Friday, September 21, 2012

Answering the Call: Young Maine Native Living in Tel Aviv

Jamie Dandreta in Israel (courtesy photo)

By Rhyan Romaine
Staff Columnist

This week, Jews around the world observe Yamim Noraim, (translated from Hebrew as, “ימים נוראים‎ or, “Days of Awe”), the ten High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. For one former Wells resident, this is remembered as an isolating time.
Jamie Dandreta, 22, now a citizen of Israel and student at Tel Aviv University, would rarely have friends or close family to celebrate with during her childhood growing up on the Seacoast in and around Wells, Maine. While Jamie always felt she had a special heritage, she felt disconnected from her heritage while growing up in an area where she didn’t know many other Jewish people. 
Dandreta first had the opportunity to explore her faith and culture in 2010 as a participant in the Taglit-Birthright Israel program, a nonprofit organization providing a free trip to Israel for young Jewish people. Her two-week tour helped her embrace her Jewish identity through peer education and cultural immersion.
“As soon as the plane landed in Jerusalem and I read Hebrew on all the signs, I had an immediate sense of inclusion,” a sense that Dandreta notes was lacking in her southern Maine youth.  While touring various locations in Jerusalem, it wasn’t rare for strangers to approach Jamie on the streets of Jerusalem and just say, “Welcome home.” It was at that moment Jamie felt she was answering a call, and she wasn’t alone.
In August, 2012, Dandreta officially made Aliya, a word that, when translated, means the return of Jews in exile back to Israel. This term is also used when establishing formal citizenship in Israel. This citizenship marks the end of a two-year process that also included studying abroad as the first University of Maine-Orono student in more than a decade to request to study in the Middle East. On a personal level, this accomplishment means so much more.  She was no longer a tourist or study-abroad student, she is a citizen of the world’s only Jewish state.
Dandreta has permanently relocated from the Southern Maine area to Tel Aviv to continue her studies, get married (she recently became engaged) and pursue a career in communications.
“When I’m in Israel, I feel like I’m home, in a community, a big beautiful family,” says Dandreta. While completing her degree in Digital Communications, Dandreta feels it is her obligation to communicate back to the US about the real Israel. “Before I came here, I thought it was just a desert.”
Most of all, Dandreta wants to underscore how her experience does not reflect the restive environment so often depicted in mass media coverage of the Middle East. Even as terrorist attacks continue to rock different areas of the Middle East, she says Israel is very safe.