Masa Israel Journey Blog

Published : February 22, 2012
By Rachel Sales, Masa Israel Journey Director of Alumni and Public Relations
In Amos Oz’s memoir, A Tale of Love and Darkness, he writes that the real reason his grandmother died was not a heart attack, but rather an “excess of hygiene.”
Having arrived in Jerusalem from Vilna, she “took one startled look at the sweaty markets, the colorful stalls, the swarming side streets full of the cries of hawkers” and spent the rest of life constructing defenses against her new country’s “pervasive sensuality. “
100 years later, Israel’s in-your-face quality is the country’s magic touch. It’s one of the reasons why Americans Jews, so used to their personal space and alone time, travel to Israel and fall in love with the country. At first jarring, Israel’s intensity forces individuals to wake up and live.
“Israelis live a life of rawness and no-nonsense,” said Michele Hathaway, a Seattle-native who interned at the Israeli Opera House through Masa Israel’s WUJS Internship program after graduating from USC. She recalls walking down Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard late at night, and watching people laugh, cry and fall in love right before her eyes.
Daniel Rothman, a graduate of York University in Canada, had similarly powerful experiences in Israel while interning at a photography studio through Masa Israel’s Career Israel.  
On Tel Aviv’s 100th birthday, his celebration included donating blood for injured soldiers at a mobile clinic. “I was completely unprepared for the intensity of life in Israel,” Daniel told me. “Every Israeli celebration seemed to involve complex combinations of emotion and history.”
Speaking to Daniel and Michele brought back my own memories of extended trips to Israel.  
Back in college, I made sure to visit Israel at least twice a year—during the summer, to intern at various organizations, and during the winter, just to “get my fix.” But it had been several years since my endless Israel summers, and I’d forgotten what it felt like to need to buy my next ticket.  
At JFNA’s General Assembly, Israel Way President Avraham Infeld reminded me. In one of his famous speeches about Israel and Jewish identity, he shouted, “Let out your passion.”
In life, nothing is certain, but in Israel, people function with that mindset on a daily basis. They might have to leave work for the reserves. There might be a war tomorrow.  Or a new government.  
This means that everyone in Israel has deeply-held opinions and beliefs about what’s best for the country and its people, and with stakes like that, they never hold back from letting others know.
I always knew I was back in New York when I could walk down a busy street, completely anonymous and invisible to the other pedestrians. That experience doesn’t exist in Israel. During my “kibbutz summer,” a friend and I set out to catch a ride to Kiryat Shemona, and ended up hailing a van of young people, who invited us on a trip to a natural spring up north.
So, too, only in Israel would it be possible for American intern Michele to fill in for the Queen of the Night with a two hour notice.
But, a few months into her internship at the Israeli Opera House, she was already well aware of the way Israel works.  And, in glitter and gold, she belted out her part before a live Tel Aviv audience.
Published : February 13, 2012
By Rachel Sales, Masa Israel Journey Director of Alumni and Public Relations
We’ve been seeing a similar trend for a while–young people graduate from college and can’t find jobs. They spend a few months tinkering with commas on their resumes, writing reverential emails to potential employers, and when all else fails, panicking. Finally, they make the decision to do something more productive for their professional development. For example: an internship–and better yet, one that’s abroad because they’ve heard that international professional experience is an excellent addition to their resumes.
Of course, if they’re lucky enough, they learn that these opportunities exist in Israel and that they can get funding to make it feasible.
Fast-forward five to 12 months, and they’re back home with sparking resumes, work experience in the Middle East (!), and quickly land the jobs they want. They look back, thankful that their experience helped them with their careers–and gave them a chance to be young and beautiful in Tel Aviv (or Jerusalem).
But with Israel Teaching Fellows (ITF), a 10-month program which places Jewish North American college graduates as volunteer teachers’ aides in Israeli public schools, we’re seeing something new. Young professionals in the States are actually leaving their jobs for the teaching program. Julia Kingsdale, a Harvard alumna, worked in Boston’s healthcare industry for two years before deciding she needed to get out of the office and explore a new field in Israel.
“There’s something sort of spontaneous, albeit chaotic, about Israel,” Kingsdale told me. “Teaching in Israel requires a mindset shift where you can’t intensely plan every detail; you need to focus on the situation at hand, which is something I find really refreshing.”
Now, in addition to fulfilling her required hours, she’s also launching an after-school reading program.  Another Fellow, Teach for America alumnus Chris Harty enrolled in ITF to expand his professional insights. Both of them first experienced Israel through a short-term trip: Birthright for Kingsdale and REALITY for Harty.
The truth is, I’m not surprised. Through ITF, Jewish young adults not only gain professional experience in Israel, but also make a real impact on Israeli kids, and quite literally, the Jewish state’s future.
Anyone who’s done service work in Israel knows that there’s also something especially revitalizing about volunteering there. In the 63-year-old, ever-changing country, Jewish young adults are leaving their mark. They have a hand in changing Jewish history—their history.
I may be biased: I work for Masa Israel, a project of the Jewish Agency for Israel and the Government of Israel, that runs 200 internship, service and academic programs in Israel.  But then again, my job puts me in touch—every single day—with hundreds of young adults who tell me about their life-changing experiences in Israel.  
They’ve fallen in love with the fast-paced culture, the Middle Eastern hospitality, Israelis’ tough love and shocking honesty, the respect for individuals’ ideas instead of their titles, the Jewish holiday calendar which always means another celebration is up ahead, or some Jewish guy or girl they met along the way.
Having started with 68 participants serving in communities throughout Israel, ITF has now opened 200 spots due to high demand.  Applications are not due for another few months and yet, hundreds are already in.
In Israel, volunteer work isn’t just kind-hearted service.  It’s personal.  It means that young people with 2,000-year-old shared histories are helping to make their ancient homeland a better place, and most importantly, a place that they can feel proud of.

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