our purpose is important and Texas Hillel’s team takes it very seriously. I’ll be honest, before the Jewish Agency gave me the option to be an Israeli Fellow in Austin, I had never heard about it. Since then, everyone just tells me how awesome this city is. I discover the city every day. I still have a lot of work to do but so far it looks like a fun city with a lot of options and opportunities. I’m looking forward to seeing more.
TH: What are your impressions of UT students?
SM: I’m still getting to know them, but they are great. First of all, I’m really surprised with the number of students who want to learn Hebrew, which make me really happy. Some of the students know a lot of things about Israel. The way they talk about Israel is so exciting and makes me fall in love again with my country. Many of the students take part in Hillel because of the Israel aspect. I find the students to be smart, ambitious and interesting, so I am really looking forward to getting to know them more, and working with them on Israeli topics this year.
TH: Have you traveled since you’ve been in Austin?
SM: Yes, I traveled to San Diego and it was great. It was my first trip in the United States and I visited my friends and some Israel fellows. San Diego is beautiful. One of the highlights was the Midway Aircraft Carrier Museum there. Where else could I get on an aircraft carrier? I can’t wait to travel more across the United States, there is so much to see here.
TH: Tell us a little more about yourself.
SM: I’m 27 years old and I have lived with my family my whole life, so this journey is also about my independence. I like to watch European soccer and I’m a Juventus fan (Not because of Ronaldo!). I love Israeli music or how we call it—Mizrahit—and hiking across Israel. I’m also a little bit of a geek. Marvel Movies, Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings are my favorite. It takes time to get to know me, but I’m sure we will be the best friends by the end of the year. I’m really excited to be here as this is my first time in the United States and I’m looking forward to the upcoming year. I’m sure it’s going to be great! ■