Even if they didn’t know who I was or even if my English was awful, they were the most welcoming people ever.
“I was born in Mexico City into a Jewish family that included my parents and grandparents. For my entire life, I’ve had a Jewish support system in Mexico, not only with my family, but with the Jewish community there. I also attended a Jewish school from elementary to high school.
“After high school graduation, it’s very common for Mexicans to go on a gap year. I chose to live in Israel in a Kibbutz, one of the oldest communities in Israel, and then go into the army, where I was with people my age who are fighting for their country. Having this whole experience really connected me to my Jewish identity in a way that I couldn’t explain to anyone else. It really strengthened my bond with Israel.
“In the Marva program, I spent two months in the IDF learning how to be in the military. It was amazing to watch these people and their love for their land and their love for being Jewish, and how they welcomed you with open arms.
“Six months ago, I left Mexico to come to the United States, and the first thing I did was search for Jewish organizations that I could get involved in. I’m a Mexican person attending a small college, so I was thinking of ways I could connect with people. The first thing that came to my mind was finding a Jewish community as open as the community in Mexico City. So, I got involved with Hillel and even became a social media ambassador.
“When people at my school hear my accent, they ask me about my background; it’s difficult for me to just say I’m Mexican, because it’s only part of my identity. My identity is that I’m a Mexican Jew. That’s reflected clearly in my personality and how I’ve set my values. I’m also Latina, so I have all these traits that only people from Latin America have. But then, I have my Jewish side that makes me feel that love for my family and our Judaism. My Jewish side gives me an extra way to connect with people.
“Antisemitism is not as big in Mexico as it is here in the United States. In Mexico, everyone was super nice and welcoming, and when a non-Jewish person heard I was Jewish, they would ask me to invite them to Shabbat dinner because it’s a beautiful tradition. But then, I came to the United States, and I started to see all of the news about antisemitism on college campuses. This worried me because you never know how the person next to you is going to react when you tell them you’re a Jew.
“But, Hillel of Broward welcomed me with open arms. Even if they didn’t know who I was or even if my English was awful, they were the most welcoming people ever. It’s like finding my community away from my community at home.” — Gali Polichuk, Broward College
As told to Alexandra Goldberg, writer for the Hillel International Writers Program.