Gabi Gordon

Gabi Gordon

Nativ
Program: 
 
Raised in a Conservative home in Chicago, Judaism was always a part of my life. I attended Solomon Schechter for elementary school and then got involved in USY. While a junior in high school, I took part in the Alexander Muss semester program in Israel. It was then that I decided I needed to return for another extended period of time.
 
My chance to do so came soon enough. After graduation, I enrolled in Masa Israel’s Nativ, the Conservative movement’s gap year program in Israel. During that year, I had the opportunity to get to know the areas where I lived. While taking courses in Arabic, Jewish studies and Hebrew at Hebrew University during the first half of the year, I was also able to explore Jerusalem. I went to festivals, museums, and the market on a regular basis. I traveled to the Old City and visited the Kotel whenever I felt like it. On Yom Kippur, when the streets are devoid of cars, my friends and I sat in an intersection and sang, and the Israelis who passed joined in.
 
I also had the opportunity to volunteer at the Jerusalem YMCA’s preschool, which has both Arab and Jewish students.
 
I spent the second half of the year in Yerucham, a development town in the south—which allowed me to see a very different side of Israel. There, few people spoke English and I worked at a religious girls’ school with people who were very excited to learn English from Americans. My host family was incredibly hospitable, inviting me for meals and to take part in hiking trips. 
 
Leaving Israel was very difficult and after a year at Columbia/JTS, I decided that I needed to return to Israel. Recently I made aliyah through Garin Tzabar, a program that enables me to live on a kibbutz alongside other new immigrants around my age, while enlisting in the Israeli army. 
 
I am currently living on Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu and still keep in touch with all my counselors from Nativ, as well as my friends from Yerucham. I am so glad I participated in Nativ because it really allowed me to explore Israel and discover a place for myself in it.

Dana Bornstein

Dana Bornstein

Nativ
Program: 
 
I’ve become a Big Sister.
 
I’m volunteering at a Kfar Yeladim, or children’s village, in Karmiel, a small city in the Galilee.
 
What brought me here is Masa Israel’s Nativ, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism’s college leadership gap-year program. I began my nine months in Israel studying at Hebrew University. Then I was sent to Karmiel because of my experience working with disadvantaged youth.
 
Founded more than 30 years ago, the Kfar Yeladim is a large gated community of 17 houses, each home to 11 children from broken families. Some of these kids know no other home than this village.
 
Living in each of these homes are a “housemother” and “housefather”; nearly all of them have their own children, whom they are also raising in the village. Other than its own schools, the village has everything the families could possibly need: a grocery store, computer rooms, sports fields, music rooms, homework tutors, psychologists, playgrounds, and even buses to take the children around Karmiel. 
 
I work with house parents who have lived in the village for 12 years and raised their own three children there. They are paid next to nothing. They rely on secondhand clothes, grocery store money points, donations from others and whatever they can earn from odd jobs. But despite their hardships, the Kfar families have come to cherish the simple gifts that life has to offer.
 
While my house parents speak English, the children – who range in age from 7 to 16 – hardly speak a word of it. But the language barrier has given me the opportunity to connect with them on so many other levels: through computer games, English homework tutoring, soccer, playground games, TV programs and even cooking. Though they don’t always need my help, the kids make sure to include me in their everyday lives. 
 
Seeing smiles on the kids’ faces when I come over to spend time with them and getting a hug on Thursday before I leave for the weekend make me so thankful that I’ve decided to take a gap year in Israel. 

Jenna Silverman

Jenna Silverman

Nativ
Program: 
Having progressed through the Conservative movement’s landmark institutions and programs for youth, from Solomon Schechter Day School to U.S.Y. to Ramah Seminar in Israel, Jenna Silverman viewed Nativ as the next step in her life as a Conservative Jew. “My older sister went on Nativ a few years before and it was a great opportunity to live in Israel without having other things to worry about in my life,” she said. 
 
While on Nativ, Jenna studied at Hebrew University during the first part of the year and then lived and volunteered as an English teacher for fourth to sixth grades in Be’er Sheva. “The kids were so appreciative to be learning from a native English speaker, and living in Be’er Sheva was great for me,” Jenna said. “Because Be’er Sheva is not Americanized, I was able to learn Hebrew, become a part of the culture, and venture outside the American bubble.” 
 
When Jenna began her studies at the University of Maryland, she became involved in the Jewish Student Union. Jenna’s position as a Masa Israel campus representative led to greater involvement in Jewish communities on campus. “Because it is a non-political and non-religiously affiliated organization, I was able to advertise Masa Israel in a variety of Jewish and pro-Israel programs,” Jenna said. Some of the activities at which Jenna promoted Masa Israel programs include Piece of Parsha, a gathering in which students study the weekly Torah portion, a poker tournament co-sponsored with AEPi, and an event featuring a speaker from Sderot Media Center. 
 
As a result of her presence in many different Israel and Jewish arenas on campus, Jenna recruited the second-highest number of college students to Masa Israel programs. 
 
This year, in addition to continuing her work as a Masa Israel campus representative, Jenna will represent students on the Hillel International Board of Directors, a position for which she was nominated by the director of the University of Maryland’s Hillel. 
 
Jenna believes that it is a result of her year spent in Israel that she has attained her position in the Jewish community on campus and that a long-term experience will prove just as valuable for others. “My experiences in Israel further connected me, just being there and living in a strong Jewish environment,” she said. “It’s so important for me to share my experiences with people in college, because we’re at the best time in our lives to go. We’re trying to find ourselves now, and living in Israel while immersed in the culture helps solidify our connection to Judaism for the rest of our lives.” 

Elana Stern

Elana Stern

Young Judaea Year Course - Social Action Track
I looked down at the muddy floor again and, just to be sure, I gazed back at the water tap in the ceiling. Nothing. It was my second day in Rwanda, and there was no running water. I had listened to all the other advice we had been given but I hadn’t believed that running water would actually stop.
 
I spent the month of February volunteering at the Agahozo Shalom Youth Village in Rwanda. I would do things I once thought entirely out of the realm of possibility in my life (chopping down trees with a machete, building a warehouse out of concrete and bricks, teaching English and French to African orphans).
 
Built in response to the overwhelming orphan population in post-genocide Rwanda, the village is probably one of the region’s most advanced places. Housing up to 500 orphans at a time, the village also employs women whose families were murdered during the genocide, to take on the roles of house mothers for families of 16. In addition to American and Israeli volunteers, the village staff includes therapists, social workers, teachers, kitchen workers, and a construction crew.
 
In Rwanda, our major project was constructing a warehouse to store clothing and goods donations. The first day was undoubtedly the hardest but, by the end, we were carrying bricks in piles of five or six, wheelbarrows full of cement, and several-gallon jerry cans overflowing with water. In time, the work got easier and, in the process, we became friends with the construction workers.
 
My time in Rwanda wasn’t just about building a warehouse but it was about making a measurable and memorable change.
 
Each day, I felt our impact on the people around us, especially while building a mud hut for a man named Peter, who has seven children. With a little mud and a lot of smiles, we were able to make a critical difference in his family’s life.
 
When I returned to Israel, I turned on the shower in my Jerusalem apartment; to my surprise, water came out — and I cried. Not (only) because I was so excited to have returned to reliable plumbing, but because I now knew are people in this world who will never know this luxury, may never attend a university or fulfill their potential. This is a tragedy that is now real to me, because I have seen it and lived it firsthand. And now, more than ever, I want to change it.
 
I now know that a small group of determined people can change the world, one brick and one English class at a time.

Hannah Pollack

Hannah Pollack

Nativ
Program: 
 
After attending a Jewish elementary school in Morris County, I became very active in USY when I switched to public high school. Upon graduation, I decided to defer my acceptance to Brandeis and participate in Masa Israel’s Nativ, the Conservative movement’s college leadership program. It seemed like the perfect capstone to my USY involvement.
 
During the first part of my year in Israel, I studied at Hebrew University and during the second part, I volunteered in Beer Sheva. At Hebrew University, I had the opportunity to take courses that truly appealed to me. Because I would not be receiving credit from Brandeis, I worked hard simply because I cared about the topics.
 
Towards the end of my stay in Jerusalem, I took part in an EMT training course to prepare me for my work with Magen David Adom in Beer Sheva. The training was intense and got me ready to work on the ambulance. Beyond having first-response skills, I was able to help patients feel comfortable as a result of my Hebrew fluency. I also volunteered at Chetz, a program for adults with mental disabilities, where I taught English and computer skills.
 
In America, I am constantly getting lost, but somehow, in Israel, I always knew where I wanted to go and figured out how to get there. One Shabbat, a few friends and I headed to the Dead Sea with tents and sleeping bags. When the sun set, same sang Kabbalat Shabbat songs in their tents, while others sat around playing guitar late into the night. We camped out among Arabs and Jews and it was a beautiful weekend.
 
I discovered a home for myself in Israel, and back in the United States, I stay closely connected to Israel and Judaism. During my first year at Brandeis, I served as a freshman representative on the Hillel board and sophomore year, I served as the educational coordinator. Beyond strengthening my relationship with Israel, I believe that my Masa Israel gap year in Israel made me a lot more focused. I came to college with a different level of life experience than my peers, having spent a year immersed in another culture.
 
On Nativ, I learned how to cherish the present and then, how to move on. I try to keep in touch as much as possible with my friends from Nativ and I look forward to visiting Israel again (maybe to see my sister who will be on Nativ next year). Right now, I am truly enjoying my English and psychology studies. I have many dreams for my future, and one is a continued relationship with Israel.

Sarit Tolzis

Sarit Tolzis

Young Judaea Year Course
For as long as I can remember, spending a year in Israel after graduation was considered an automatic norm. I attended a modern-Orthodox Jewish Day School in Cleveland that teaches Judaic Studies as part of its curriculum, and where almost all the students spend a year in Israel before college. I had been to Israel several times before: I had trekked up Masada at sunrise with friends, enjoyed the sun of the Eilat beach with siblings, and solemnly paraded to the Kotel on Shavuot night with family. Typically, girls from my community attend seminaries. But when senior year approached, I realized that I didn’t want to attend a yeshiva in an American neighborhood with American teachers and American leaders. Instead, I sought a program that promised I would really get to know Israel and its people, make great friends, and get some college credits along the way. I enrolled in the Shalem track of Year Course – a modern-Orthodox twist on Young Judaea’s Year Course that incorporates Jewish learning and activities into the daily routine. Shalem enabled me to develop a meaningful connection with Israel and afforded me a sense of independence that prepared me for life after the program.
 
The Year Course program immerses its participants into Israeli society, a feature that clearly distinguishes it from other, more insular programs for young American Jews. For the first part of the program, my peers and I lived in Bat Yam, a small city south of Tel Aviv. We lived in apartments throughout the city, which ensured we got to know the Israelis around us. The girls in my apartment, frustrated by the expenses and hassle of lugging laundry to the cleaners, soon felt comfortable enough to knock on our neighbors’ door and do our laundry there. During the days, we were assigned a volunteer project. I was assigned to an aftercare center with young children, many of whom were immigrants from broken homes. My assignment was hard work; I helped the kids with their homework, fed them lunch, and ensured they cooperated in group activities, all in Hebrew! This initially daunting task, however, soon became a natural regimen as I learned about the kids, their families, and their histories. I began to regard my assignment as a personal responsibility and a source of pride. Soon, we got to know the people of the city – not only were we doing laundry at the apartment next door, but we were invited to Shabbat meals at our neighbors’, became buddies with the local makolet owners, and met our favorite restaurant owner’s family. Bat Yam is not the most glamorous city in Israel, but the relationships with the people of Bat Yam that we forged in the three months’ stay made Bat Yam a special place for us. Similar relationships were established in each of the cities where we lived. These relationships couldn’t have been formed during just any vacation or learned from any textbook.
 
On Year Course, I also learned how to live like a mature and independent adult. While living in apartments, each person was given a weekly stipend, which we pooled together and used to buy groceries. We learned that Sweet Chili Sauce goes with everything. We learned that uncooked pasta and sauce is cheaper than ready-made food. We learned to avoid the candy aisles and go straight to milk and eggs. Such revelations enabled us to live safely and healthily without immediate help at our disposal.
 
Throughout the year we continually assumed greater self-reliance. The biggest test of my newfound responsibility came in the final three months when I became a Magen David Adom (MDA) volunteer. I learned Basic Life Support, which I put to practice during daily shifts assisting EMTs in an ambulance. The responsibility that I felt every time I was in the ambulance with a patient really made me grow up fast. We learned to think quickly, speak cleverly, and act precisely. I also learned about the fragility of health and to not take anything for granted.
 
All Shalem participants felt the love for Israel and new sense of independence; many of my peers returned to Israel, some to join the army, some to go to university, and even some to continue their original volunteering assignments. I was jealous, but I decided I needed to return home. After my bittersweet homecoming I pledged to remember what I learned and keep the momentum going.
 
Now attending the University of Pennsylvania. I have embraced my connection with Israel, taking Hebrew language courses and Israeli Film and Literature courses. I frequent the Hillel with all my friends both during the week and on Shabbat. Some of my friends grew tired of hearing about Israel from me and traveled there this summer. I anticipate that I will continue this momentum onward.

The ZFA Trains a New Generation of Israel Advocates

The ZFA Trains a New Generation of Israel Advocates

July 21, 2011

Twenty young Australians visiting Israel on IBC, AUJS Aviv or Bnei Akiva shnat Masa programs dedicated three days to an intensive seminar, preparing them to be activists and advocates for Israel upon their return to Australia.
The future of Australia’s Israel advocacy activity now looks even stronger, following the second instalment of the Zionist Federation of Australia’s Israel Advocacy Seminar for long term Israel program participants.
 
The seminar program was developed and implemented in conjunction with Michelle Rojas Tal from StandWithUS, who has visited Australia several times in recent years, impressing us with her knowledge and ability to present Israel’s case.
 
As advocacy evolves from newsprint to new media, the session from Neil Lazarus on Digital Diplomacy was crucial. Not only did Neil sketch the map of the new media, he provided tools to not only navigate within it, and also direct the agendas. By the end of his session, participants had set up their own websites, newsfeeds and blogs.
 
Headline Media, a company specialising in training public speakers for television, worked with the participants on their presentation skills – getting the message right and presenting it in the best possible ways. Challenging them to be videoed and analysed, the session leaders took the participants to a new level of experience and confidence.
 
Aussie Oleh Mark Regev, who serves as PM Netanyahu’s advisor, tested the participants’ skills and responses in a high energy, interactive session.
 

Sara Helps Save a Child’s Heart

Sara Helps Save a Child’s Heart

July 20, 2011

Three years ago, Sara Isman visited the Save A Child’s Heart house in Israel…this year she returned as a volunteer to work with the organisation.
In 2008, Isman visited the home in Holon as part of the March of the Living program. The SACH house is a houses children and their mothers or guardians from all over the world…children visiting Israel to receive heart surgery unavailable at home and performed on them voluntarily by Israeli surgeons.
 
Isman was so impressed that on her return to Melbourne in 2008, she organised fund-raising for the project from her own school, Yavneh College together with The King David School and Mount Scopus College. This year, the 19-yr-old from Caulfield North, returned to Israel in her gap year participating in the  Zionist Federation of Australia’s Masa program. The prgram finished a few weeks ago and Sara Isman  moved into the SACH House to volunteer for three weeks.
 

IBC 2011 5 months -- a participant's perspective

<div class="masa-blog-title">IBC 2011 5 months -- a participant's perspective</div>

By Kyla Meyerson, South Africa, Israel By Choice
 
As I lie on the beach of Kibbutz Ma'agan Michael feeling the beaming sunshine, listening to booming Israeli music and the pinging of Israeli beach bats, I acknowledge the buzzing energy of this astounding country. Seriously, what more could you possibly wish for? This has been such a fun weekend visitng my South African friends who are staying on the Kibbutz.
 

Avi Gordon

Avi Gordon

Young Judaea Year Course
After graduating from the Young Judaea summer camps, Young Judaea Year Course seemed like the next natural step for Avi Gordon.
 
Having attended Jewish elementary school, public high school and an Orthodox synagogue, Avi wanted to further explore his Judaism and enrolled in Year Course’s Shevet Track, Young Judaea’s Jewish enrichment program.
 
“I wanted to have the best possible experience on my gap year program and to me that meant learning as much as possible about religion, culture and myself,” says Avi.
 
Avi appreciated having the opportunity take part in diverse Jewish communities in Israel. “One day, I was studying alongside guys in black hats at the Mir Yeshiva in Meah Shearim and, and then another day, I was at Pardes, taking part in a very different kind of learning,” says Avi. “Shevet gave us tastes of Judaism and then let us decide what we wanted.”
 
On his first Shabbat, Avi recalls how the awkward getting-to-know-each-other tension was diffused on a four hour walk to the Old City which culminated in a meaningful prayer service. “The guy leading the service was very powerful and emotional, and all of a sudden, a ton of people joined in from all Jewish backgrounds,” says Avi.  “I felt such a sense of community and I remember thinking, we’re all Jews and we’re in this together.  I knew then that it would be a year of a lifetime.”
 
When the year ended, Avi began studying at Binghamton University, where he was very involved in Jewish life and Israel advocacy work, serving as the AIPAC liaison on his campus.
 
“Not only did I spend a year of my life in Israel, but I have cousins there as well.  I know what’s happening in Israel and when I see people on campus saying lies about Israel and its people, I feel personally offended and I need to speak out,” says Avi.
 
While still a senior at Binghamton, Avi landed a job as the StandWithUs East Coast Campus Coordinator.  He helps educate college students about Israel and works with the Emerson Fellows to advocate for Israel on campus.
 
“I am passionate about Israel and I know I can make a difference.  I’m so thankful to be engaged in this sort of work,” says Avi.