Masa Israel Journey Blog

Published : January 16, 2014
By Alisa Wills, on Masa Israel's SEE Galilee program
Before having ever stepped foot in Israel, I signed up for a long-term program without a second thought. I wish I could say I knew about the culture, had family and friends here, and new what I was getting myself into. But the truth is, I didn’t know or have any of these: just an overwhelming feeling that since it was Israel, everything would be alright.
I can’t say exactly what I expected, because my knowledge of the country was so limited. I definitely thought we would be going to a remote area and helping an impoverished population, which I think also speaks to my lack of understanding of the country. For SEE Galilee, I had a vision for what I wanted my experience in Israel to be and I saw the program as providing what was essential for me to make that happen, not vice versa. I came into this wanting to get my hands dirty, wanting to get to know the Israeli’s around me and to learn from them. I came with initial focus on microfinance and made it my first priority to learn about the area. I read hundreds of pages of economic and demographic analysis about the Galil and met with as many people as I could. I felt I had no right to come as an outsider and think ‘hello, I’m here to help you’ without even understanding who the ‘you’ was and what would be ‘helpful’ to the area.
Within the first few weeks, it became clear that my initial idea was not suited for the population of the Galil. I wasn’t disheartened, as this led me to Laura, a key mentor who has been instrumental in my experience in the Galil. She founded and runs her own international marketing and consulting firm and I started to work with her on these projects. This taught me more about the ventures in the north and the entrepreneurial ecosystem. There are a lot of talented, both technically and entrepreneurially, individuals in the Galil, although the network and support system for them is lacking. One of Laura’s projects is to open the communication in the entrepreneurial community here and create more resources, even including an incubator or accelerator. I truly believe in this mission and identify with this community. Living in Gainesville, Florida, a small college town in the South East of the United States, I often felt on the periphery of the Silicon Valley entrepreneurial world. I worked for Grooveshark, a successful music startup, while living in Gainesville and I saw how much of a difference one or two key startups can be in kickstarting the community. They grappled with whether to move out west or to stay in Gainesville, lay down roots and develop the entrepreneurial infrastructure in the area. Just a few years later, the growth in the number of ventures and the strength community is undeniable, it just takes one company or one entrepreneur to be that catalyst.
I knew right away I wanted to be a part of this initiative in the Galil in a meaningful way. I have experience running a program from the states called 3 Day Startup, whose key mission is to kick-start new companies and build entrepreneurial capabilities in communities. They achieve this by bringing together individuals from diverse backgrounds and disciplines to “learn by doing” through building an idea from conception to presentation in just 72 hours. Holding this program in the Galil will help to put it on the map and bring to the forefront the entrepreneurial conversation that is going on in the background.
My overall mission of wanting to have an impact on the community and wanting it to impact me has not changed. But, the method I thought I would achieve this through has changed entirely, and I couldn’t me more thrilled. It addresses the needs of the community and allows me to be not just learning but also adding value.
I have met some great partners in Israel throughout this process and I am not ready to leave. I chose to come here and leave my career and home in the US because I was looking for something more fulfilling, both professionally and spiritually. I feel I have found what I am looking for and am excited to see where this takes me.
Published : January 14, 2014
By Deborah Malheiro, Yahel Social Change Program
The first time I came to Israel was almost four years ago. I arrived in the house of an Israeli guy that I had met in Argentina who would eventually become my boyfriend. I remember it as if it were yesterday: after two days, he asked me, “Do you like hummus?”
I said, “You know, I think we have this thing in Brazil but I have never tasted it.”
He replied, “It’s the national food of Israel, you must like it.” I tried a small bite, really skeptical, because at that time I was really picky with food, and I saw no purpose at all to like the “Israeli national food”  I didn’t like it and my opinion wouldn’t change for three more years.
At the beginning of this year, I found myself living in a kibbutz in the southern Israel. It was my fourth time b’aretz (lit. “in the land,” but, it actually means “in Israel,” as they say in Hebrew). I was only supposed to be there for four months but that turned into six. I am not sure how or when exactly it happened, but I started tasting hummus again and eventually grew to like it. I know I did this more to prove to my boyfriend that I could like hummus, because he would pick on me all the time and say: “YOU MUST EAT HUMMUS, IT IS THE ISRAELI NATIONAL FOOD.”  I was proud of myself for being able to eat hummus, but a little disappointed: I would never feel Israeli without finishing a full bowl of hummus.
So what does all my hummus drama have to do with identity?
It is simple: I am from Brazil. The typical food in Brazil is black beans, preferably with meat.  I love this dish and, as one can presume, it is very hard to find it in Israel. But I am living in Israel now for 10 months.
So what should I do? What type of behavior should I adopt? I can be sad every day because I don’t have beans with meat or make an effort to like the “Israeli national food”? Well, four years ago, I made no effort, since I saw no point in forcing myself to eat something if I would only be here for 15 days. But everything changes a lot once you are living in a foreign country; either you try to adapt to the culture or your life is going to be a Mexican soap opera forever. I mean, a huge drama.
I have been able to choose to like hummus, and this little thing makes me feel like I belong in Israel. If only it were that simple. But culture involves many aspects, of which food is just a single one. However, I think this situation is representative of the identity conflict that many people experience when they move to a foreign country: Should you stick to your own culture or open yourself to a new culture? Personally, I believe that sometimes in life it is better to make the smarter choice, not the most comfortable one. I mean, I would love to wake up and have fruits and cookies for breakfast, black beans for lunch and pepperoni pizza at dinner. But, instead, as long as I am in Israel that is not how it is going to be, at least not on a regular basis. I could cook these dishes every day for myself, and this would be nice, but I don`t think it is most feasible thing to do. If I keep all my Brazilians food habits, I will wake up every single day feeling awful because I am not in Brazil.
So…I choose hummus.
I am currently on the Yahel Social Change Program where I live and work in an Ethiopian community in Gedera. We often discuss the integration process for Ethiopian Israelis into greater Israeli society.  I believe an important part of the integration process is to remember your roots while being open to your new home country and its traditions.  So for Ethiopians, it may be that they eat injera and dabo, the traditional bread, but they also eat hummus and pita.  I believe that acceptance and successful integration into Israeli society is a two way street.  Greater Israeli society should accept and welcome them and respect the culture from their home country, just as the Ethiopian community can learn about and embrace new traditions in Israel.
The integration of the Ethiopian Jews is a complicated issue, and it has not been an easy process. Of course, the blame cannot be put on how often someone eats injera. It was, and still is, difficult for me to adapt to a new culture. For me, it meant to try to like something that I ate one, two, three, four times and it tasted bad. But now hummus tastes good. Nothing in life represents a permanent status, not even cultural gaps. Adaptation and identity can walk together.
But, anyway, I can love hummus, Shawarma, Pita, Jarnu, speak Hebrew and know all Egged bus lines, but I don’t think I will ever feel l like I am truly an Israeli, so I have found a way to balance sticking to my roots even while also adapting to life here in Israel. While I still can say that I much prefer black beans with meat to hummus, somehow, eating hummus helps me feel a little bit more integrated here in Israel.  Hummus may not be my favorite food, but I think I would be worse off without it.

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