Meet Sydney Lewis
“I’m so happy being here in Israel with MITF with Ramah Israel. I love being in Jerusalem, I love working with kids, and I love learning about Judaism and Israelis,” said Sydney Lewis.
Sydney, who recently graduated from Allegheny College in Meadville, Pennsylvania with a major in environmental studies and a double minor in political science and Spanish, is excited to spend this year deepening her Jewish identity, and also developing a greater sense of independence.
“When I spent a semester abroad in Spain, I lived with a host family, but here in Jerusalem I am sharing an apartment in the Baka neighborhood with seven other women and needing to be more self-reliant,” Sydney said.
“This year with MITF is about exploring the world with less handholding, and being more independent and growing into myself,” she said.
For Sydney, 23, getting to know her apartment mates and other fellows on the program has been a great opportunity to make new friends. The diversity of the group — the fellows’ different Jewish and geographical backgrounds — has been a definite advantage of the program. She has enjoyed spending time with the other participants during MITF programming and activities, especially on the hikes at Kibbutz Ketura and Eilat, which have been favorites so far.
Sydney, who grew up mostly in Phoenix, Arizona, enjoys spending Shabbat in Jerusalem with her new friends. As someone who does not strictly observe Shabbat, she likes that there are a variety of options for how to spend the day of rest in Jerusalem. For instance, on a Friday night, after a traditional Shabbat dinner, she and friends often walk over to the First Station complex to hang out and have a drink. On Saturdays, Sydney enjoys soaking up the Shabbat atmosphere while picnicking at the nearby Train Track Park.
During the week, Sydney helps teach English to 3rd to 6th grade students at the TALI Bayit Vegan elementary school in the Kiryat Yovel neighborhood. With many years experience working at Temple Chai’s Hebrew school and the Valley of the Sun JCC summer day camp (both in Phoenix), Sydney was eager to again spend time with kids. So far, her work at the TALI school has been to support the English teacher by roaming around during classes and assisting students as needed. She also pulls some students out of class for extra support or enrichment.
“I’d been to Israel once before on a teen summer program and I know how to read Hebrew, but I came to Israel without any Hebrew speaking ability, so I was really nervous about the language barrier with the kids. However, we’ve managed to communicate somehow. We just communicate non-verbally when necessary. Though I do wish I could communicate more with them already,” Sydney said.
Sydney notices a definite improvement in her Hebrew speaking — thanks not only to Ramah’s Hebrew ulpan classes, but also the help she gets from all the friendly students at the TALI school. “It’s really exciting when I learn something in ulpan and then get to reinforce it while at school,” she said.
While Sydney continues to work on her Hebrew, it’s extremely gratifying for her to see her students improving their English quickly. “I’m helping to make a difference, and that feels great,” she said.