Masa Israel Journey Blog

Published : September 16, 2010
By Uri Snyder, Career Israel
 
Not long ago, I was one of those millions of young Americans who found themselves without a job after graduation. So I pursued an internship, which has become a critical step toward professional development for my generation. But what mattered most in the end was not just what I did, but where I went — to Israel.
 
For five months, I participated in Masa Israel’s Career Israel, which works to provide meaningful internships to Jews from all over the world in the field of their choice. The motivation behind the program is to provide a post-college Israel experience to young Jewish adults in the hopes that they can acquire real-world professional experience while developing a personal connection with the Jewish state.
 
My time in Israel was nothing short of life-changing. As someone interested in Israeli politics, I was privileged to intern for the Kadima Party, helping it produce content for English speakers both in Israel and abroad. Others on the program interned for organizations across the spectrum of Israeli life, including humanitarian organizations, clean-tech companies, media outlets, and political nonprofits and think tanks.
 
We all wanted to experience Israel through our own eyes and in a very real way. Seeing the country in terms of the Arab-Israeli conflict or purely as tourists on Birthright is not enough to grasp the complexity of modern-day Israel.
 
Recently, Peter Beinart wrote an article titled “The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment,” suggesting that secular American Jews are less attached to Israel, and that the American Jewish establishment is to blame. He asserted that a majority of nonreligious American Jews are liberals who feel alienated by a more politically right-wing Israel and an American Jewish establishment whose unconditional support for Israel goes against their liberal beliefs.
 
His remedy for this problem is for the major U.S. Jewish organizations to criticize Israel and push her toward a future that corresponds to “our” liberal beliefs. While I do agree that large portions of young American Jews are less attached to Israel than their elders, I believe that the cause and cure for this problem are oftentimes overlooked.
 
Beinart errs by assigning his personal liberal-Zionist ideology to a majority of a generation he is not a part of. For my generation, the important issue is not politics, but identity. While older generations of world Jewry were recovering from the horrors of the Holocaust or desperately working to help free Soviet Jews, we grew up in an America that allows Jews an unprecedented level of opportunity, and in an era removed from the horrors of Jewish history that befell our parents and grandparents.
 
A more globalized world and an increasingly tolerant America have led to an environment where racial, ethnic and religious lines are blurred to the point where the nationalism of Zionism is often misunderstood. The issue for us is figuring out how our personal Jewishness — and in the same regard, a Jewish state — fits into our American reality.
 
The “remedy” to this difficult issue is not revamping the U.S Jewish establishment, but rather giving young Jews a vehicle in which to discover Israel on their own. If we want future generations to truly develop a personal connection with Israel, then Birthright is merely the beginning of a much larger conversation.
 
Touring Israel is wonderful, but there is something you experience on a much deeper level when you actually have a home there. To live in Israel—even for a few months—is when you truly discover the soul of the state and its people. Anyone who spends a real chunk of time in Israel will develop a connection that will last a lifetime.
 
Since concluding the program, I returned to the United States to take a position with a pro-Israel organization, and this month, I am making aliyah, ready to begin a new life in Israel.
 
To be sure, most people on long-term programs do not decide to stay in Israel, but return to their respective homes. Yet we all share an experience that radically alters who we are and how we view the importance of a world where the Jewish people have a place to call our own. Who would have imagined all that could come from an internship?
 
Uri Snyder is a recent graduate of Penn State University with a degree in international politics and Middle East studies.
 
Published : September 07, 2010
 
Every time we ask alumni of Masa Israel program what the best part of their semester or year was in Israel, the same things are repeated over and over: freedom to explore Israel on their own, Yom Ha’atzmaut (Independence Day) and the other national holidays in the spring, and the chagim—the High Holidays.
 
It’s no wonder. To experience the chagim in Israel, the only Jewish state in the world, is like no other holiday experience. Whether you plan on participating in the religious aspects of the holidays, taking it all in as an observer, or stepping outside your comfort zone and experimenting with a new way of observance, there is nothing like being in Israel for the high holiday season.
 
Here are seven ways Masa Israel participants celebrate the chagim in Israel:
 
  1. Shul-hopping Celebrating the holidays at home usually means a synagogue membership, tickets, and sometimes even assigned seats. Not so in Israel—try out erev Rosh Hashana in one shul, and head across town for Kol Nidre. Each synagogue has a unique atmosphere, and with so many close together in Israel you don’t need to settle for just one.
  2. Get placed with a host family Programs can usually set you up with a hosts family for one of the holidays. That way, you can celebrate the holidays in Israel with them, and they can help you navigate new traditions and show you a uniquely Israeli high holiday experience
  3. Participate in Kaparot Performed right before Yom Kippur, the ritual of Kaparot involves taking a chicken and swinging it over your head while saying several blessings, thereby imparting all of your sins upon it. Head to your closest shuk to take part in this tradition.
  4. Go on a Selichot tour Selichot are prayers of repentance that occur before the onset of the Jewish New Year.  These prayers are said at night usually between 11pm and dawn, and Jews of different backgrounds have different practices. Some programs offer tours around neighborhoods of Jerusalem the night before Yom Kippur to see different traditions in action.
  5. Walk on an empty highway on Yom Kippur In Israel, nobody drives on Yom Kippur—not even secular Israelis. Walking around your city or town on Yom Kippur is an experience like none other, an probably the only time you will ever be able to sit in the middle of a major highway (see picture below). You can also take advantage of the lack of traffic by joining in with the local teenagers who will be out on their bikes.
  6. Head to the Kotel for Birkat Kohanim Being in Israel for the chagim gives you the opportunity to go to what is considered the holiest site for the Jewish people on the holiest days of the year. During Sukkot, kohanim (descendants of the priests of Israel) come together to bless the Jewish people. Many Masa Israel participants have described it as an extremely moving experience.
  7. Festivals With all the time off, you have ample opportunity to check out some of the music and cultural festivals that take place around Sukkot. They are a great way to explore the country and get a taste of Israel culture.
 
The holidays are one of the bests times to be in Israel, and this list barely scratches the surface of what it is like to spend the season in Israel. But don’t take our word for it—try it for yourself!
 
[image credit: RonAlmog]

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