On Becoming A Leader

By Matt Altman (Georgia State, 2015)

Campus leadership roles offer students hands-on opportunities to cultivate and implement their passions. But that doesn’t mean their leadership journeys are complete the day after they graduate college.

As a student at Georgia State University, I was fortunate to serve as president of AEPi as well as the campus Hillel, living the value of tikkun olam (repairing the world) by creating a community not just for myself, but also for those around me.

As graduation approached, everyone, even myself, assumed I’d go into politics, since I had all that leadership experience and had previously worked on local, state, and federal election campaigns.

Then, I discovered Masa Israel Journey, and their Masa Israel Teaching Fellows (MITF) program. MITF allows participants to teach English while immersing themselves in Israeli society and becoming integral members of the cities where they live, teach, and volunteer.

I immediately decided that was the path I wanted to embark on and was on a plane to Israel as soon I was accepted.

The first few class sessions in Haifa were challenging – I barely spoke Hebrew, and most of my students were from Russian and Ethiopian immigrant families. However, I embraced the challenge, and once the students and I got accustomed to our communication, it was exciting to see how they grew and evolved throughout the 10 months.

A particularly important experience that elevated my time on Masa was the Masa Leadership Academy. I had the crucial opportunity to meet and engage with professionals as part of the academy’s Hillel track. It helped me unlock my passions further and cement all I had learned as a student leader: how to be intentional about my words and actions, how to mentor while remaining strongly rooted in my own sense of self and Jewish identity, how to meet people where they are.

In my current capacity as a Penn State Hillel Springboard Fellow, I advise student groups and help train Hillel’s next student leaders. I created an internship program for first-year students called Ruach, which provides them with leadership opportunities such as organizing prayer services for Jewish holidays and Shabbat. I also work with interfaith groups and lead a social justice committee. I aim to empower Jewish students at Penn State with the same gift that AEPi, and then Masa, gave to me: a unique platform to explore, experience, and develop skills for a lifetime of achievement.

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