From TJJ to the IDF, Mai Bonomo takes NCSY with her wherever her life leads. It all started in 2008 when her friend from dance was going on a JSU trip to New York. Wanting to be in on the fun, Mai convinced her parents to also let her go, and as they say, “the rest is history.” She went on midwinter convention that same year, and from there, began her career in Midwest NCSY as an outstanding member of the Kansas City chapter. Seeing a lack of Jewish unity and education at her high school, Mai also started a JSU chapter at Blue Valley High School, where it is still a functioning chapter today.
More recently, Mai is back from Israel where she made Aliyah and served for two years in the IDF as part of Garin Tzabar, a program for Lone Soldiers. During her two years of service, she lived on a kibbutz with the other Lone Soldiers. Garin Tzabar really helps non-Israeli’s find their place in the IDF. In the army, Mai served as an artillery instructor. She spent one year doing simulation instructions and one year instructing in the desert training reserve forces. She was never directly in the line of fire, but she recalls that being in the IDF during Operation Protective Edge was very difficult. She says, “You weren’t scared for yourself; you were scared for your friends.” Although her kibbutz (Nir Oz) was in a highly targeted area, she never felt like she was in danger. Mai’s position was integral to the success of those fighting on the front lines. While having the opportunity to serve and help the State of Israel, Mai also learned a lot about herself and the causes in which she believes.
What’s next for Mai? She hopes to participate on a volunteer program in Kenya this coming summer. The program, which was started by an Israeli, helps rural communities by planting food forests so they can sustain themselves. After volunteering, Mai plans to return to Israel where she will enroll in university. With Bonomo, everything always comes back to Israel, and she thanks NCSY for giving her that passion. Mai says, “Besides giving me a general knowledge of Judaism, NCSY opened my eyes to Jews who were different than me. NCSY is for everyone, no matter what level of observance, and it helped me to gain an appreciation the entire Jewish people.” There are a few words of advice that Mai lives by: “Don’t be afraid to be who you are! In a world where it seems like everyone can be against you, stay true to yourself and your beliefs. It will be worth it.” This is especially true in this troubling time for Jews everywhere. Through the years, Mai has remained true to herself, and NCSY helped her to discover the person that she is meant to be.