Nina Leff was always going to study in Israel. An Atlanta native currently attending Riverwood International High School, Leff grew up knowing she would follow in her father’s footsteps and spend a semester attending Alexander Muss High School in Israel, Jewish National Fund-USA’s college prep, study abroad in Israel experience and her father’s alma mater.
“He’s been telling me about it my whole life, so it was nothing new,” she said. “I was always going to go; it was never a question!”
And once Leff got to Israel, she had no regrets. “It was the best decision I’ve ever made,” she exclaimed. “I’ve never learned more in my life, and I’ve never wanted to learn more.”
She credits both the professional team and her peers at Muss who supported her desire to learn and achieve. “I had the most amazing Israeli studies teacher, and I made the best friends I’ll ever have,” Leff said. “It was the best experience I could ever ask for.”
Muss is known for its unique blend of traditional classroom learning with an experiential Israel studies program that utilizes the land as a living classroom. The school holds numerous tiyulim (field trips) which are a powerful way for students to learn about Israel in a way that can’t be taught through textbooks or the internet.
For Leff, going rafting in the Golan Heights stood out as a particularly fun and meaningful experience. On the educational side, she recalls their trip to Tzfat as extremely memorable. “Tzfat was an incredible religious learning experience,” she said. “That’s when the whole semester got to connect. It felt very spiritual, and everyone changed for the better.”
Muss has become increasingly popular in the Atlanta community. Over the last two years, more than 20 students have studied abroad at Muss with another 25 teens set to attend over the coming summer.
While the study abroad experience has helped Jewish students in Atlanta create lifelong connections with their fellow Atlantans, they also created friendships with Jewish teens from around the world and Israel. As Leff explained, “I tried to become friends with every single person there. I think that made me grow, putting myself out there and trying to find a way to connect with everyone.”
Now back in Atlanta, Leff feels transformed from the experience. “It led me to know what I want when I’m older,” she said. “I want to eventually become more in touch with my Judaism. I want to go back to Israel. The people completely changed who I am. They made me a better person.”
Having already convinced her sister to attend Muss in a few years, Leff has some advice for people who are thinking about going.
“Put yourself out there,” she said. “I get texts from so many people, especially ones going on summer programs with Muss, asking ‘how did I make friends?’ and worried they wouldn’t meet people. Yet I tell them that’s the one thing they don’t have to be concerned about! And go on all of the hikes,” she added with a laugh.
“They seem hard in the beginning, but they’re not!”