Masa Israel Journey Blog

Published : January 07, 2013
By Dan Kassner, Israel Teaching Fellows
Education is something that is experienced and shared universally.
Yet, education means very different things to different people. It can be used for good, to create discussion and to challenge opinions, or it can be abused and used for hate. 
My interest in education is what first inspired me to enroll in Masa Israel’s OTZMA Israel Teaching Fellows, a 10-month Teach for America-style program in Israel.   
Not only was I excited to become absorbed in Israeli culture, but I was also looking forward to experience teaching in a foreign classroom.  
When I first entered the Naomi Shemer Elementary School in Petah Tikva in October, I almost felt like I was walking into East Elementary School in Sharon, Massachusetts, the school that I attended as a child.  
Art projects lined the walls, kids ran through the hallways, and teachers yelled at kids to pick up their belongings from the floor.  
But as the year went on, I began to realize how different education is in Israel.  
Israel, like other countries in the Middle East, has a peculiar dichotomy between secular and religious education. Some Israelis focus their studies on science and math in schools, while others focus on Torah and Jewish law. 
The impact that this type of education system has on society takes a large cultural, social and, of course, political toll.
Experiencing the depth of opinions and the strength of beliefs present among Israelis has inspired me.  While I volunteer at an extremely secular school, I often have Shabbat dinners with a modern Orthodox Jewish family.  
One weekend, I headed to Tekoa, a settlement in the West Bank, to experience Shabbat there.  
While enjoying the Friday night dinner, I couldn’t help but wonder, Why would the family live in such a controversial area? Why would they raise their children in a place that has the potential for hostility from their neighbors?  
For my host family, the answers were obvious. 
“This is where I grew up,” the father of my host family said over servings of potatoes, couscous and chicken. “This is where my ancestors lived.  This is where my father moved to give us a better life.  Why should I move just because some people don’t think Israelis should live here?” 
Although I have my own opinions, it was eye-opening to finally understand his point of view.  
Because so many people are educated differently in Israel, the people have diverse ways of thinking and, more importantly,expertise in problem solving. 
Israel has overcome many difficult situations and still has much more work to do. Though much about Israel’s future is uncertain, I am sure that education will determine where the country will be in one year, five years, and ten years from now. 
The opportunity to see first-hand how great an impact education can have on a society has led me to pursue a career as a high school history teacher.  
This fall, I will begin a graduate program in education at Northwestern University.  
I have no doubt that I will use what I have learned in Israel to open my students’ minds to the larger world that awaits them.
Published : January 03, 2013
By Anna Kaminsky, Hebrew University
I spent the best six months of my life studying at the Masa Israel-accredited Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The things I did, the things I learned, the people I met – I will never forget any of it. But one of the things I will cherish most is the friendship I developed with a guy named Ghassan.
Ghassan is a year and a half younger than me but you would never know it. He has Mediterranean skin, shaggy dark brown hair, and inviting dark brown eyes. His smile is genuine and his laughter contagious. 
He lived in the building next to mine in the student dorm village, and he was also friends with some other guys I knew. I met him one night when we all hung out downtown.
He wasted no time. Right off the bat, he made me very comfortable and had me cracking up. I immediately felt like I had known him for a while, like we were long-time buddies or long-lost siblings--except for the fact that we weren’t. 
No… we definitely were not.Ghassan Jamil Mohammed is one of the fortunate Palestinians who study at Hebrew University. Ghassan knew he was not like the rest. 
Like a green apple in a bag full of red, he wasn’t completely different from all the students around him but he also wasn’t quite the same. But he wasn’t angry about it. 
I never heard him even raise his voice, unless he was getting really enthusiastic about telling a funny joke.We became buds. 
We did our laundry together, got coffee together, had lunch together at the nearby Arab-owned falafel place that so many of the students preferred. 
We hung out in each other’s apartments, we got beer together, and we relaxed on towels in the sun together in the quad. 
We were great friends who did normal friend-like things together. We also learned a lot from each other in a way that not many friends can say they have.
To call it a unique dynamic would not do it justice. He was a Palestinian who felt slighted by the country he lived in and I was a Jew who had come to that same country to connect with her religion and the overwhelming national spirit. 
We couldn’t have been more opposite – at least in that respect.
In many other ways, Ghassan and I were similar. We both wanted a good education, we were both calm and collected, and we were both open and more than happy to hear each other’s opinions on anything and everything. 
We had our differences, but we also shared a camaraderie that can’t quite be explained, and many people wouldn’t believe – or perhaps, support – it anyway. 
But it was a magical thing and conceivably the single most enlightening element of my time abroad. 
Regardless of the fact that Ghassan might post anti-Israel links on his Facebook wall while I proudly share links of Netanyahu’s speeches, we were, indeed, the best of friends. 

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