Masa Israel Journey Blog

Published : February 06, 2012
By Becca Feldman, Huntingdon Valley, PA, Young Judaea Year Course
The question is always asked:  what is there to do in Arad?  Truthfully, Arad is a small town with a limited amount of activities but a lot of spirit and opportunity. A few weeks ago my friends and I decided we wanted to go on a hike to the Dead Sea. We met with Eli, the coordinator of Arad for Year Course, and received a map. Then on Friday morning, my friends and I with nothing but a map, water bottles, and snacks, left at 4 am from Arad and hiked 8 hours to the Dead Sea.
When we were standing at the top of the mountain, eating lunch, and looking out to the Dead Sea, the feeling of accomplishment we all felt was irreplaceable. At that point, we we truly understood the amazing opportunities we had right in front of us, and that we, six girls could do anything, even hike to the Dead Sea.
I love Arad; it is by far my favorite place to live so far. Coming from a big city, I really appreciate the togetherness the people of the town feel.  I believe the community is a huge factor to keeping the Year Coursers happy because in Arad, the section is split up. In Section 2, about a third of the section is on Marva (the army experience) and fourteen kids are living on Kibbutz Ketura, founded by Year Course alumni. That leaves less than thirty people in Arad. And of that thirty, the group for Rwanda left yesterday.
Because the section is no longer together, the feeling of community in Arad means a lot and helps ease the pain of missing your friends. The sense of togetherness in Arad is incredible; everyone is extremely friendly, constantly extending invitations for Shabbat dinners or just another place to call home. The first week of the trimester, Young Judaea set all the chanichim up with host families so we could always have a place to go, but I guarantee, even without the set up, it would not be hard to find a family to call your own.
The sense of community in Arad means a lot to me personally; two of my roommates are on Marva, but more importantly, because three of my best friends/roommates left for Rwanda yesterday, leaving only me and one of best friends/roommates living in an apartment made for seven. Although I miss them terribly already, I am easily occupying myself. I volunteer at the horse ranch of Arad, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I clean the horse stables, groom horses, and feed them daily.
Every Monday, the other volunteers and I get to ride with the head of the horse school. The couple that owns the ranch, Ami and Rachael, are such an inspiration, full of energy and spunk at 73 years old. They have lived in Israel their entire lives, experiencing firsthand the declaration of Israel and the Independence War. They inspire me to live my life to the fullest. As Ami said the first morning of my volunteering, “don’t work too hard, and laugh a lot, because life, it’s a funny thing.”
Published : February 04, 2012
By Sarah Samole, Midreshet Harova
Many people visit Israel and often return home with the notion that they will one day return to this beautiful country again—as tourists.
As such, I considered ditching the “year in Israel” plan in favour of starting university, but I was steered forward by the unusual (and accidental) deferral of admission I received from my specialized university program coupled with the appeal of Midreshet Harova`s abundant course selections, plus three meals daily, of course.
As a student travelling alone, I found myself exposed to a new, “light side” of the general Israeli populace. 
A frequent bus user, I was wowed by the readiness of seated passengers to give up their coveted spots on packed buses not only for cane-wielding seniors but for pregnant women, people carrying young children and even those approaching “middle age”. 
And if you happened to be pushing a stroller, you could expect at least 2-3 people to offer to hold the child, carry the stroller or take your payment to the driver.
Additionally, I was surprised to find that even the most outwardly rough-looking Israeli, given the circumstances, could instantly transform into something akin to one`s own grandparent. 
I never would have believed it myself, had it not been for a particularly special experience I had shortly before Purim. 
A friend and I wanted to bake hamantashen for the holiday and we searched frantically for somewhere to buy prepared poppy seed filling (side note: I find it all the time on Israeli supermarket shelves...4 years later). 
Unsuccessful, we decided to ask the scowling head cashier at the supermarket after an exhaustive search. 
She told us, as we thought, that they did not have any, and as we started to walk away she called to us and began to—get this—write out a recipe she knew off-hand for poppy seed filling! 
I could not help but smile from ear to ear, realizing that G-d had brought us to exactly the place we needed to be (as usual) and given me a most unique story that would help shape my incomplete view of the Israeli public.
Furthermore, my year abroad allowed me an opportunity to volunteer in the bone-marrow ward of Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital, where I and one or two other girls would go to the rooms of terminally ill children, visit with them and bring some toys. 
This experience was very trying, as it aroused within me a conflict that to this day remains unsettled: most of the children in the ward were Arabs. 
To illustrate the conflict, consider the Arab woman from Gaza who, in 2005, was treated at the Soroka hospital in Be`er Sheva for burns and attempted to return and blow herself up in that same hospital that had treated her with the same care as any other person. 
The humane treatment by Israel of anyone, regardless of religion or race, strikes most people as odd considering Israel`s volatile terror situation. 
And yet, there I was, a Jewish girl visiting sick Arab children in an Israeli hospital; needless to say it started out pretty uncomfortably. 
But the patients and their parents were at ease; in fact, they were often very grateful of our presence and although most could not communicate this verbally as they spoke only Arabic, they would nod and smile at us while one mother opened a fresh bottle of Coca Cola for us in a hospitable gesture. 
I can only hope that we made a positive, lasting impact on those families. 
Finally, there was something very unique that happened to me during that year. 
You see, I still was not fully convinced that I could ever see myself living in Israel, but meeting my future husband put an end to that decision. 
He was learning at Aish HaTorah and happened to be from Toronto as well, and although he came home for our wedding, 6 months later we were on the plane and save for two visits, we`ve been here ever since. 
Now our little girl is a sabra (native-born Israeli). 

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