Masa Israel Journey Blog

Published : August 24, 2012
By Aviya Shevin, She'arim College for Women
I remember when I first fell in love with Israel. It was December 2005 and, as the wheels of the plane kissed the runway, the travelers around me broke out into applause. 
“I’m here,” I thought, “I’ve arrived.” 
I first traveled to Israel with Aish Birthright and then extended my stay for a week to study at the She’arim College for Women.  During two winter breaks from the University of Miami, I again made the trip to She’arim.  But, these were pilot trips for the ultimate goal - a year in Israel. Masa Israel made that goal a reality.
For the 2008-2009 academic year, I lived and breathed Israel, mostly in the heights of western Jerusalem’s Har Nof, where She’arim is located.  In fact, the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever seen were the ones seen from the second floor of the She’arim building during Rabbi Cowen’s class on prayer (which has a sense of poetic justice now that I think back on it). 
When I reminisce about my year in Israel, I think of the gorgeous views of Israel’s many neighborhoods: the orange-tree lined avenues of Rechovot, the sandy beaches of Netanya, the stone buildings and streets of Tsfat, the all-encompassing awe of the Western Wall of Jerusalem.
I remember the weather: the blindingly hot field trip to see a crater in the desert, the light dusting of snow in the winter, the rain that seems not to fall from the sky but coalesce in the air. 
And of course, I think of the people at Shearim: from Argentina, Chile, Great Britain, South Africa, Denmark, Canada, America and Israel…
I loved it all. I loved every minute of that year. Most of all, I loved the learning. 
There is nothing better than sitting in a class with women of all ages and backgrounds and delving into the ancient, yet relevant, beauty of the Torah.
My favorite class of all was Rebbitzen Pavlov’s Midrash class, where a class topic could extend three or four days. Classic Torah sources from seemingly disparate places were researched and reviewed, and then, after applying some critical thinking as a group, we would pull the sources together with the Midrash to reveal a new, deep and elegant understanding of what our Sages sought to teach us. 
My year in Israel was everything I had dreamed of and more--so much, in fact, that I returned for another year. 
Now, my husband and I discuss the possibility of returning once again because being in love with Israel is like any other love; it grows as we get to know each other better. It grows with commitment.  It grows with giving to each other. Israel has given so much to me, and I look forward to giving back.
Published : August 23, 2012
For three months I studied at the Masa Israel-accredited Hebrew University in Jerusalem, doing a semester exchange during my third year of law school at the University of Windsor in Canada. 
From the time I first learned about the opportunity to spend a semester abroad, I knew I would choose Israel. There, I would be able to explore the field of international law, understand how Israelis my age approach their academics post-army service, and immerse myself in Israeli society. I also knew that I would benefit from a taste of the traditional and infamous Israeli chutzpah
The campus of Hebrew University is like no other. Situated on Mount Scopus, one of the highest points in Jerusalem, the entire city, both old and new, is in full view. 
The campus synagogue overlooks the Old City with the Dome of the Rock as its centerpiece, surrounded by the modern parts of the city, with Arab and Jewish neighbourhoods painting the horizon. Standing in the almost-century-old campus amphitheatre on a clear day, you can see across the eastern part of the country: an Arab village is followed by a Jewish settlement, then the Judean Desert, the Dead Sea, and finally Jordan’s red mountains.  
With these surrounding in mind, studying international law in Jerusalem went far beyond the typical classroom experience. I learned about the legal status of Jerusalem while sitting in a room on Mount Scopus, which is technically an island within the West Bank. 
My professors, immigrants from Britain, France, Uruguay and Argentina, spoke about border issues with the security barrier and Green Line right outside the window. We learned about rocket attacks and self-defense with the directions to the nearest bomb shelter posted at the front of the class. Situated in the midst of the Arab-Israeli conflict, while studying law and its practical applications, provided unrivaled learning opportunities.
I did still face challenges during my semester in Israel. Israel is notorious for its bureaucracy; It took 9 different kinds of photo ID to get my bus pass, 7 attempts at registration to get my final class schedule, 5 sets of directions to find the law building, and 3 attempts at pushing my way into the bus (elbows up) without knocking over the elderly rabbi and his wife—who were also trying to get home for Shabbat. 
Yet, at the end of the day—with my newfound sense of chutzpah intact—I felt a deep connection to my surroundings, and appreciation that Israel is the one place that any Jew can call home. 
Now, back in Canada where I am articling at a law firm in Toronto, far from the history and falafel stands of Jerusalem, I continue to apply the academic and professional lessons I gained in Israel —and the life lessons learned there too. I know my new “elbows-up” aggressive maneuvers may serve me well in court—but I apologize, in advance, if you’re standing next to me in line for the bus.

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