It’s hard to have a phone, or even a Skype conversation with someone in rural Nicaragua, so my interview with Mercer Island High School grad Talia Langman, currently a Peace Corps volunteer in Nicaragua, was by email.
Talia is no stranger to travel. Born in California, her family moved to four different states, settling in the Seattle area when she was 13. She attended the Jewish Day School and spent a semester at the Alexander Muss High School in Israel, her mother’s home country.
Originally intending to be a doctor, Talia headed to Brandeis, but took a semester abroad with the School for International Training in the Brazilian Amazon. This “gave me direct exposure to the environmental and social issues affecting Brazil’s Amazon,” she wrote, and shifted her focus to international development.
After college she spent a year in Spain teaching English to at-risk youth, then travelled to India for a one-year fellowship with American Jewish World Service.
“I felt in order to make strides in development work I needed to be closely connected to the people and issues whose lives and situations I was attempting to improve,” she wrote, and the Peace Corps seemed like the logical next step.
A year between AJWS and the Peace Corps gave Talia the chance to live in New York City for a year, teaching English as a second language, interning at the Social Science Research Council, working in a restaurant kitchen, and tapping into one of her first loves, theater.
Now she works as a community health volunteer with the Ministry of Health in Pueblo Nuevo, Nicaragua. She helps educate youth about HIV/AIDS and sexual disease prevention, women about maternal and child health and the general population about sanitation and disease prevention.
“My daily interactions with community members” are her favorite part of the job, Talia writes. Her time is flexible, “which gives me freedom to explore and learn a great deal about my community.”
She adds, “a stint in the Peace Corps will inevitably push you out of your comfort zone,” but says even the challenges lead to “valuable growth and experience.”
Talia has met a few Jewish Peace Corps volunteers, but the tiny Nicaraguan Jewish community is primarily in the capital, far from her. Most of the villagers she meets have never met a Jew, and she enjoys the opportunity to share her religious and cultural heritage.
Talia will be in Nicaragua until March 2014, and while that’s a long way off, she admits she’s already thinking of the future. She plans to return to the states and “continue pursuing theater and development work.”
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Earlier this month Bellevue resident Robin Rogel-Goldstein was installed for a second term as a vice president in the Women’s League for Conservative Judaism at its 2012 biennial convention. The league is the umbrella organization for women’s groups (read: Sisterhoods) at Conservative synagogues in North America, Great Britain and Israel.
Robin, whose family has lived in the Seattle area for 100 years, got involved in Herzl-Ner Tamid sisterhood when her kids started Hebrew school in the 3rd grade.
“I didn’t want to be one of the parents who [just] drops their kids off,” she recalls. “I wanted to show the kids that this was something I valued.”
Eventually she was asked to present a program at a regional conference and went on to become involved in many capacities both locally and regionally. After serving as membership chair of the region, she was asked to become an international board member and subsequently an international vice president, a position she’s held for two years.
“My portfolio is ways and means,” she explains, helping the region with fundraising and planning for the future, all things “necessary to keep our organization viable.”
This recent biennial convention was held in Las Vegas and Robin says “listening to the speakers and being inspired by the speakers” was one of the most exciting things about the meeting. She also enjoyed connecting and networking with women from “all over North America, England and Israel” to “share our stories and be part of a greater whole.”
When she’s not busy with the Women’s League, Robin is a B’nai Mitzvah tutor for Temple De Hirsch Sinai and a jewelry designer.
“The opportunity for connection and growth are really important to me in this organization,” says Robin of the League, “to build bridges, to build understanding, to support Israel and each other.”