|Ro Yeger, far left, with fellow BarMUN award winners in Barcelona. Bar-Ilan University|
During two post-high-school years in Israel, Rachel (Ro) Yeger made a habit of asking cab drivers and other native Israelis about life in the Jewish state. “I wanted to understand what it means to be here,” said Ms. Yeger, whose mother and youngest brother live in Teaneck.
Since she moved to Israel in October 2012, Ms. Yeger, 24, can answer that question herself. And she can do so quite articulately, thanks to public-speaking skills honed through her involvement in the Model UN (which goes by the nickname MUN).
Recently, she was one of five Bar-Ilan University students to win an award at the International Model UN Competition in Barcelona. Nearly 200 students from 13 countries took part in this Catalonian Model UN. Israel sent 27 students – the second-largest delegation in the state’s history – and the Israelis took home 13 out of the 20 prizes.
Just like an authentic UN diplomatic session, the competition featured roll calls, open debates, speaking time limits, position papers, alliance building, resolutions, and committees focused on different topics.
Ms. Yeger, co-president of BarMUN, won Outstanding Delegate on the Alliance of Civilizations committee.
Now in her second year in the university’s interdisciplinary BA program in macro-economics, political science, and sociology (which is taught in English), she works two jobs to support herself and hopes to get a master’s degree in political communications so she can enter politics – for real.
“I want to impact change, and politics is a good place to do it on a macro scale,” Ms. Yeger said. “Fresh ideas are needed in this country, and I spend a lot of time grooming myself to be able to make that difference. MUN is a good tool for that, because it teaches you diplomacy and conflict negotiation; it’s all about the give and take, being accommodating of others’ ideas, learning how to listen and how to resolve differences. Often politicians close themselves off to other ideas, and I feel that can change in the future generation of politics.”
Ms. Yeger also is vice president of the campus Young Likud and is a member of Im Tirtzu, a movement whose goal is to strengthen Zionist values in academia and in society. She also is a fellow with the Israel advocacy organization Stand With Us.
Her mother, Mindi, says she is in awe of her daughter. “Ro is going to change the world,” she predicts.
At the competition, Ms. Yeger was very aware of representing Israel. She even befriended a Catholic Spaniard whom she describes as initially “borderline anti-Semitic.”
“I needed to portray what it really means to be a Jew and an Israeli, and that I don’t necessarily live my life in conflict,” Ms. Yeger said. “It was an incredible chance to show a different face of Israel.”
Ms. Yeger, who was born in Lakewood, moved to Monsey with her family when she was 10. She went to high school at a Beis Yaacov, where she had to stifle the questions she yearned to ask. Her mother encouraged her to go to the gap-year program Machon Maayan, then in Beit Shemesh, to provide a more open environment for her daughter. The family by then had moved away from ultra-Orthodoxy, and Mindi Yeger relocated to Teaneck with her two younger children while her daughter Rachel was in Israel.
“When I came to Israel I was very confused religiously,” Rachel Yeger said. “I didn’t know what modern Orthodoxy was, so it was complete culture shock for me. I spent the first year reprogramming myself and relearning Judaism. Machon Maayan became a place where I knew I could have my questions answered and feel at home.”
The school’s program includes lots of traveling. “During our trips, I fell in love with the country,” she said. “I started speaking to Israelis and asking about their lives, and when I went home to start college at Touro, I knew I had to come back to Israel because I couldn’t stay away anymore. Eventually I convinced my mother to let me make aliyah.”
Mindi Yeger, who is a research analyst, also is an aspiring standup comic; she will compete in the Ladies of Laughter, which kicks off on July 21 at Manhattan’s Gotham Comedy Club.
“When Ro told me she had interest in aliyah I said, ‘That’s great; you’ll find a guy and then settle in Israel,’ because I didn’t want her to go through this alone,” she said. “Ro explained that this was where she needed to be now, and when I visited and saw her in her own environment I saw a light in her that wasn’t there even in Teaneck. It was very soothing to me.
“I miss her, but that’s not the critical issue.”
After high school, Rachel’s brother, Yehuda Yeger, now 22, joined his Torah Academy of Bergen County classmates in a gap year in Israel. Unlike most others, he decided to stay. He’s now finishing his service in the Israel Defense Forces as a tank gunner, and plans to enter Bar-Ilan in the fall.
“At the beginning I planned to spend a year and a half in the army, then go [back to America] to go to law school,” he said. “At the end of the year and a half I realized I wasn’t going anywhere, and I signed on for another year of duty.
“Two and a half years later I’m Israeli, and I’m not going back.”
The youngest Yeger, Yakov, soon will be in Israel for his gap year.
“I raised them to spread their wings and fly, and they’re flying,” Mindi Yeger said, with obvious pride in her children.
Will she follow the same flight pattern?
“I’ll tell you this: I don’t see myself as a Skype grandma,” she said.