Maya Ben Yair

lmu oiss Maya Ben Yair

Maya Ben Yair, senior

Major: Film production & screenwriting, Jewish Studies minor

Hometown: Tel Aviv, Israel

From a young age, Maya’s biggest dream was to become a filmmaker. Immediately after high school, she joined the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and spent the two years of her mandatory service in the Spokesperson’s Film Unit. After spending two additional years working in marketing for an Israeli Hi-Tech company, Maya decided it was time to pay tribute to her childhood dreams. Being selected for LMU’s unique Student Worker Programs made it possible for her to work for her tuition.

What brought you to LMU?

I wanted to move to Los Angeles because of its larger film industry and ample opportunities. Regardless of film, I always wanted to spend my life living in different countries. I got to travel frequently as part of my job, and it made me realize that we are a part of something bigger than our home country. This realization compelled me to attain my education abroad. 

What was your biggest challenge?

A few hours after I landed in LA, jet-lagged and missing my family, I left for a retreat with the Student Worker Program. I found myself climbing a ropes’ course and holding people from falling - people who were then complete strangers. I spent my first year working at the LMU Recycling Yard. I woke up every day at the crack of dawn, zipped my jumpsuit and slipped into my steel-toe boots. It made me so proud to say that I stopped at nothing to make my education possible. 

As the foreigner, it wasn’t easy to join such a tight-knit community with a truly unique culture on campus. Eventually I became part of the team but chose to hold on to my Israeli personality even if it meant being the unorthodox one sometimes. In doing so, I hope that I was able to bring a new perspective to the table. 

What surprised you the most about LMU?

Contrary to common belief, the majority of Israeli society is secular. My family and I celebrated holidays for tradition’s sake but otherwise stayed away from Judaism (and observance). In the U.S., it was hard for me to identify as Jewish, especially while knowing that most people see it as nothing but a religion. 

But, through the Department of Jewish Studies and Jewish Student Life, I learned the importance of identifying and practicing cultural Judaism. It reminds me of home and helps me stay connected to my origins. I declared a minor in Jewish Studies that helped me better understand the history of my people from a global perspective. I combined my minor and major to make my short film which explored Jewish topics and cultural intersections of history and language. In my film, I wanted to convey the value of human empathy in the face of cultural misunderstanding. I didn’t expect to connect with my Jewish identity in a Catholic university.