Having grown up in Bucks County, Melanie Gerchberg’s Jewish identity roots run deep in Philadelphia, and they were only strengthened when she lived under missile fire during the Second Intifada.
Through United Synagogue Youth, Gerchberg attended the Alexander Muss High School in Israel and knew she wanted to return. So during her freshman year of college, she participated in the Nativ College Leadership Program, through which she attended Hebrew University and lived on Kibbutz Sa’ad near Gaza. After college, she spent a year teaching English in China. These experiences helped strengthen her Jewish identity before she moved back to Philadelphia in 2006.
Q: How did living in Israel during the Second Intifada shape you?
A: Most people are, at 18, going to college for the first time and joining fraternities and sororities and going out and having a good time and experiencing the college life. I was looking to do that in Israel, and I did have that similar experience with a much different lens. As an 18-year-old, you kind of think that you are immortal and everything is going to be great. Even though I was living in that area when things were happening, I never felt like I was unsafe, but now, looking back on it — now that I’m turning 35 — it’s pretty intense that as an 18-year-old I lived through that and experienced it. It shaped and molded my support for Israel, my Zionistic aspect of life. It also made me feel more connected.
Q: Why did you want to work for the Jewish community?
A: When I moved back [after China], I didn’t start working in the Jewish community right away. I was at Verizon for eight years. I worked on a political campaign in Philadelphia. I worked on [the campaign for] Ori Feibush. He ran for city council. I was his deputy campaign manager, and then I was also his VP of operations at his real estate company. That’s what I was doing before I moved to the Jewish community. With that being said, while I was doing that, I was teaching Hebrew school, I was leading a USY youth group, I worked as a Rosh Hodesh: It’s a Girl Thing! facilitator. I was doing a lot of that but on my own. After working in a lot of different places for a long period of time, I felt like it was time for me to work for an organization where my personal values matched my professional values.
Q: Why were you interested in the Next Gen Jewish Federation Fellowship?
A: It’s specifically for people that do the work that I do. I thought that it would be a really great opportunity for me to learn from my peers and people who are doing similar work to me throughout the country, as well as to … further explore different opportunities for ways in which I can assist the NextGen community here in Philadelphia. As someone who’s new to the Jewish communal world, I thought it was a really great opportunity for me to … dive deeper into the work that I’m doing throughout Philadelphia.
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