100 Alumni We Love - Hyla Pollak

Reflections on my time at HU

By Hyla Pollak, Toronto

The first time I went to Israel, I was 17 years old on Canadian Young Judaea’s Biluim Israel summer program and we did some university tours. My friend, Sindi Hendler was also on that Israel trip and as we toured the school, saw the view from Mt Scopus, and felt the exciting electrified atmosphere at the time, we knew right then and there we’d be coming to HU for a one-year program.

Our staff member on our Biluim Israel trip actually worked at the HU office during the year and she was very instrumental in helping us make our decision. At the time, we had Grade 13 so that gave me a few years to work and save money for my year abroad. I chose York University in Toronto as my school mainly because they would accept all of my HU credits!

So, in September of 1987 I was on a plane headed to my dream year with my friend Sindi on the One Year Program. I knew it would be exciting and fun but I never dreamed how much it would change my life. I had gone to Jewish day schools and already felt like I’d “learned it all” but realized quickly that just wasn’t the case. The first surprise was realizing that, while I had a decent working knowledge of the Hebrew language, I had no idea that there was a day to day “slang” in the conversational Hebrew and the language I was speaking all those years sounded biblical and ancient.

My first shock was asking where the “beit shimush” was and getting laughed at only to find out it was called “shirutim”. My second surprise was beginning to understand that while I had been learning about historical Israel my entire school life, I really had no knowledge of modern Israel (and also realized that my historical knowledge was a drop in the bucket). So I became a sponge trying to learn everything I could.

Most of all, there were the friends I made who were all there that year because they had a love of Israel. It had never dawned on me that there were people my age from all over the world who had also grown up learning about this country; who also had a dream of studying there. We were unified because of that dream, that passion and that love. To this day I’ve remained friends with a lot of those people and see many of them quite often. We had a reunion a few years ago and after getting over the initial shock of seeing each other after 30 years, we all just sat around and reminisced and laughed. It was like no time had passed.

I’ve been lucky enough to have been back to Israel many, many times since my year at HU and while I love the entire country, I don’t feel quite at home until I step foot into Jerusalem. That was my home for one amazing year, and I still feel like it’s my home now.

  • Hyla is VP Talent Management at Newtopia Inc. in Toronto. She went on the one-year study abroad program at HU’s Rothberg International School in 1987-1988.