Masa Israel Journey Blog

Published : February 10, 2012
By Billie Hirsch, OTZMA 
Shalom from Haifa! My name is Billie Hirsch, and I am a participant of OTZMA, a ten-month leadership development and volunteer-oriented program sponsored by the Jewish Federations of North America as well as CJP.
Since late August of last year, I have been awarded the bragging rights of calling Israel my current home. Although I can never expunge or replace the memories of my past four years of living the student life in Boston, I am absolutely loving life here and taking full advantage of everything this country and this city have to offer.
While being in Israel, the experiences I devote myself to being exposed to on a daily basis and the skills and talents I work to continuously develop are ones that I eagerly anticipate bringing home with me to Boston proper in July, when my program concludes.
It is a gross understatement to say I am simply excited to be volunteering and living here in Haifa, Israel; rather I feel beyond honored to have been afforded this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to give back in Israel and to truly learn of this country’s culture, history and politics. I am overall flattered to be representing the Jewish and youth community of Boston. I wake every morning to the sight of the Carmel Mountain, blessed to be residing in such a gorgeous city. Of course, the 65-degree weather in early February doesn’t hurt.
OTZMA has been in Haifa for exactly one month now, and the past few weeks have given us some time to settle in and explore, growing comfortable with our apartment and learning lots about the Haifa-Boston Connection. Staff and volunteer of the Haifa-Boston Connection, as well as the Young Leadership Committee, a brilliant initiative of the HBC, have been more than generous and helpful in our getting acclimated. They have invited us to movie nights, seminars, had us all over their house for the most impressive Israeli breakfast I’ve ever been lucky enough to indulge upon, and been there for us when we had concerns or questions—or just wanted someone to chat with!
Lots of my upcoming posts will most likely be about the HBC and the YLD, and all of the truly fabulous work they do to not only keep Haifa interesting, but to foster and strengthen the tie between the Jewish community in Haifa and in Boston.
There are five of us living in the downtown (“ir tachtit”) area, right by the Haifa Port, while the rest of us are sprinkled across the country, other participants’ homes dependent on their partnership cities. The cast of Haifa OTZMAnikim is truly a group needing some serious story telling, which is why I’m here.
Perry and Jacob live across the hall in student dorming, while Gaby, Sarah and I share a similar looking flat. We live in a building with other people from all corners of the world, and many funky restaurants, bars, and open markets are barely a walk away. Everything about our living situation in Haifa is fantastic, and I couldn’t have asked to live with better girls.
We all work in various arenas, volunteering with local and immigrant populations. Between the five of us, our volunteer sites are as follows: Beit Sefer Chofit Elementary School, Wizo Arts High School, City of Haifa Sports Department, Haifa Young Adult’s Center, Rambam Hospital, Hillel, Haifa-Boston Connection, Beit HaGefen, Bosmat High School, a center for the elderly, and a women’s shelter.
Published : February 06, 2012
By Rebecca Crystal, Dance Journey
Exactly a year ago, I arrived in Israel and began a journey....the Masa Dance Journey to study with Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company in Israel.  Here, I became inspired in unthinkable ways and worked harder than ever before. Keeping this journey and the people I met in mind as I continue along, in dance and in life.
I distinctly remember panicking as the cabin doors closed, once I boarded the plane.  I started to cry, and had trouble breathing.  I've never felt so trapped before...too late to chicken-out, like I was seated in the car of a roller-coaster, right after the safety bar was clicked permanently into place.
After I breathed some Tel Avivan air, fresh off the Mediterranean for a few days, and then got settled in my little room with my awesome Australian roommate on Kibbutz Ga'aton, I realized there was nothing to be afraid of (except, perhaps, preparing to begin a program that was harder and more exhausting than anything I had ever been a part of before).  I  began a new life, in a new home, and it was more illuminating than I imagined it would be.
It was here that I danced all day in a gorgeous studio overlook the green Galilean hills, learning from teachers who were fierce dancers and amazing people.  They pushed me to work, dance, think, and sweat harder than I ever have in my life.  It was, at times, extremely rigorous, and tears occasionally accompanied my aching muscles....and ice packs, Icy Hot, ace-wraps, my trusty foam roller, homeopathic creams, and NSAIDs.  
But in the end, I was inspired, always inspired to keep learning, keep dancing, and work ever-harder.  I came out of the program a more technical dancer, a faster study (picking up choreography was always past struggle of mine), and even more more inspired and confident with the craft.
I met amazing dancers from 15 other countries that became my family.  We shared stories and cooked foods from our home countries, helped each other through rough rehearsals, inspired creation of choreography, and provided a look into the life of a fellow dancer from across the world (which was often an incredibly similar life, and yet simultaneously vastly different).  
Many of us were living completely on our own (meaning financially, too) for the first time, and we helped each other through the new responsibilities (and freedoms) that that allows.  Some of these friends I hope to remain close to for the rest of my life.
I created a piece for our Nitzotzot concert (our choreography showcase, meaning "Sparkles") about long-distance communication, keeping in touch, and technology.  This was inspired by Skype and how video-chatting was such a huge part of our life on the kibbutz.  
Spending our free time with each other would often be scheduled around "Skype dates" with family or friends.  Sometimes there would be an incredibly frustrating technology-fail, where either the audio or video would be off or the internet would be flickering.  But even with the frustrations and limitations, I am so grateful to live in an age of really was amazing to be practically face to face with my family, from over 6000 miles apart.
Living as a part of nature was a huge inspiration for me, and part of the reason I cherished my time on the kibbutz.  I lived in an apartment, but it was essentially a camp-feel, stepping out onto a small road, in the middle of greenery, amidst an agriculturally-supported village.  
The kibbutz gardeners kept the grounds blooming gorgeously, and I couldn't get over how green and sprawling it was to live in the midst of this flowing country.  Lemongrass and other herbs grew right outside my door with which to make tea, and I could pick and eat citrus fruits and apricots right off the trees, provided they were communal kibbutz-trees.  I loved going to the market to get fresh mint, basil, and vegetables, and I really learned to cook here for the first time, experimenting with basically throwing a bunch of things in a pan with olive oil and seeing how it turned out.  
Buying salted cashews, dried strawberries, and spices that I didn't know the names of from the markets....everything was so fresh in Israel, and I began to see myself turning into even more of a organic, naturey, tree-hugger than I already was.
I am incredible grateful for this experience....and am constantly being informed by my knowledge.  I will never forget my time in Israel, and I know a piece of my heart (or rather, my feet) will always reside in the Dance Village that is Kibbutz Ga'aton.

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