As Jordan Hytken walks to his job in Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem, he thinks about his godparents, who were Holocaust survivors, and his grandfather, who fought in the U.S. Navy during World War II. "To be able to work here is not just an honor for me, but also a way of honoring them," he says. "Everyday I think to myself about how lucky I am to be working here."
Jordan grew up in a Zionist family in the U.S. He first went to Israel on a Birthright trip, and was inspired to come back—in fact, he says, he felt that as a Jew from the Diaspora he had an obligation to serve Israel in some way, just as young Israelis are required to join the military or serve their country in some other capacity. While finishing graduate school in Santa Barbara, Jordan decided the time had come. Military service was out of the question for medical reasons, so he was pointed in the direction of the Israel Government Fellowship program, which gives post-university and post-graduate students the opportunity to work in the Israeli government. He applied immediately, was accepted into the program to work at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for a year, and received a generous grant from MASA, a Jewish Agency program that enables young people from all over the world to work, volunteer, and study in Israel.
The grant was very helpful but it did not cover housing, so Jordan had to sell his car before he left for Israel. Then he received some extra help: an anonymous donor from his hometown gave Jordan another generous gift in support of his service to Israel, for which Jordan is eternally grateful. "The Jewish community from around the world is so supportive of Israel and of Jews who want to come and serve Israel," he says.
Now that he's actually working at Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Jordan is a little star-struck. "I walk around the halls and see Avigdor Lieberman, Danny Ayalon, and Michael Oren – all these people I have admired and watched on television." To be able to come and work with them is a dream come true for Jordan.
In addition to staring in awe at his heroes in the hallways, Jordan works in the Media and Public Affairs department. So far, he has worked on the Haitian aid program sponsored by the IDF and Ministry of Foreign Affairs, participated in special projects dealing with countries unfriendly to Israel, and attended a Water Technology conference in Tel Aviv. He also enjoyed watching a ping pong tournament between Foreign Minister Lieberman, the Korean ambassador and the Chinese foreign minister. "There's never a dull moment here," Jordan says.
Through MASA, Jordan and other members of the program sometimes participate in seminars in which they meet with ministers, political figures and top staff members of NGOs and other humanitarian organizations. They also go on six trips throughout the year to important sites in Israel to augment their learning about the history of the land and about current events. Jordan says, "I feel that Israel is a second home to me. I could see myself eventually coming back here at some point." Although his Hebrew is limited, he has learned a lot since he arrived in Jerusalem. He has made many Israeli friends who he hopes to stay in touch with throughout his life, and he is very grateful to have had the opportunity to work in Israel.
"I wanted to be able to serve Israel and tell my kids and grandkids that I really contributed, and now I can."