Masa Israel Journey Blog

Published : August 06, 2013
My name is Natanya Meyer and I am repairing the world. Today is Wednesday and I am walking to my "Moadonit" activity center, balancing a sack full of art supplies between my arms and my bright blue guitar on my back. When I arrive, 16 eager children run to the gate to greet me, clapping their hands, and chanting their favorite song, as they do every week since I began more than six months ago. I smile and marvel at their remarkable memory. Today is music day. 
As a Chicago-area native who benefitted from a strong upbringing in the Reform movement, spending my year in Israel was the natural "next step" after University. My love of Judaism and passion for the Jewish community is powerfully connected to Tikkun Olam, our social responsibility as a Jewish People to repair the world. 
Here in Tel Aviv, I work and study with an important program, appropriately titled "Tikkun Olam Tel-Aviv Jaffa." It is one of more than 200 projects sponsored by MASA—an initiative that brings Jewish young adults from the Diaspora for long-term living and learning experiences.
I chose Tikkun Olam because I can live where I work. My apartment is in south Tel Aviv, amongst some of the poorest Israeli citizens, as well as refugees, asylum-seekers, and migrant workers. These are populations sparking some of the most controversial social and political conflicts within our modern world and in our Jewish consciousness. 
I spent my first five months traveling between four sites where I mentored and taught English, music, and art. This was an incredibly demanding but rewarding introduction to Israeli society, and I was able to see tangible changes in the lives of the people I worked for.
Currently, I am an intern at The Jaffa Institute, a private, non-profit, multi-service social agency that assists severely disadvantaged children and their families right here in the neighborhoods that I have grown to love so much. This highly respected organization provides educational, recreational and social enrichment programs that work to break the cycle of poverty in this area.
Every day I work on various grant applications to help run more than 30 programs sponsored by The Jaffa Institute. I have gained the skills to work directly with a wide range of clients, and am now learning tools specific to the administrative and donation-oriented side of a non-profit organization.
Yes, I have moved from working "in the field" to a position "behind the desk," but I am not mourning the loss. My year in Israel has equipped me with a multi-faceted experience of how service agencies operate. I am in a strong position to return to Chicago and pursue a profession within the Jewish community.
Natanya Meyer, originally from Lake Zurich, is a recent graduate of Tulane University, participating in a 10-month Masa program called Tikkun Olam, where she serves as the grants intern for The Jaffa Insitute. Originally published in JUF News.
Published : August 01, 2013
By Samantha Sisisky, Yahel Social Change Program
I’m entering my last week in Gedera, and I’m not sure how to feel about it.  This weekend, we had our final group Shabbat weekend.  We ate a beautiful, delicious, watermelon-themed Shabbat dinner together, spent time at the beach and even received “awards” (does anyone else think I have a flair for the overdramatic?).  As everyone in my house now knows, I love when things come full circle.  Not only do I love full circles, I need them.  I feel that it’s the only way to get the closure I need to move onto the next chapter of my life.  Having this final Shabbat echoed our first Shabbat as a group, in September.  I led an activity during that Shabbat that we closed up this past weekend.
During our first group Shabbat, I had everyone write down on one piece of paper their biggest fear for the year and on another, their biggest hope.  I kept them all year, so we didn’t look at them until Saturday night.  I think we had all forgotten what we had written down in September.  When  I read mine, I nearly lost it.  My fear: homesickness; my goal: to feel a part of the community/to feel at home.  The revelation of my hopes and fears so long ago struck a deep chord in me.  For the first time, I realized that I was actually ending this experience (and that’s why I need the circles).  I also realized how far I’ve come.  My ideas of home are so muddy and confused now.  Virginia is home, the US is home, but Gedera is home, too.  Tel Aviv will be home soon, too.  The fact that I’ve even gotten to that point is incredible, considering how hard it was to be here at first.  I guess I will always carry some sort of homesickness now, whether I’m in the US or in Israel.  It’s not intense, but it’ll always be there.  It’s a good thing.
As I read my hope again, I wondered whether if I had achieved it.  Was I a part of the community?  I thought to Desta Fest, and I thought yes, we all became a part of the community.  For the past few months, my group worked on organizing an Ethiopian cultural festival in the neighborhood.
We wanted to connect the younger and older generations, make young people proud of Ethiopian culture and showcase it to non-Ethiopian community members.  We worked with people from all ages in the community to make this event happen.  I say that we worked on it for the past few months, but it was really a 9 month process.  We’ve built relationships in this community for the past nine months, and without those relationships, the event would have never happened.  There was homemade food, music, dancing and crafts.
I’ll include some pictures that will speak for the event itself.  It was a difficult and rewarding experience and well worth it. There were people of all ages, all backgrounds, sitting together and enjoying a culture that is often overlooked or ignored in this country.  As a wise friend wrote in an email about the event,
“The festival gave a great feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction: great ideas actually work.  Community works.”
It’s very hard knowing how to say goodbye now.  On one hand, I’m so excited to go home and see my friends and family, and most importantly, CC.  On the other hand, I can’t believe I’m closing this chapter.  It’s even more confusing because I’m coming back to Israel next year.  But it won’t be Gedera, it won’t be Yahel.  It will be different, and I need to figure out how to compound all these emotions into some kind of coherent goodbye.  I will say this–this experience has been incredible.  It has changed me.  I owe a huge thank you to everyone at Yahel, my seven roommates and program-mates and everyone in Gedera who has made me feel like a part of the community.  I’ll end here with my high school senior quote, and yes it is from Catcher in the Rye and yes, it is cliche, but these words seem to keep coming back to me time and time again:

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