Masa Israel Journey Blog

Published : December 27, 2012
By Rebecca Crystal, Dance Journey
I didn’t panic. Not until I boarded my El Al flight from JFK to Tel Aviv and fully realized that I was about to leave my home for five months.
A concerned flight attendant noticed my anxiety and asked me where I was heading. When I told her Kibbutz Ga’aton, she said brightly, “Oh! That’s the kibbutz where everyone goes to dance!”
I breathed freely again. Indeed, it was the reason I’d chosen to spend a semester in the northern Israeli village.
While Ga’aton functions as a modern kibbutz supported by agricultural and industrial exports, it is also a "dance village.”
Set in the gorgeous upper Galilee, the main dance studio’s windows overlook the rolling hills.
Here, Rami Be’er directs the Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company (KCDC), and students from around the world come to study dance in an internship/apprenticeship-like program in partnership with Masa Israel Journey. 
The origin of the village is inspiring.  During the Holocaust, a girl named Yehudit Arnon was in Auschwitz when a Nazi asked her to perform at a Christmas party.   She bravely refused but feared this action would be her last.  If she did survive, she decided that she would dedicate the rest of her life to dance.  
In 1948, Arnon moved to the newly-established Kibbutz Ga'aton, and there, she founded the dance studio that eventually became KCDC.  
Arnon is still alive today, and though I never had the chance to meet her, her desire for life and need to spread the love of dance is embodied in the spirit of the kibbutz.
From the beginning, my days were filled with exhaustion and a sense of fulfillment.  
My teachers, who were all former professional dancers or current KCDC members, pushed us to reach our highest potential in everything from our dance classes and workshops with other Israeli dance companies to our own choreography projects.  
The KCDC style, which is characterized by extremely physical, athletic, and large movements contrasted with smaller, gestural, and subtle movements, led to growth in my technical abilities and strength.
We didn’t catch our breath until Thursday afternoons, the start of Israeli weekends when we grabbed a bus or hitchhiked to Nahariya, the closest city to the kibbutz.  
Back at the kibbutz, I’d curl up with a cappuccino at the local café, grab a Goldstar beer at the kibbutz pub, and finally relax.  Friday evening meant potluck night at one of the Dance Journey participants’ rooms.  We were from sixteen countries and five continents, and we spent the nights teaching each other about food, music, and traditions from our homes.
One evening in March, we received news that a bomb exploded near Jerusalem’s Central Bus Station at rush hour.  
In the days that followed, I considered the kibbutz’s many bomb shelters.  
Several of them had been transformed into alternative space: a Pilates studio, a party room, or a place to practice drums.  
I appreciated that these musical and physical endeavors seemed to be powerful, metaphorical antitheses to rockets and war.
In one of our performances, we participated in a Holocaust Memorial Day (Yom Hashoah) ceremony held at Kibbutz Lochmei Hagetaot ("Ghetto Fighters' House,”), which was founded in 1949 by resistance fighters.
Against the backdrop of twisted bars and violent images, we performed a section from “Aide Memoire,” KCDC's Holocaust memorial piece by Rami Be'er.  
As I danced for a nationally televised broadcast, I realized how dance—the complete opposite of violence and destruction--can transform and heal.
Rebecca Crystal, from Chicago, IL, graduated in 2009 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dance from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  She participated in Masa Israel’s Dance Journey program in February-June of 2011.  You can read more details about her experience at
Published : December 24, 2012
Like most American Jews of my generation, my first encounters with Israel were cultural. 
I saw pictures of people reading the newspaper while floating in the Dead Sea. 
I wrote notes to be placed in the Western Wall. 
I ate hummus and falafel at Israeli Independence Day parties. 
My “Israel is Good” education certainly did its job. I was in love before I even stepped foot in the Holy Land.
Then, when I finally did land in Israel after high school for nine months of study, volunteering, and experiencing Israel through Masa Israel’s Young Judaea Year Course, I immediately felt at home. 
As a first-timer, everything I did that year was new and exciting. 
Only now, years later, do I realize that this should have been my first sign as to how much deeper I still had to dig in order to discover the real Israel.
During my junior year of college I returned to Israel to study for a semester at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. 
It was during those five months that I began to uncover much of the information that was absent in my earlier encounters with Israel.
While visiting a Jewish Israeli friend studying at the Technion, the MIT of Israel, situated in the mixed Arab and Jewish city of Haifa, I experienced an encounter that illuminated a rift in Israeli society. 
In a conversation about the student population, my friend revealed his resentment for the large number of Arab students at his university. 
“It’s fine if they want to study here,” he said. “They just have to remember that they’re foreigners.” 
“Foreigners?” I repeated. 
Didn’t they hold Israeli citizenship? 
Hadn’t their families lived in Israel for generations? 
His response was that Arabs were foreigners because Israel is a Jewish country. 
“That is something that family history and citizenship cannot change,” he said.
Instead of keeping me away from Israel, this experience only compelled me to return. 
I wanted to continue my search for a bigger picture. A year later I had the opportunity to travel to the Palestinian territories. 
In Jenin, a Jewish friend was volunteering to restore a cinema that had been closed since the first intifada over 20 years earlier. 
The only movie theater in an area with over 50,000 residents, it was intended to provide an outlet for the people, and to foster cultural development. 
The cinema could help the residents develop artistic appreciation and not turn to violence.
During my visit, I met my friend’s Palestinian host family. 
As soon as I introduced myself, they asked me if I was Jewish. 
Unaccustomed to being so far outside my bubble, I was nervous. 
My friend sensed my discomfort and made it clear that there was no harm in telling the truth. 
I answered their question and the topic never again resurfaced. 
Instead, what followed was a straightforward conversation using a fair amount of Hebrew with the patriarch of the family. 
He told me that he longed for the days when he made a living working for Israelis who were now on the other side of a barrier that he was not permitted to cross.
In the two years that I have been fortunate enough to live in Israel, I gained a more comprehensive understanding of the region’s history and can confidently say that it’s time we rethink the “Israel is good” educational paradigm.
It isn’t always easy to be honest, but it’s time to trust in youth to appreciate the nuance wrapped up in 

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