In the fall of 2013, Debbie Stone and Seth Reder – both 26 at the time – happened to choose the same year to take a break from their careers to discover themselves and explore their Jewish identities. They also happened to choose the same Masa Israel program in the same city: Masa Israel Teaching Fellows, Netanya.
Debbie and Seth celebrating Sukkot in Netanya
As Birthright alumni, Debbie and Seth both received numerous emails from various organizations about Masa Israel. “It just so happened at the same time, in the same year, we clicked on the email to go back to Israel.”
Debbie grew up in Fairfield, Connecticut where she attended Hebrew school, had a bat mitzvah and celebrated Jewish holidays with her family. As a young adult, she found herself working in finance and yearned to put her master’s in education to use. She planned to do so through Teach For America, until something compelled her to go to Israel instead. “Something inside told me to go to Israel first,” Debbie explained. “The rest of my life changed drastically from that point on – it was a little bit b’sheret.”
Seth, however grew up in Boring, Oregon with very little connection to the Jewish community. After his 2011 Birthright trip, Seth knew he wanted to go back to Israel to explore his new-found Jewish identity and connection to Israel, while remaining on his chosen career path in education.
Seth and Debbie visiting Paris during Chanukah 2012
Once accepted to the program and preparing for their journey, Seth and Debbie connected online and realized they were on the same flight to Israel. They met for the first time at JFK International Airport on their way to Netanya.
In Israel, the two became fast friends, helping one another set up their apartments and finding themselves in the same social circles. Not to mention, they were the oldest Masa Israel Teaching Fellows in Netanya. “Everyone called us grandma and grandpa, or mom and dad,” Debbie remembers. “We were both professionals with master’s degrees and work experience, looking for a change, which is how we ended up in Israel.”
Outside of Masa Israel Teaching Fellows, Debbie and Seth independently both took advantage of every extracurricular opportunity that Masa Israel presented to them. From Mifgashim and other shabbatons, to the Masa Israel Leadership Summit, the Wilf Family Poland Delegation, and the Masa-Hillel Fellowship, they were both extremely active members of the Masa Israel community in Israel. “We both love to be involved and engaged,” Seth said. “Through our friendship, without even talking to each other about it, we were both driven to the same opportunities and experiences.”
Seth and Debbie in Haifa
Still, throughout their ten months together in Israel, Seth and Debbie made a conscious effort to have both shared and individual experiences. “We both went for ourselves and didn’t want to take that away from one another,” Debbie explained. “We both wanted our own experiences and to discover ourselves and really understand who we are and who we want to be – that brought us together.”
At the end of their time in Netanya, Seth and Debbie had secured employment through the Masa-Hillel Fellowship. Seth moved to Orlando, FL as the Director of Jewish student Life at Central Florida Hillel. Debbie moved to Charlottesville, Virginia as the Assistant Director of The Brody Jewish Center, Hillel at University of Virginia.
After almost a year of the ‘long-distance thing’, Seth and Debbie knew they wanted to be in the same city. Soon, they both found their dream education jobs in Boulder, Colorado, one of Debbie’s favorite cites. Today, Debbie teaches seventh grade history in a public middle school. Seth, who holds a master’s degree in post-secondary administration and student affairs is a Residence Hall Director at the University of Colorado, where he also teaches two courses in leadership studies and civic engagement.
They continue their involvement in the Jewish community through Denver’s Young Jewish Professionals network and stay connected to Israel by staffing Birthright trips together and keeping in touch with friends in Israel. “Our experience doesn’t end just because we’re half-way across the world,” Debbie said.
Seth proposed to Debbie in November of 2015 and they are in the midst of planning their summer wedding in the mountains at Arapaho Basin Ski Area in Colorado. They are eternally grateful to Masa Israel for bringing them together.