As the sun shines brighter but vacations are less feasible, Noam Bentov, 40, dreams of the beaches of Tel Aviv.
A native of Herzliya, Israel, he is the executive director of Johns Hopkins Hillel, an agency of The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore. He studied political science and history at Tel Aviv University.
One of Hopkins Hillel’s recent events was a review of “Unorthodox,” which Bentov enjoyed and said opens viewers to new perspectives.
Bentov resides in Columbia with his wife, Becca, and two kids, Eitan and Lily.
What are your summer plans?
We work full time in the summer. My work is fundraising and planning. If schools are running, in whatever capacity it takes, we want to welcome the students. It’s very hard for me to estimate what this summer will look like. Pre-COVID-19 we would use summer months for regrouping with professional development, seminars, conferences.
My family is still in Israel; my brothers and mom and niece and nephew. And my wife is from Israel, too, so we [usually] visit in December.
We were supposed to run an interfaith trip for student leaders. We started last year. We would have gone in May with a group of 25 students. We had to cancel and see if we can do it in December.
Why did you study history?
Honestly, I love learning about Israeli politics. I was going to work for one or more of the government agencies in Israel. It was interesting. I thought I would work for the government, that was the plan. But life happens and I ended up working for summer camps, falling in love with working with Jews, and eventually never looked back.
I love working with my students. They’re passionate, they care about the world, they’re brilliant, smart, and capable. I can actually see that Hopkins students are working to better the world through their research, writing, political advocacy, and social justice. How they build a community and how they think about a community is amazing. It’s amazing to
mentor and engage with that.
Can you give examples?
Yes. Two and half years ago we lost a student very tragically with his whole family in a plane crash.
The Hopkins students wanted to create something in his memory. He was very into sports so they created a basketball tournament at Hopkins in his memory. They fundraised and donated the money to education in Baltimore City. It was entirely the students’ initiative and their beautiful idea. They fundraised significantly and it became a yearly tradition.
What do you miss from Israel?
The beach in Tel Aviv. It is so beautiful. And my mom cooking shawarma. Really the people, most of all.
I always feel connected to Israel. The Associated does a lot of work around Israel, so much support. I also still read Israeli news.
How do you view the community’s handle of the pandemic?
First of all we’re all making sure everyone is safe and healthy. But again I have to give credit to The Associated for doing so much to be creative with helping people. If you think about community, you think about gatherings, but that’s impossible right now, yet we see CHANA for example and JVC still providing for people.
What does your Jewish identity mean?
When I was in Israel I cared more about national identity, but here in America I think you have to work to maintain your Jewish identity. You make [a] choice to participate. My Jewish identity is something I and my wife feel very passionate about. It’s not just holidays and Shabbat, but values I care about and want to instill in my kids and celebrate with them.
When we talk about traditions we support Israel, and it’s a living, breathing part of our lives. It’s not something I can separate from myself.
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