Masa Israel Journey Blog

Published : December 31, 2013
We’ve come to that time in the (Gregorian) calendar when we take a moment to stop, reflect on the previous 365 days, and make promises to ourselves to become better people in the year to come. Though these promises are made with the best of intentions, New Year’s resolutions are notoriously easy to break--research shows that just 8% of us actually succeed in achieving our New Year’s Resolutions. 
Want to finally join that elite 8% this year? Here are some of the most common New Year’s resolutions and some ideas on how to keep them this year. 
1. Get into shape
Losing weight and getting healthy top many people’s resolutions list, yet enthusiasm for fitness often fizzles by February. To stay committed, join a program like Budokan to enter a supportive community of active peers with professional fitness instruction, or intern with an association like Netanya Hoops for Kids. If those options aren’t right for you, use one of the free outdoor gyms located in parks and on beaches all around Israel, or sign up for Crossfit Tel Aviv, which offers a discount for Masa Israel participants!
2. Learn a new language
Becoming bilingual is classic goal for people dedicated to self-improvement, yet it often proves too difficult to find the time and resources to truly commit to learning a new language. Everyone knows the best way to achieve fluency in a new language is to immerse yourself in a foreign country, so why not make the leap this year and study Hebrew (and/or Arabic) in Israel? All Masa Israel programs include ulpan (intensive Hebrew courses), but programs like Kibbutz Ulpan allow you to study Hebrew for hours each day while experiencing the quintessentially Israeli kibbutz lifestyle.   
3. Get a better job
Though the unemployment numbers are less dreary than in recent years, finding a job you love that pays well can often be tricky. Getting your foot in the door to your dream industry is the first step, and gaining impressive experience is the second. In Israel, interns are entrusted with real responsibility from day one, getting their hands dirty as an integral part of the team. Thousands of young adults have come to Israel to intern in the entertainment industry, the fashion world, the highest offices of government, high-profile start-ups and tons of other sectors, which helped them get noticed by awesome employers back home, so get a head start on this resolution by exploring an internship in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem or Haifa.
4. Help others and give back
The holiday ethos reminds us how fortunate we are and encourages the spirit of giving. Yet as the snow melts, so do our feelings of goodwill towards all. Make volunteering a priority this year and you’ll reap the benefits. Whether you’re interested in coexistence, education, community involvement, or sustainability, a service-learning program in Israel will connect your with your cause while providing a framework of education and introspection to help you process the experience. 
5. Stop procrastinating
Don’t let this year’s resolutions become next year’s resolutions. Spend five-to-ten months in Israel interning, volunteering or studying and make this year one you’ll never forget.  And with grants and scholarships offered by Masa Israel, there’s no better time than now.
Published : December 27, 2013
I initially wanted to attend the fall Masa Israel Leadership Summit for a few superficial reasons, the comfortable beds, nice shower and abundance of free food.  Spending the last four months in a cramped apartment in Ashdod made the summit impossible to pass up.  Most of what I expected to gain was a full belly, a few good nights' rest and clean hair. But I ended up getting a lot more than I bargained for.  
Due to the worst storm in Israel's collective memory, the summit was delayed by a day. I hadn't gotten the message until I was on my way to the meeting place in Tel Aviv.  When I arrived there was a lot of chaos and misinformation about where we could go and what was going on in Jerusalem.  People from other programs were going to brave the storm and head the capitol anyway. I wasn't ready to face Jerusalem, a city in a state of emergency because of 1 1/2 feet of snow, and the real possibility of sleeping on the floor in Jerusalem Central Bus Station. After standing around talking in circles about where we should go, I boarded a train to Haifa with a small group from one of the other ITF programs. 
The following day buses from all over the country brought the stranded summit-goers together at Neot Kedumim, a biblical garden in Modi'in, to kick off the week.  We broke into groups went out into the garden. The day started with a few of the "get to know you" games that can usually elicit a few audible sighs from any group. Most people dread this sort of thing but they're right up my alley.
I have degree in public relations and sustainability management, with a professional certification in project management. Since graduating in 2010, I have worked in various non-profit organizations recruiting and leading volunteers, and AmeriCorps members to complete restoration projects in California, Oregon and Washington. As an AmeriCorps member myself, I always wanted the best experience and that is what I tried to give to my volunteers and team members. 
Back in Modi'in we were taken to a small shelter on the side of a hill overlooking the Tel Aviv metropolitan area. Three tables covered in sand were set and we weren't sure what we were in for.  Our guide explained to us that we were going to build a sand castle, but there was more to it than just building a plain, old sand castle.  We would be broken up into small groups, each with a team leader, and given specific deliverables and guidelines to follow during an allotted time. 
I volunteered as team leader and hand-picked my group.  My leadership style has always been very collaborative.  I have found that by making members feel like they can take ownership over a piece of the project, it motivates then to work as a team and are more invested in seeing the group succeed as a whole.  Our sand castle was no exception.
Judging competencies, we moved forward each with our assigned tasks. One group member had an eye for detail, so they made sure our dimensions were on target. Another member wanted to get their hands dirty so they were our construction lead.  I filled in with tasks as needed, but mainly I kept an eye on time and quality control.  
At the end of the time, we had a pretty good-looking sand castle that met all of the specifications. The points were tallied and we beat the other groups in a landslide.  We left the activity, everyone feeling accomplished, motivated and connected. Completing more than just the specified outcome of the activity – more than just a sandcastle.
This was the perfect way to start the week.  In spite of the chaos of the previous day, we were able to hit the ground running by quickly creating a sense of camaraderie. There's nothing like a mutual struggle to quickly find common ground.  I think that we bonded over sharing stories of our alternative plans from the day before. 
Of all the great, knowledgeable speakers during the conference what I enjoyed most was this home group. This core group of people from all over the world that were able to come together as strangers, build a sand castle and leave as friends.
Emily Hirschman of Vancouver, WA, is teaching English in an underprivledged community of Ashdod through Masa's Israel Teaching Fellows program. She was invited to attend the Masa Israel Post-College Leadership Summit, an intensive, five-day learning and skill-building seminar for exceptional participants of Masa Israel programs, designed to provide participants with the skills and knowledge needed to become a strong and active Jewish leader.
Photo: Emily Hirschman

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