This interview is part of the Yahel Alumni Spotlight Series, where we catch up with past Yahel participants to hear about their experience with Yahel and what they’re up to now. This Spotlight is brought to you by Yahel alumna Rachel Lieberman.
It’s been 6 month since alumna Leah Topper left Israel after 9 months of volunteering with Yahel. She is both an alumna of the Yahel Social Change Fellowship '16-'17 and Yahel Summer Program in Be'er Sheva '14. We recently caught up with Leah to hear about her experiences on Yahel and how she has seen Yahel's impact since the program ended.
Yahel: Tell us about yourself. Who are you?
Leah: I am 24 years old and grew up in Atlanta, Georgia. I attended Rice University and graduated in 2016. I love going on adventures and trying different types of food, along with cooking (including Ethiopian dishes that I learned from my Homework at Home mom last year!). I also play the piano.
Y: So Leah, what are you up to now?
Leah: I am a Food Justice Fellow at Repair the World: Philadelphia. In my role as a Fellow, I partner with local nonprofits to help them meet the needs of their communities by engaging, recruiting, and leading volunteers from both the Jewish community and the neighbourhood in which I live. And, I'll begin medical school in fall of 2018!
Y: What did you do while on the program?
L: I lived in Ramat Eliyahu! I assisted in teaching English in a local elementary school - Zvulun Hammer Religious School, helped at afterschool programs for at-risk youth, and tutored children in their homes.
Y: What was your biggest take-away from the program?
L: I finished my nine months in Israel with a strong drive to enact social change for the rest of my life. My experiences during the Yahel Fellowship taught me a lot about social change, activism, and community-building through direct service and immersive experiences. I specifically see myself pursuing social change in my life through medicine -- I wish to become a doctor that serves underserved communities.
Y: What was your favorite Yahel moment?
L: Wow, this is a difficult question for me. Some of my favorite moments occurred during weekly Shabbat with my host family; I immediately felt comfortable and at home with them. A special memory occurred one weekend when my host mom pulled out all the family photo albums. We spent hours together looking at wedding, bat mitzvah, and baby photos, and we could have easily spent many more hours. It was so nice to have a family in Israel -- I miss them.
Y: Why did you choose to do the Yahel Fellowship?
L: I'm actually a two-time Yahelnik! I was part of the six-week summer program in Be'er Sheva/Yerucham in 2014, and I returned to Yahel the year after finishing university. I chose Yahel because I admired the program's strong focus on immersive and intentional volunteering backed by weekly learning sessions and monthly group seminars.
Thank you, Leah! We can't wait for you to come back and visit Israel, but in the meantime, we are excited to see how you continue to spread your passion for learning and social change.