My name is Shir Nakash, I’m a proud Israeli-American, and for the past year I have been interning with a program called Mishelanu, founded by the Israeli-American Council. The IAC’s mission is to build an engaged and united Israeli-American community that strengthens the Israeli and Jewish identity of our next generation, the American Jewish community, and the bond between the peoples of the United States and the State of Israel.

Throughout high school I was an active member of the Israeli Scouts of Los Angeles, a youth group, also partially funded by the IAC, which aims to unify Israeli-Americans kids and teenagers with the values and rich history of Israeli culture. When I was counseling in the Israeli Scouts, I felt like I was surrounded by a group of people who understood what it meant to be Israeli without being in Israel. Everyone spoke Hebrew, celebrated the holidays, stayed up to date with the Israeli news, and talked about visiting the tiny country on the other side of the world over the summer breaks. I was worried that once I would be out of high school, I would have difficulty finding another group that could do such a good job of making me feel like I belonged.

That’s why, when I heard about Mishelanu, I was thrilled. Mishelanu, which literally means “one of us” in Hebrew, is a college campus leadership program that allows Israeli-American college students to meet and explore their Israeli-Jewish identity and their connection to Israel. The community college I attended in L.A., Pierce College, had an active chapter with plenty of friends I already knew and many new ones I got to know with time. Transferring to Chapman in the Fall of 2017 was a little bit different: there was no Mishelanu chapter in Orange County.

Shortly after I transferred, the Southwest regional director, Dustin Biton, approached me about becoming a Mishelanu Fellow and heading a new chapter that would unite Israeli-American students from four different campuses in the OC area including Chapman, UC Irvine, Irvine Valley College, and Fullerton College.  My main responsibility would be planning the bi-monthly student meetings and running activities that would allow these students to become a cohesive unit.

Although I was hesitant to accept the position, worrying that it would be a lot to balance when I was still trying to get used to a new campus environment, I decided to take on the challenge. And let me tell you, it ended up being one of the best decisions I could have possibly made! Dustin was extremely helpful and supportive, letting me know that he was there to guide me every step of the way.

Thanks to our combined efforts, today our Mishelanu chapter in Orange County has 25 active members, many of which have become good friends of mine. I’ve learned how to coordinate events that require flexibility and communication. Some of the events were purely social bonding while others were more meaningful.       The event I’m probably the most proud of is ‘Zikaron BaSalon,’ which translates to ‘Memorial in the Living Room.’ For this event, which we held in honor of Holocaust Memorial Day, I invited Holocaust survivor Samuel Silberberg to retell his incredibly inspiring story to our group of students. At 89 years old, Samuel recounted the horrors he lived through and commemorated the 6 million who weren’t as fortunate to have survived. It was a very powerful and meaningful evening.

I’m overjoyed that I was able to find something that combines my student life with something about which I’m so passionate. Though we’re a new chapter, we’re stronger than ever after our first year in action and we have plenty more to do. So, although the semester is coming to a close, my involvement with Mishelanu is far from over. Our end of the year event may be next week, but I have a whole new year to plan for and I can’t wait to see what’s in store!