Masa Israel Journey Blog

Published : December 17, 2012
By Leah Boresow, DanceJerusalem
Since age three, dance has been my greatest passion.  
As a dance major at Indiana University, I’ve happily devoted most of my energy to dance.  But when I had the experience of a lifetime during my first trip to Israel in 2009, I was intent on finding a way to merge my love for dance with my new interest in Israel.  
Then I learned about Masa Israel’s DanceJerusalem—a study abroad program, which would allow me to earn credit and develop my skills at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance—and I knew it was a match made in heaven.
As a student in the Academy’s dance department, I took all of my dance classes in Hebrew, alongside Israeli students who soon became my friends.  Coupled by weekly Hebrew classes, my immersion was complete and I completed three Hebrew levels by the end of the year.  
My commute to school also opened the door to having a very real Israel experience. Because the Academy was 50 minutes from where I lived, I took public buses everywhere.  
In the crowded buses, surrounded by pushy Israelis, I learned an incredible amount about the people and the culture.  
This was especially true in moments of uncertainty, like during the bus bombing in the spring of 2011.  Though I was definitely shaken up when I learned of the bombing, I, along with most Israeli commuters, did not stop taking the bus.  Life seemed to go on almost immediately—which was something I did not expect.  The bus route stayed open.  
When I asked my Israeli friend Asaf how everyone was able to simply go on with their day, he said, “If we stopped our lives after every bad thing that happens in this country, then we would have a never-ending pause in life. We wouldn’t really be living.” 
This was only one of the many lessons I learned from the Israelis I met.
I also had the opportunity to travel throughout Israel to see and work with real professional dance companies. During one trip to Mitzpe Ramon in southern Israel, I spent the weekend with the dance company, Adama.  
Located in the “Spice Route Quarter,” Adama’s home is a once-abandoned hangar that the company rebuilt with eco-friendly mud houses.  The company keeps a vegetarian kitchen and works together to keep the studios presentable in economically efficient ways. 
My peers from DanceJerusalem and I spent the day taking dance and aerobic classes with the Adama company, and at night, we lay beneath the stars in the garden and then slept in the mud houses in the midst of the tranquil desert.
Never before had I experienced a community of artists who found such unique ways to connect with their environment and with the people around them.
There was none of the competition that is typical among dancers.  
Instead, everyone supported each other without judgment.  
These new experiences were always inspiring, but what continued to amaze me throughout my time in Israel was how real the people were.  
In Israel, manners are not held in high regard—for better or for worse—and so, what you see is what you get.  
It was always easy to get to know people and no one ever holds back.
One of my strongest memories is of Jerusalem on Israel’s Independence Day.  
Everyone came together to celebrate with a vigor that I had never before seen. 
I saw real happiness and unity.  
The emotional honesty I experienced that day was one of the most fulfilling parts of my journey in Israel.


Published : December 13, 2012
By Brandon Marlow, WUJS Arad Arts Project
During my time in 2006-7 as a participant of the WUJS Arad Arts Project (now WUJS Arts in Jerusalem), one of scores of Israel-based programs subsidized by the umbrella organization Masa Israel Journey, I set for myself the goal of completing a poem-a-day initiative and developing a historical screenplay.
For five and a half months, in addition to working on my independent creative projects in the Writers’ Studio (a local house bequeathed to the program), I was able to experience group field trips, hikes, lectures, Hebrew classes, and occasional volunteering as an English tutor to Bedouin youth in neighbouring Kuseifa. 
By the end of the program, I had enough poems to produce two volumes (Inspirations of Israel: Poetry for a Land and People, and Judean Dreams), and completed the film script shortly upon returning home.
Artistically, I consider the time well spent and it allowed me to be fruitful and multiply my creative efforts. 
Living in Arad was a special blessing: its artists’ quarter, Monday shuk, proximity to hiking trails, Hassidic and Bedouin communities, and archaeological sites like Tel Arad and Masada were some of the unique benefits. The daily beauty of beige Negev views was inspiring.
While the program has since moved to Jerusalem under Hadassah’s aegis, the capital offers current and future participants its own distinct features and opportunities, as well as ease of travel to the north or south from its central situation.
Those considering a Masa sponsored program should feel confident in their prospects; it should be viewed as ‘taking time on’, not ‘taking time off’. In my opinion, Masa is one of the greatest endeavours the Jewish people have ever come up with.
Through its plethora of offerings, young Jews of all stripes are able, in a pluralistic and inclusive environment, to meaningfully connect with their civilization and culture in their homeland, and foster a stronger bond with their history and heritage.
This adds up to a greater sense of Jewish identity, the most singular and essential aspect of our communal survival.
Whichever program best suits applicants, I can only encourage them to pursue their choice and to take advantage of the generous subsidies Masa offers. Some will find this experience an extension of Taglit-Birthright Israel which will in turn lead to making aliyah; others will simply enjoy the opportunity as professional or personal development.
Either way, participants invariably come away with a greater sense of Israel, Judaism, Jewry, and their own place in each.
Nesiyah tova!

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