Masa Israel Journey Blog

Published : May 14, 2014

By David Sklar, Solidarity of Nations - Achvat Amim 

Over the last four months, I have been participating in a new Masa Israel volunteer program called Solidarity of Nations - Achvat Amim. Looking beyond the worn-out rhetoric of the conflict, this program initially attracted me by allowing me to see the harsh realities on the ground and meet the people who are working for real change in Israel and abroad.  As someone who believes in the importance of dialogue and co-operation, I was particularly attracted by one of Achvat Amim’s main focuses, working with the Hand in Hand school in South Jerusalem.  This school, a successful experiment in Arab-Jewish education, is one of only five in Israel.  Since the beginning of January I have been teaching English as well as Drama. While learning to navigate through the chaos of the Israeli education system, (as someone coming from a structured Canadian upbringing), this school has given me hope for the future of Israel. 

I started off eager and slightly naïve.  I wanted to get into the “thick” of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I wanted to devise a drama program about what my students have to go through on a daily basis and how the school has shaped their lives for the future. I wanted to witness the “other” and have them show me the conflict. Once I stated my intentions with my group, however, I quickly got my own crash course. The students paused, and rolled their eyes.



“Not again!”

“What do you mean?” I asked. 

The students started in.  “They always want us to do that. No one gets it.”

Apparently, I wasn’t the first with this brilliant plan.  Whether it is from the teachers, their parents, or donors from the school, the students felt that they always had to play up how they love one another and that they are “working for peace.”  

Don’t get me wrong; they liked the school and even some of their teachers. But they didn’t see things from an outsider’s perspective.

“Karen isn’t my Jewish friend – she’s my friend. And Ruba isn’t my Palestinian friend I fought with yesterday; she’s my friend I got into an argument with.”

These students live their reality. For them, it isn’t about building bridges, or creating an abstract peace plan.  They are friends and colleagues.  They study together; they play together and get into fights. They care about their test this afternoon, passing and eventually graduating. 

Their unprejudiced outlook on the situation is refreshing –here are people who come from different backgrounds and have different statuses in this country, and yet see one another not as political stats but as people.   

My time at the school has been challenging, rewarding and made me want to continue teaching in the future.  My students have given me the confidence to engage with intelligent youth and create a program that addresses everyone’s needs.

David Sklar of Montreal, Canada, is currently spending five months volunteering with Human Rights NGOs in Jerusalem with the Masa Israel program, Solidarity of Nations - Achvat Amim. 



Published : May 08, 2014
By Caroline Frank, Career Israel
-”I came to Israel to start my international career. I wanted to immerse myself in a foreign culture, hone my hebrew skills and really see what it was like to be an Israeli while meeting new and exciting people from around the world along the way.”
-”Living in Tel Aviv, and being a published writer here – that is going to benefit me for the rest of my life.”
In the past three months I have had many opportunities to share my voice through my writing and paint Israel as the incredibly diverse, wonderful country she is. I have celebrated many Shabbats and chaggim (holidays) here with new friends from across the globe, although none were more awe-inspiring than this week’s commemoration and celebration of Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut.
Growing up in Perth, Western Australia, I always found it strange to celebrate Israel’s independence immediately after the memorial day for fallen soldiers, but being in Medinat Yisrael, I realize it makes sense.  We go from mourning and sorrow straight into dancing, fun and celebration, as we know our freedom and statehood comes at a great price, and the two are truly inseparable.
Our Yom Hazikaron was spent in Jerusalem remembering these fallen men and women, visiting their graves at Mount Herzl and finally joining 10,000 Masa participants in Latrun for a memorial ceremony. Natan Sharansky, chair of the Jewish Agency of Israel spoke and described us as one big family. I looked around and saw a sea of thousands, dressed in white. We are from South America, Canada, South Africa, Hungary, Greece, Italy, America, England, Turkey, Russia, Ukraine, Holland, Australia and countless other places yet it’s our faith, culture, heritage and Zionism which unites us as mishpacha (family).
On that balmy Sunday evening we remembered Nir Cohen, Uriel Bar Maimon, Julie Weiner, Phillip Mosko and Michael Levin –  five fallen soldiers who touched the lives of all those around them. Testimonies of their lives were shared by their family and friends and each soldier’s story evoked deep sorrow, tears and heart-ache from all. As I approach my 25th birthday, I sat there thinking about those soldiers who never reached this milestone, who died so young to fight for Eretz Yisrael and I shed a tear for their memory.
On Monday evening, Israel marked its 66th year of independence. The entertainment was nothing like I ever experienced at my local community’s celebrations in Perth. I grew up where Yom Ha’atzmaut meant a uniform-free day at school where we could wear blue and white for a cold-coin donation to Magen David Adom in Israel. Yet there I was eight years later in Tel Aviv surrounded by a sea of blue and white, being hit in the head with a Magen-David adorned blow-up hammer.
The fireworks went off, music was played and everyone around me broke out in song and dance as performers entertained the sea of thousands. Arik Einstein’s Ani Ve’ata ricocheted across the open space, his lyrics “you and I can change the world” were sung in Hebrew by the masses. It was a bizarre yet wonderful transition from the mourning and sorrow just 24-hours before.
Groups of children played chasey, dousing one another in shaving cream and silly string. Fathers and mothers watched the screaming fireworks light up the sky with their young children balancing on their shoulders. Enveloped by the festive chaos, my hair covered in shaving cream, and donning my Israeli flag, I left Rabin Square at 1am. When I thought the party was over, the frenetic energy picked up on my walk home. Nearby, a dishevelled-looking man was playing the drums on a set of buckets and pots and pans to Israeli trance music and modern-Orthodox men pounded the streets singing for the Messiah.
They were sights I have never seen at home in Australia and was a blue and white balagan etched in my memory for life.
Am Yisrael Chai!
Caroline Frank a journalist from Perth, Australia is currently participating on Masa’s Career Israel 5-month program where she writes for the Jerusalem Post.

Explore The Blog