Masa Israel Journey Blog

Published : January 14, 2013
By Danielle Longo, Israel Teaching Fellows
Growing up as a Conservative Jew in a suburb of Detroit, I knew the basics about Judaism and Israel.  
I attended Hillel Day School, celebrated holidays, went to shul, and believed in God.  
But at 17, my dad passed away and I pushed my religion aside.  
Ten years later, the economic crisis hit and I found myself with a Masters degree but no job.  
While trying to figure out my next steps, an email popped into my inbox about a 10 month program in Israel where I could explore the country and also gain teaching experience, something that would look great on my resume.  
I decided that I had abandoned my roots for long enough.  
I packed my bags, said goodbye to my friends and family, and left in August 2011 to participate in Masa Israel’s Israel Teaching Fellows program.
Seven months into the program, not only have I been able to experience Israel: the culture the people, and the daily grind, but I have also had the opportunity to change two of my students’ lives —Y and K. 
Y is a fourth-grade student who was placed in the lowest English group because, I was told, he did not even know the alphabet.  During my lesson, Y was silent so, in broken Hebrew, I asked him how I could help.  
In perfect English, he answered, “I’m bored in class.” 
From the next day on, I made sure to give Y the attention he deserved.
My other student, K is an Ethiopian girl who was being abused at home and thought that it was her fault. 
Her teachers came to me for advice because I am a licensed counselor in the States, and I decided to meet with K.  
After hearing about her home life, I approached the school counselor.
Though I was not aware of Israel’s laws, I knew that this little girl was in trouble and I had to help—if only to show her that she does not deserve to be treated as such.
Out of the classroom, the Israeli people have had a huge impact on me.  
Before I left for my 10 month journey, friends warned me of Israelis’ aggressiveness. 
I prepared to check my Midwestern sensibilities.  
But during my first week in Israel, I was on a bus when an elderly lady fell off the steps.  
In a second, a Haredi Jew, an Arab, and a secular Israeli rushed to help.  In that moment, I discarded everything I’d been told.  
During the next months, I became used to dinner invitations, rides home, and Shabbat hospitality from strangers and friends alike.
With my Israeli and American peers, I also had a chance to participate in a Masa Israel Community Shabbaton, where we discussed what it means to be a Jew in Israel and in the Diaspora. 
 Inspired by the frank discussions, when an Israeli participant complimented me on my ring, I immediately offered it to her as a gift.  When she protested, I told her that it wasn’t expensive and that I appreciated her coming to the Shabbaton because she added so much.  
She refused.  “I don’t want to perpetuate the stereotype that is out there about us—that all Israelis do is take, take, take.”  
But I couldn’t believe it.  In my seven months here, all I’ve encountered from Israelis is the exact opposite. 
While at times my experience far from home has been challenging, I have been thrilled to develop my relationship with Israel.  
I look forward to returning to Detroit and helping more young adults find their paths to Israel. 
Published : January 08, 2013
By Ahuva Dachs, Bnos Chava
The gift I brought home from Israel, A Jerusalem stone engraved with “Im Eshkacheich Yerushalayim Tishkach Yimini” “If I forget thee O Jerusalem, let me forget my right hand" - Psalm: 137, rests above the fireplace in my house and serves as a constant reminder of how my year in Israel transformed my view of Israel as being the Jewish homeland into it being “my” homeland. 
This past year allowed me to connect to the Psalm. 
I know that now I could never forget Yerushalayim. 
When I first arrived in Israel, it was hard to adapt to the culture. 
Although deep down I felt connected and knew Israel was my homeland, I still felt homesick. I missed the familiar streets, stores, food, and language; they all felt so foreign here.
The shuk was not my typical grocery store, buses not my usual transportation, and people not of the culture that I was used to. 
As time progressed, my thoughts shifted from the focus of all that Israel was not and to all that Israel was. 
It is the place where much of our history occurred; it is the place where the year revolves around the chagim, and it is the place for the Jewish people, no matter how far away.
Fast forward a year I am back in America and all those feeling of homesickness once again return. 
When I see pictures of Yerushalayim, instead of seeing a distant place I see a place that I know and love well, I see my home, I see a place where I was fortunate enough to live. 
When I sadly hear, too often, about many murders, bombings, and war I feel hurt that my brethren and our land are being attacked. 
Living in Israel for a year gave me a sense of camaraderie and connection to the people there and the Jewish nation at large. 
I understand that not everyone has or had this opportunity to be in Israel for a period of time. 
Even within my own family, the story is told about how badly my great grandfather in Poland wanted to go to Israel and it was far beyond his reach. 
His yearning was so strong that he even slept with a bag of dirt from Israel underneath his pillow. 
Unfortunately he, unlike me, never had the occasion to do so and knowing this, I feel especially privileged that I was able to. 
As I continue on through the journey of life, wherever that may lead, my year in Israel will remain a part of me. 
As I walk in the streets and go about my life, I will constantly think about the people, places and events that I encountered. 
Even at times that I am not able to be there in person “libi bamizerach;” my heart will be there. 

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