Masa Israel Journey Blog

Published : May 03, 2012
DC resident Elissa Gross, a former intern with Masa Israel Journey, recently reflected on her past experience living and studying abroad in Israel. Masa Israel Journey connects Jewish young adults to internship, service, and academic programs in Israel. It is a joint project of the Government of Israel and the Jewish Agency for Israel and is made possible by the generous contributions of the Jewish Federations of North America and Keren Hayesod-UIA. Visit for more information. This is a guest post and thus represents only the opinions of the author; it does not represent a GTJ institutional stance.
Why did I leave to go to Israel during the Gaza War? The answer to this question is simultaneously simple and complicated, personal and universal. As were the nine subsequent months that followed, which I spent in this complex country of chaos and contradictions, resilience and passion.
The simple answer is that I had been placed on a Birthright Trip on January 11th, 2009, and received scholarships and grants to stay in Israel after that and participate in Masa Israel’s WUJS Jerusalem Program. The complicated answer is that for years I had been grappling with my Jewish identity–with what being Jewish means to me both personally and as part of a collective history–and I desperately wanted to continue this journey in the land that my people call “home.”
Published : May 03, 2012
Last week, I attended Masa’s Yom HaZikaron ceremony (טקס) with some of my Pardes classmates. It had been six years since I had commemorated Israel’s two Memorial Days — Yom HaShoah and Yom HaZikaron — in Israel, when I was a participant on March of the Living as a high school student.
I don’t remember connecting especially with Yom HaZikaron that year, especially in contrast to Yom HaShoah, whose importance was especially magnified then as I commemorated it by walking from Auschwitz to Auschwitz-Birkenau to mark the march that those imprisoned in Auschwitz were forced to endure.
This year, however, was different. Masa deserves a lot of credit for creating a program that was meaningful for its specific demographic: young North American Jews living in Israel on various short and long-term programs. The core of the ceremony was devoted to a series of mini-documentaries detailing the lives, and tragic deaths, of a number of IDF soldiers. Most were victims of the Second Lebanon War, and many were American, again to help the audience relate.  
The stories were raw, made even more so by the fact that many of them were killed in battle before reaching their 23rd birthdays, which I celebrated a couple months ago. As a 17-year-old living in Canada, the notion of going to war and being killed, of knowing friends who were killed, seemed a world away; living in Israel for a year, with friends who are making aliyah and planning to serve in the IDF, changes the picture drastically.
I identify as a pacifist, and see all war as inherently bad (though, at times, war can be justified). Having spent a year in Israel and having the opportunity to commemorate Memorial Days which mean something, my pacifist leanings are only strengthened. Living in a country where every family has been touched by war or terror hammers home the notion that war ought to be avoided at all costs. 

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