April 04, 2017

ENVS Blog: To Israel and Back

Darya Watnick (’13), a graduate of the Environmental Studies Program at Lewis & Clark College, describes her time spent working in Israel for three years after graduating and returning to work as a Jewish Engagement Manager in the U.S.

Darya Watnick (’13)

My path after leaving Lewis & Clark has followed a winding trajectory like many other ENVS graduates. I had many possible pathways to follow that all seemed equally interesting but I had no idea about where to start. My choice to leave Portland, and the United States, ended up being the best decision I could have made because it took me out of my comfort zone and exposed me to people and ideas I would never have encountered otherwise.

The fall after I graduated I moved to a small town south of Tel Aviv, Israel for a 9-month volunteer program. During this period, I worked on a permaculture farm, taught English in an elementary school and lead cooking classes at a community center in a majority Ethiopian neighborhood. I enjoyed living in a part of Israel and within a community that is typically marginalized by Israeli society.

Living in Israel inspired me to think about my own connection to the Jewish tradition. I had only studied Jewish texts through an academic lens, since I was a Religious Studies minor focusing mostly on the Judeo-Christian tradition (aka every class I could possibly take with Rob Kugler). After my volunteer program ended I moved to Jerusalem to do an intensive Jewish Studies program. I felt comfortable working closely with the texts – even though they were in the original Hebrew – because I had learned how to do close readings and text analysis when I wrote my senior thesis. My ENVS thesis focused on religious responses to natural disasters so I had already spent a lot of time immersed in religious writings.

When I finished the Jewish Studies program, I spent some time working for a nonprofit in Tel Aviv that does environmental peace-building projects. My Environmental Studies background was extremely useful in this role as I had the language to write press releases about water pollution, desertification, and aquifers. After nearly three years in Israel I was missing the States and I started looking for ways to come back.

I currently work at the Edlavitch DC Jewish Community Center as the Jewish Engagement Manager. I have a variety of responsibilities, from managing our Jewish enrichment classes to planning and implementing Jewish programming around holidays for families and adults. I also have a fellowship through Hazon, a Jewish environmental organization, that gives me professional development and mentorship in Jewish Outdoor, Food/Farming, and Environmental Education. I feel extraordinarily lucky to have found a way to bring together my seemingly disparate passions into my job.

Looking towards the future, I am in the process of studying for the GRE so I can apply to graduate school. I am looking at dual-degree programs where I can get an MBA and a Masters of Environmental Management. I would like to parlay this into a job in corporate sustainability or social enterprise. I also have a dream of starting my own ice cream company, socially and environmentally responsible, of course, inspired by flavors I fell in love with while living in the Middle East and traveling abroad.