Towson University Hillel’s newest Israel engagement associate, McKenna Bates, is also a Girl Scout.
Bates lives in Severn, and though she moved a lot as a kid, considers herself to be from Southern Virginia.
Outside of work, Bates, 22, is a Hebrew teacher online for a synagogue in West Virginia and is passionate about environmentalism.
What does your Jewish identity mean to you?
Originally when we moved to Virginia, I was 7 or 8, and originally I would say, “Hi, I’m Jewish, I’m McKenna.” I think it goes to show there is no separation. I am Jewish. There is no difference. It’s my life. It shapes my value and who I am. If I was not as involved in Jewish education, I would be a completely different person.
As much as my mom would like to tie my leadership skills to Girl Scouts, I think I’ve learned it from every Jewish professional I’ve met.
You just started your job as Israel engagement associate at Towson University Hillel. What is it like so far?
I have an interesting life so I expected to have an interesting time transitioning to it. Everyone has been really nice and accommodating. Moving here has been great; everyone has been patient and wonderful.
[In the job,] I do Israel programming, civic engagement and help facilitate people’s engagement to Israel. Israel is a magnifying glass to Jewish identity.
What is unique about Baltimore?
The culture is a little different from even Southern Virginia. It’s so different. People are a bit more welcoming, which is funny because you think of the north as not so southern charm.
Everyone is well set in the community, and it’s really cool to see how huge the Jewish community is. There’s so many options for learning and engagement. At my university we didn’t have very many Jews. We couldn’t even dream of getting a kosher chicken. I ended up helping bring about the first ever kosher for Passover food station in the most popular dining hall. When I came [to] Towson, I was surprised there’s so many Jews here!
What are your goals for the coming new year?
I think my goals are to help people stay connected during the pandemic. It’s so difficult to form personal connections through screens, so my goal is to make sure we don’t lose anyone. What’s interesting is I don’t have to drive anywhere, and it removes a social anxiety aspect of it.
In terms of personal goals, I’d like to be more part of the community.
What is your favorite place in Israel?
A lot of people do visit Israel and stay in Jerusalem. But my favorite place and the most underrated one is Biblical Shiloh. It’s where the Mishnah Tabernacle was. I went there during my internship, and it was just awesome. And super hot. I understand it is over the Green Line, but it is such a historical, great archaeological place.
You studied the Israel-Palestinian conflict. What’s something you learned?
We have a tendency to approach the conflict with the mindset of a binary, Western concept of one winner and one loser. But it’s so much more complex than that. We have to understand it from a non-Western perspective. We need Palestinians and Israelis to lead the conversation and to give the platform to those who live there every day.