I was born in Afula, Israel. When I was 13, we moved to West Bloomfield.

Back then, I could not have imagined that this Russian-speaking Israeli girl would develop a deep passion for educating and advocating for my ancestral homeland. Today, I serve as Jewish National Fund-USA’s Israel Programs Admission Director in Michigan. My passion is now a way of life — and I’m excited to inspire our community’s next generation of future leaders.

Immigrating to the US from Israel as a teen was not an easy adjustment. It took a long time to get used to taking a yellow school bus instead of walking to school and greeting the armed security guard in Israel. It took a shorter time to get used to the Michigan snow (and dislike it) and spend the winter weekends indoors instead of spending Shabbat in Israel in nature and at the beach. The hardest — but ultimately most fulfilling — part was having to “find my Judaism.” For my family, in the Soviet Union, Judaism was a denial. In Israel, it was a given. In America, it was a choice.

Shortly after the move I got connected within the Jewish community — from being a Tamarack camper, to volunteering around the Jewish community with Yad Ezra, Repair the World and beyond. It has both kept me connected to my roots in Israel and made me feel at home here.

At Jewish National Fund-USA, I have been able to live and breathe my passion for educating and advocating for Israel across the state of Michigan. Our strategic vision has been, and always will be, to ensure a strong, secure and prosperous future for the land and people of Israel. Everything we do — every project, initiative and campaign — is integral to the vision of building and connecting to Israel.

Jewish National Fund-USA plants trees, builds houses and parks, sources water solutions, buys fire trucks, and improves the lives of people with special needs. We boost tourism, support Aliyah, promote Zionist education and engagement, build medical centers and trauma centers, fund agricultural and culinary research, and more. We do all these things because each project, each program, each partnership, is consistent with the strategic vision of population growth in the north and south, connecting the next generation to Israel, infrastructure development, ecology, forestation, heritage preservation, and more — all for the land and people of Israel.

One of my favorite programs that I am promoting in our community is Alexander Muss High School in Israel (Muss), Jewish National Fund-USA’s flagship study abroad in Israel program for high school students.

With five Michigan students spending either a semester or a summer program in Israel at Muss within the last two years, the study abroad experience that focuses on academic excellence has continued to gain traction within the Michigan Jewish community. The unique educational experience blends traditional high school classes with experiential learning that uses the land of Israel as a living and breathing classroom. Muss gives students an unforgettable experience they can take with them when they return home. I am excited for every student that we send to Israel from our community — and looking forward to them sharing their experiences here.

My advice to any high school student looking to enhance their college applications is simple: If you want to stand out from the crowd and demonstrate independence, leadership, and dedication to your community, a study abroad experience at Muss is for you!

For more information about Alexander Muss High School in Israel (AMHSI) or Jewish National Fund-USA (JNF-USA), go to amhsi.org or contact Sunny at sunnycohen@jnf.org.