Masa Israel Journey Blog

Published : January 29, 2013
By Elisabeth Hacker, Israel Teaching Fellows - Israel Pathways
When I was preparing to write this speech, I decided to do a quick Rabbi Google search for attention grabbers. All that Rabbi Google gave me was “Purity Quotes to Grab Your Teenager’s Attention.” Needless to say, that is not what I wanted from Rabbi Google. So I decided that the best farewell/halfway point address, since it is so unique to our organization, should have no framework. A framework would only create an atmosphere of oddity and would block the free flow of natural and sincere feelings.
Today I stand not before you, but with you; with the utmost sincere feelings of pride and accomplishment. Five months ago, we all stood together in Tiberia at Ohalo Manor, nervous, unsure, and excited; not knowing where our journey in Israel would take us and which next step to take.
For Israel Corps and Zoom Israel, this is your last week with us. You all have spent an amazing 5 months in Israel I am sure. You have volunteered with numerous organizations. You have created a community that was your own and found things out about yourself and others that you never could have imagined. Mazel tov on your wonderful accomplishments! Not many people can leave their lives back home and come live in a foreign country, let alone work and study in one.
So now you must now ask yourself, how will I depart from Israel? How will I bring the wonderment and excitement about life that I gained in Israel back home. I know that I personally felt many different emotions before leaving, but while I was so consumed by thinking about the challenges I would face abroad, I never stopped to think about the challenges I would face when returning home.
This is one aspect of a work and study abroad experience that I think goes overlooked by people until they actually experience it. But there is no way to truly prepare someone for it because when it happens, it does so on many different and personal levels. Bringing Israeli culture into your life back home is going to be a feat that is of utmost importance. We did not live here just to obtain knowledge for ourselves, but rather we came here to learn and to appreciate the rich culture that is Israel and to incorporate it into our lives and give that knowledge unto others. As the President of the Shalom Hartman Institute said to us, “how can you give light unto the nations, if you do not have the light yourself?” Harness the light you found here in Israel and share it with those back home. Shine light on those the best way you know how, and all will fall into place. We wish Israel Corps and Zoom Israel a Bon Voyage and L’hitraot. Once again, Mazel Tov on all your feats and accomplishments here in Israel! 
Israel Corps and Zoom Israel are finishing their programs and we are very proud of them. We, participants of ITF Netanya and Beer’sheva, remind ourselves though that today marks our halfway point in our program. We still have another five months ahead of us. Hopefully this is a blessing for all of you and not a curse (haha). Each one of us knows our city. We know our schools. We know whether or not we are comfortable and happy in our situation, which I hope all of you are.  We all have experienced so far the positive impact we have made in the Israeli schools and communities in which we live and teach.
How do we process our thoughts on the past five months, knowing that we have another five ahead of us? I personally feel like I have finally found my niche in Israel. I have a solid schedule at school with the students, teachers, and my lovely teaching partner, Leah Goldmann. I volunteer at the beach at Tzof Hayam or “sea scouts,” where I try to speak English with kids between 8-16 as we sail, kayak, surf, and paddleboard together. I am sure all of you have also found your niche as well. Something that really makes you tick and allows you to give all that you have to offer in a comfortable and nourishing environment.
In saying this and reflecting on the past five months, we now look towards the next five months ahead of us. How should we feel as and individual in the program and also as a part of the group?  For me in ITF Netanya, I feel like we have a created a family. Like any family, we have our ups and downs, but in the end, we have worked together as a group to create a community that has become positively part of Netanya, Israel.
On an individual note, I say that any goal that you set for yourself you should do it now. If you have not traveled enough around Israel, now is definitely time to explore the natural riches of the Holy Land. If you have traveled too much, maybe it is time to dig deep into the cultural communities in your city. Maybe experience what it is like to keep Shabbos or maybe what it is like to experience a traditional Sephardi Bar/Bat mitzvah.
What you want to achieve in the next five months is how you should develop and change your goals. I encourage all of you to write down what you all want to achieve because before we know it, it is going to be the last week and we will be kicking ourselves because we did not go to see the Banias or that we did not experience a religious wedding in Israel.
SO! How do we find the answer for what to do the next 5 months? Let’s add our meetings, seminars, and trips together. Then let’s add Israel and our beautiful housing situations together. Then let’s add all of our wonderful friends that we have met along the way together. What is the outcome? It is all different! We have all experienced so many different things, therefore what we all have gotten out of this program so far and what we want to still do is not definite. There is not a formula. The outcome and equation is different to everyone and I think that is the most special part about Israel Pathways and the Masa Experience. We have seen the beauty in all of life’s blessings and I hope we continue to do so.
Published : January 29, 2013
By Tina Hughes, Hebrew Union College
I went to Israel for my first year of Rabbinical School at HUC, Hebrew Union College.  
I had been to Israel before – three times – and thought that I knew what I was getting into.  
The year was not what I expected.  Being a female Rabbinical student in Jerusalem, wearing a kippah had its difficulties – but it gave me a taste of Israeli society that I both had not and would never have seen solely from short group-organized trips.  
At first the reactions I got from Israeli society disheartened me about Israel – how could I, a Reform Jew studying to be a Rabbi, feel that I didn’t belong in the Jewish homeland?  
It just didn’t make sense to me.  
However, through my studies at HUC and the Shalom Hartman Institute I began to realize what my role as a female Reform rabbinical student was.  
It dawned on me that the Reform movement in Israel is not like the Reform movement here in the United States.  One would understand that from a look at the prayerbooks – but it goes beyond that.  People in the United States get what Reform Judaism is.  
They may not really understand the minutia, but they understand that just as society as a whole believes in equal rights for women, so too has the movement adjusted, and that is one example.  
However, what I found was that it wasn’t that I didn’t belong – it was that Reform Judaism was not understood, because it was so small, and the areas I where I was tended to be heavily Orthodox-dominated.  
Most of the people that criticized my practice of Judaism didn’t understand it.  I realized that my role there for the year was to educate.  To be a Reform Jew in Jerusalem and hold my head up high and stand up for what I believe in.
After returning to the United States, I found it difficult at first to speak about my experience.  
With a little time to process, I can see the impact the year had on me and my thinking and my beliefs – that I am much more clear on not only what I do, but why I do it – after trying to painstakingly explain it in Hebrew during my first few weeks when I didn’t yet have the language capacity to do that – it seems easy to discuss in English these days.  
But it also taught me how to begin to be a leader of my movement – how to not only be solid in what I believe – but help others to see the way I believe so they can make their own decisions about what they believe.

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