Rivky Schenk and her husband, Avi, were born in Israel and raised in the United States. They longed to visit Israel with their infant daughter, Lily. So when Schenk saw a Facebook post about ISRAEL21c and EL AL Israel Airlines USA’s sweepstakes for two free roundtrip tickets to Israel including a five-day hotel stay and tour, she entered immediately.

“I wasn’t thinking I would actually win but then I got an email from EL AL congratulating me,” relates Schenk, a resident of Monsey, New York.

“I thought it was a scam because, you know, nobody wins these things! Then I spoke to the people from EL AL and now I’m finally convinced it’s not a scam,” she says with a laugh. “Once I realized it was for real we were super excited. I was a little shocked and very happy.”

Schenk, 21, is an office manager for a fashion company in Suffern. She also composes music and has been a musical director for school and camp plays and for community theater.

“I also volunteer at an animal shelter and along with two other women I started a successful Facebook group called Jewish Pet Owners Unite. It’s a place where pet owners and potential pet owners can come to share pics and stories, ask for advice, etc.,” she says. “We recently had a meet-and-greet fundraiser for the shelter.”

How does she find the time and energy for all these pursuits on top of new motherhood? “I’m a very energetic person,” she explains.

Rivky Schenk at the animal shelter where she volunteers. Photo: courtesy

The last time she was in Israel was for a gap-year program after high school in 2012-13. “Throughout my childhood I visited often, but now it’s been a long time since I have been to Israel. I have aunts, uncles and cousins all over the country and I want my daughter to meet her cousins,” she says.

She and her husband plan to stay beyond the five days.

“I really want to see all the gorgeous things there are to see, to revisit the places I visited as a kid and make more memories with my family,” says Schenk.

Some of her favorite places are the grottoes of Rosh Hanikra in the northwest, the waterfalls at Ein Gedi in the Judean Desert, the beaches of Netanya and the Red Sea in Eilat.

“My husband is a scuba diving enthusiast and plans to go to Eilat during the trip,” she says.

Beyond sightseeing, Schenk loves Israeli culture and the special vibe of Jerusalem’s Machane Yehuda market and especially the Old City religious sites.

“When you walk around the Old City and you see so many Jews coming home, from all different walks of life, it’s so beautiful,” she says. “And my favorite thing is the kosher places to eat everywhere.”

Schenk is somewhat of an authority when it comes to food. She often prepares elaborate meals for Shabbat guests and started blogging recipes and food photos on Instagram in response to requests.

Her taste buds are primed for a bite of Israeli shawarma, shaved meat that’s been slow-grilled on a spit, served in a fluffy pita with salad. “You can’t find really, really good shawarma anywhere in America; it’s not the same,” Schenk says.

ISRAEL21c congratulates Rivky Schenk on winning the two tickets to Israel and we look forward to joining her in exploring the country.