Melanie Lidman grew up in Lexington and was involved in the New England Region of United Synagogue Youth. After graduating from the University of Maryland, Melanie moved to Israel in November 2009. She has been the Jerusalem reporter for the Jerusalem Post since August 2010.
Back in January, I joked to my editor at the Jerusalem Post that I’d be willing to take the bus to Egypt to cover the burgeoning revolution. The crowd was gathering in Tahrir Square, demanding the resignation of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, and the Arab spring was just beginning to take shape across the region. As the Jerusalem reporter at the Jerusalem Post, Cairo is not exactly within my jurisdiction. I speak no Arabic and my only experience with Egypt was a sunny weekend spent laying on a beach in the Sinai. No way they’d agree to send me, I reasoned. My heart dropped about six stories when the editor asked when I could leave. Before I knew it, I found myself in the middle of Tahrir Square with no phone, no internet, and no idea what was going on. As the crowds chanted anti-Mubarak slogans and I tried to figure out what to do, I couldn’t help but think to myself, How did I get HERE?
The road I took to Egypt, and to the Middle East in general, has been a long journey. It started with my family, who raised me in a home with a strong Jewish identity and sense of Zionism. A life-long Hebrew School student, I became heavily involved with Temple Emunah’s United Synagogue Youth in high school. The summer before my senior year was reserved for my teen Israel trip, I rite of passage I’d been looking forward to for years.
The Nesiya Institute’s six-week summer program, which combined community service and outdoor adventures with a 50:50 Israeli-American ratio was my first choice for a summer program. In order to help facilitate my participation, my family had been preparing for this trip for more than a decade. I’d been enrolled in Combined Jewish Philanthropy’s Myra and Robert Kraft Passport to Israel Program, a savings plan that used matching donations to raise money for my teen experience in Israel. Passport to Israel enabled me to go on the trip with Nesiya, and the friends I made during my summer on Nesiya are still some of my closest friends today.
After returning from Israel, I was part of the CJP Israel Teen Advisory Board, which used to act as a bridge between CJP and the various youth groups in the Boston area involved with Israel advocacy. After graduation from high school, I knew I wanted to explore Israel before starting college. But again, I wanted something a little different from the USY or other year programs for American students.
Contacts at CJP helped me find an alternative program: a six-month kibbutz volunteer and Hebrew language program on Kvutzat Yavneh, and provided me with a grant for living expenses. I was assigned to the dairy farm. After six months of conjugating Hebrew verbs and milking thousands upon thousands of cows, I left the kibbutz with an excellent grasp of Hebrew and a lasting legacy – one of the baby cows born during my tenure was named after me. To this day, the people I met on the kibbutz are my adopted family in Israel. I’m not quite sure what happened to the cow.
I returned to the US to study journalism and Spanish at the University of Maryland. Nearly every summer, I staffed a Birthright trip and spent a month afterwards cavorting around Israel, visiting friends, learning new things about the country. One summer, as part of the Boston-Haifa connection, CJP gave me a grant to work at the Jewish Agency’s branch in Nesher, north of Haifa, and live in the absorption center in Haifa. I loved living in Haifa, but a month after I arrived, the Second Lebanon War broke out. I moved to Jerusalem and spent the summer volunteering at a soup kitchen which was desperately trying to feed hundreds of evacuees from the north.
It was a summer of heartache and tears. Two of my good friends, one from the Nesiya program and one from kibbutz, were killed in Lebanon in the war. As difficult as it was to be there for the funerals and the shivah, there was nowhere else I wanted to be.
A year and a half after I graduated from college, I moved to Jerusalem for what I assumed would be a six-month internship at the Jerusalem Post. But my internship turned into a full-time freelance position, and I decided to see where this road would lead. I made aliyah, a scary and difficult decision, in April 2010.
Ten months after I started at the Post, I was offered the Jerusalem reporter position. And it’s hard for me to believe I’m still here, starting my third year in the holy city, through three seasons of persimmons, the release of Gilad Schalit, a summer of social protests, an Arab spring of rioting in east Jerusalem and beyond.
I spent eight, long, intense, and sometimes terrifying days in Egypt in January and February. I returned to Israel with a renewed appreciation for Passover, when we celebrate the Exodus from Egypt. I’ve had a lot of amazing, wonderful, and sometimes insane opportunities in the past few years, including those eight days in Egypt, which have enabled me to realize my childhood dream of being a reporter in Israel.
Today, when I visit Boston, CJP sponsors me to give presentations to synagogues and Hebrew Schools about what it’s like to be a reporter in Jerusalem, a complicated and holy city. CJP has helped me throughout this journey, by giving me the support I needed to pursue a different path in Israel. I am so grateful to CJP for enabling me to embark on this amazing voyage.
To learn more about the Myra and Robert Kraft Passport to Israel program, please visit www.cjp.org/passport or www.facebook.com/PassportIsrael. For more information about the various programs for teenagers to travel to Israel, join us at the Boston Israel Programs Fair on February 12, 2012 from 1-3 PM at Hebrew College.