Masa Israel Journey Blog

Published : February 19, 2013
By Orah Gidanian, Me'ohr Baeis Yaakov
My goal when deciding to spend the year in an institute in Israel was the classic one- I wanted to grow. 
I wanted to mature and expand myself from experiences that I would not be privy to otherwise. 
Except I don’t think I truly knew or understood what the word meant or what it was I meant when saying “I want to grow”. 
Growth is such an elusive word. So overused and abused making it hard to define. 
And growth is so personal that each definition is only dependent on the person defining it. 
When I think of my experiences of learning in Israel for the year, no single event stands out in my mind. 
When I think of Israel, however, I think of the thousands of different people and the thousand and one different life styles each lives. 
I think of the beauty of that diversity, of each group finding a life that works for them and living it to the fullest.  
And it was when I saw this that I realized exactly what growth meant to me.  
Too often in my life, I had my own explanation for things. 
I knew-and therefore, I didn’t see the need in perceiving things differently, not realizing how much I would have gained from or appreciated another view. 
My mistake was in being puerile, content with just my own view, which led me to become close minded to anyone else’s opinion. 
Yet my experience in Israel was enlightening. 
It is impossible to walk through geula, have a meal in the Old City, pray at the kotel, or sit on a city bus, without becoming aware of all the different views and opinions that shape our people. 
Everyone I came into contact with I could learn from- and I knew then what growth meant to me. 
Growth meant cultivating an openness. 
It meant a willingness to listen and acknowledging what was being said around me. 
I didn’t have to agree with what I heard, but by acknowledging what someone had to say, there was the opportunity to learn from that person and grow, both as an individual and a member of society. 
Openness leads to pluralistic thinking, which in turn leads to a heightened awareness of different possibilities. 
It leads to a non-linear perspective and openness to angles outside your own reality tunnel. 
A chronic inability to be open to other views ultimately results in a chronic dearth of ideas. 
Because no matter how sure we may be about what we believe to be true and no matter how sincere and noble our efforts may be about articulating that truth. 
If a mind really is “open,” it is not finished. It is still open to influence, to change, to growth. 
Israel taught me to recognize that there are ideas outside my realm of understanding that I could benefit from, and once I learnt to see this I was able to take what was outside and integrate it within myself, finally pinning down what it was I wanted all along- growth. 
Published : February 19, 2013


By Melissa Beiser, Israel Teaching Fellows 

If Birthright is the honeymoon (or Taglit for those who don’t call it Birthright), my  current long term Israel program is a combination between marriage and reliving the glory days of college.


I will never forget my first ten days here in February. Well not ‘here’ per se. Saying ‘here’ would mean that I was sitting in my college-style apartment, at my laptop, with the Air Conditioner kicking and leftovers from tonight’s dinner sitting in my fridge along with some assorted vegetable remnants from my last trip to the shuk.

What ‘here’ really means is the Israel that I thought I knew. The one that wooed me with milk, honey, and the best falafels eight sheckels could buy. The one that lifted me up effortlessly and carried me over the alter of the Yam ha Maved.

We spent a crazy night together in the most welcoming Beduoin Tent that Jewish programming could arrange for. I fell in love with Israel’s golden tipped fingers reaching for the starry night sky and waning moon. His starry eyes winking at me from his reflection in the Jordan River.

Israel and I have been through a lot since that whirlwind romance. I knew I had to come back for more, thinking about the lovely and comforting arms of the country as I was being moved from my childhood home into a dry Arizona desert.

To leave one desert for another, seems kind of silly sometimes but Israel is not just a desert.


I remember the early days of our reunion, as the surrealism sank in and I felt strangely at home in the familiarity of this modern place. Time was lost somewhere along the way—in baggage claims perhaps—as the days drifted along easily.

Israel boasts nearly all of my comforts from home. I have an internet connection, an array of chocolate, several malls, a treadmill, a washer-dryer, and a college-sized bed at my disposal.

There may not be a Trader Joe’s, Wholefoods, or Starbucks but there are plenty of Mc Donald’s’, American food products at the grocery stores, a few Gap stores and Forever21 stores spread around and even a very New York style sushi place in the Big called Kampai.

It is a nice balance in Israel of the familiar and the new.

It is a huge adjustment living abroad for the first time and the first month was the hardest in that the 26 of us living in Be’er Sheva to teach weren’t yet teaching.

We were being taught how to teach. Taking classes and lectures. Stuffed into program logo-d t-shirts and forced on stage to partake in ice-breakers with the other Americans from other cities on ‘the journey.’

Out of all the girls that tried to hold onto long distance relationships, the last one started to crumble just days ago as we approach the second month.

I knew mine was over once I left him in New York to try my luck in Arizona.

At the moment, I have eyes only for Israel. Hungry to explore the unseen territories tucked away into remote villages, crusade-era cities, and places the tourists don’t get to find out about.

When I go out drinking though on the nights I feel a need for more than just the country, sometimes my eyes wander towards the rough-cheeked former soldiers clustered around sweaty bar stools.

As the sun rises on the morning after and I stumble along the sandy streets with the soft chords of The Connell’s ’74-’75 still in my ears and the taste of bitter coffee still on my breath, I focus my affections back onto Israel and I let the landscape wrap around me and lead me home.


Originally posted on The Times of Israel

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