Some people just know that Israel is in their future. For Adina Naftalin, it’s also a part of her past and present.
The 20-year-old at Towson University spent a gap year after high school on the Nativ college leadership program. Now she is majoring in international studies with a minor in political science. She aims for a career that includes travel and possibly living abroad.
Naftalin grew up in San Diego with two older brothers in a Conservative Jewish home. She went to day school from preschool to fifth grade and then public school, and with her family attended Congregation Beth Am San Diego.
Her parents, Howie and Teri Naftalin, are involved in their Jewish community; in fact, her mother just started working for the Jewish National Fund-USA.
At Towson, Naftalin sits on the board of Hillel, serving as the Israel chair. She participates in Shabbat dinners at Hillel and Chabad on Campus, and off-campus as well. During the High Holidays, she and others helped ferry Jewish students who stayed at school to different synagogues in the Baltimore area for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services.
In fact, some might say she is a natural ambassador of sorts.
Who came up with the High Holiday program, and what synagogues did you go to?
Our executive director, Rabbi Alex Salzberg, came up with the idea. We went to Baltimore Hebrew, Chizuk Amuno, Har Sinai-Oheb Shalom and Beth Am. For Neilah, we had a service at the Hillel lounge on campus.
How many times have you been to Israel, and what prompted you to take part in Nativ?
Before Nativ, I had been to Israel twice. I was a member of Far West USY from fourth until 12th grade. Once you start going to regional high school programs in Far West, they urge you to go on Nativ. I decided in 10th grade that I wanted to go; my love for traveling felt like a natural step after high school. I also wanted to have some sort of break before I went to college.
What did you do during that year abroad? What were some of your takeaways?
During the fall semester, I took classes at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. For the second semester, I spent time at the immigrant absorption center in Karmiel in the north, where we got to meet Eastern European immigrants going into the Israeli army; they were around our age. The volunteer work I did was at a place called Kef Li (“My Fun”); it’s an organization for adults, teens and kids with special needs that organizes different activities after school and work. They would teach us words in Hebrew; we would teach them some English.
The last two weeks of the program (in May 2021) were marked by Israel’s 11-day conflict with Hamas in the Gaza Strip, and a lot of my friends were in cities being hit by bombs. Still, that year was one of the best of my life! I learned how to fully take care of myself and what’s important to me. I learned how much I love being able to cook for myself and travel, even if just around the country. Nativ made me ready to go back to Israel, and it also taught me how to be a functional adult.
Why do you think it’s important for Jewish students to be active on campus and in their communities, as well as visit Israel?
Being in college can be a scary and massive adjustment. But when you find out that someone is Jewish, you automatically become part of their community because you both have this thing that’s a major part of your identity. My freshman roommate and I bonded over that, and from day one, I had a friend who would go to Hillel events with me. Being involved gives you a community that will help you thrive in this brand-new environment. Many on campus think that everything with Israel is black and white, but it’s not. Only by visiting can anyone understand even a fraction of what’s happening there. Between the culture, history and everything else, you get to see this beautiful picture of this tiny country that isn’t just surviving, but thriving. It’s a resilient country that holds so much for so many people, not just Jews.
If you could have your dream job tomorrow, what would it be?
It constantly changes. The one thing that never changes is how much I want to help people. I just want to help anyone who needs it.