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  • Yael Polunsky

Bringing Israel to Michiana

Photo credit: Yael Polunsky, seen with Michiana teens in 2008

September 2007, over 10 years ago (!) I said goodbye to my family and friends and got on a plane to the US. Being 22, right out of the army, without knowing anyone in South Bend I decided to come and spend a year working with the Jewish community in the St. Joseph Valley region, to educate about Israel, about the diversity of its people, the views, the history, the language.

I don't know if the Jewish Agency or the Jewish community in Michiana thinks I succeeded, but what I am sure of is that although I believed at the beginning of my journey that I came to teach, what I soon discovered is that on my personal journey I was actually the student. I have learned so much from my year in Indiana (and Michigan). I learned about the meaning of community, solidarity, caring and participating. I saw how my teens chose every week to be a part of the community although they had so many other options, how students that came back home from university made sure that right after they put their stuff at home, they come by the Federation and ask how they can help with camp and teen activities. How young adults decide to volunteer as a part of a Jewish organization, how people of all ages choose to donate time and money to the Federation because community matters, and it's up to us to maintain it.

I was lucky enough to bring the first teen trip to Israel which was another meaningful learning experience for me, I got to see my country and my culture through the eyes to my teens, through the eyes of young Jewish people that live in North America. I got to learn about the intricate relationship world Jewry has with Israel, I was able to understand a different perspective and to understand what responsibilities we have as Israelis towards the Jewish people.

Photo credit: Sarah Feldbaum, pictured here with Michiana teens in Israel circa 2008

Besides for all of these big moments and realizations I also got to be a part of a community and got to know all the amazing, kind and loving people of the community. I had tons of wonderful moments with so many people, kids, teens and adults, and I was lucky and smart enough to stay in touch with many of those people. I am so happy to still have so many of my amazing teens (now 26+ year olds) in my life, to hear about their choices, their lives, their friendships, their dreams. To see how they make a difference in the world, they have spread their wings, to Florida, LA, Chicago, NY, Ann Arbor, Boston, South Bend, Israel and more, and there they create intentional communities and plant the seeds they have brought with them from a small, wonderful community, in South Bend, Indiana.


Do you have an Israel story? Let us know if you'd like to share! Give us a call (574-233-1164) or email We'll be sharing more community photographs and stories from our archives this month on our Facebook page.

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