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.

Ittai Eres

Ittai Eres

Young Judaea Year Course
Name: Ittai Eres
Hometown: Lexington, KY
High School: Lafayette Senior High School
College: Dartmouth College
Program: Young Judaea Year Course
 
Why did you decided to take a gap year in Israel?
I decided to take a gap year in Israel because Zionism was always one of my passions–all of my extended family lives in Israel and both my parents are Israeli–and I wanted to express this passion in a unique way.  I wanted not only to give back to the country I love but also to experience what true Israeli culture is by living there, not just touring.
 
Why did you choose Young Judaea Year Course?
I actually chose Young Judaea Year Course not because I had been a participant in YJ summer camps for many years prior to Year Course, but because it provides a strong balance of volunteering, learning, and exposure to Israeli culture.  I did not want a year off: I wanted a year on.
 
What was the best part of the year?
The best part of the year was hands-down the volunteering work I did with Sudanese and Darfurian refugees in Bat Yam and Arad.
 
What was your most memorable moment in Israel?
My most memorable moment was standing in the Mitzpe Ramon crater one night on an independently planned weekend excursion, observing the stars and appreciating the beauty of the landscape.
 
What was the greatest challenge you overcame while in Israel?
The greatest challenge I overcame while I was in Israel was figuring out what my true identity was: not simply an American with Israeli parents nor an Israeli child of American culture, but, rather, a mixture of both.
 
What were the best skills you gained during your year in Israel?
Easily the best skills I gained were self-management skills: the ability to cope with my own situations and live independently in every way, fiscally, physically, and emotionally.
 
How do you stay connected to Israel today?
Today, I stay connected to Israel by being active in Jewish and otherwise pro-Israel groups on campus, as well as taking a look at the news daily and speaking in Hebrew whenever possible.
 
What do you miss most about Israel?
The central bus station in Tel-Aviv.
 
What are your favorite Israeli song lyrics?
“Lo mitzta’er she’lo he’ert oti.
Chalamti shehakol kmo az.”
“I’m not sorry that you didn’t wake me.
I dreamt that all is like it was then.”
-Shlomo Artzi, “Kmo Az”

Dana Bornstein

Dana Bornstein

Nativ
Program: 
Hometown: Stoughton, Massachusetts
High School: Stoughton High School
Program: Nativ
 
Why did you decide to take a gap year? 
I’ve been very active at my synagogue and in USY for years and there is always talk of these “gap year programs” and I’ve always wanted to go on one.  Once senior year rolled around and I really started looking into schools, I kept the gap year in my head but I honestly didn’t think I would actually go because I was always too focused on college.  I tossed back and forth with doing a program for months.  I didn’t even make my decision until this past March.  I just thought that a gap year only means a gap year so I should take the opportunity while it’s still at hand, and I’m really not going to miss out on much if I go to college in Fall 2011 as opposed to Fall 2010.
 
Why did you choose Nativ?
Nativ is a United Synagogue of Consevative Judaism program and and I’m pretty active in the movement.  I’ve already been to Israel with USY so I know how well the programs are run and I know that what I’m told I’ll be able to do I will be able to do.  Also, I will get the opportunity to study at Hebrew University for a semester and the credits will transfer completely to my college without having to reapply as a transfer student.
 
What are your goals for this year?
I want to be able to do everything I possibly can to get the most out of living in Israel.  I want to live more like a citizen not a tourist.  And of course doing well at Hebrew U is important because the credits will be a great thing to enter college with!
 
What are you most looking forward to this year?
I’m definitely looking forward to just living in Israel and being fully immersed into the everyday lives of the people living there
 
How do you plan on celebrating the Chagim (high holidays) in Israel?
From what I’ve read in the program book, the Nativ 30 group spends the Chagim together.  But as far as what we’re actually doing and where we’ll be going, I don’t yet.
 
Where will you go to school after your gap year?
I’m going to the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, but who knows, maybe I’ll end up loving Hebrew U!

Ari Brickman

Ari Brickman

Young Judaea Year Course
Name: Ari Brickman
Hometown: Skokie, IL
High School: Chicagoland Jewish High School
College: The Joint Program with Columbia University and the Jewish Theological Seminary
 
Why did you decided to take a gap year in Israel?
I took a gap year for many reasons to be honest. But, the two main reasons are:
1) I wanted a year in which I could find out who I was. I needed to give myself an opportunity to mature in a way that I knew was not possible to do while in college.
2) I had been to Israel previously but all of my trips had been short (a month at the longest). I loved being in Israel and wanted an opportunity to explore it and to immerse myself in the culture.
 
Why did you choose Young Judaea Year Course?
I chose Year Course because it offered everything I was looking for. Not only did the program offer an array of options, but also the people that chose the program were very diverse. I had the opportunity to truly customize my year. Year Course gave me the ability to really explore and not to be restricted in what I did.
 
What was the best part of the year?
The best part of the year would have to be the community volunteering. I lived in Bat Yam and volunteered at a school for kids with special needs. I fell in love with the school, the kids, and the city. In addition to that, Bat Yam was a 20-minute bus ride to Tel Aviv and we had the ability to go there whenever we wanted!
 
What was your most memorable moment in Israel?
My most memorable moment in Israel was during my last week there. We were given one day off from volunteering to explore Israel and do something that we wanted to do before we left. I went with a group of friends to see Rosh Hanikra and then afterwards we ended up visiting Achzibland. What was special is that Eli Avivi, the president of Achzibland, drove my friends and I into the city where we needed to catch our train and spent 3 hours telling us all about his life, why he started Achzibland, and other random stories. Eli, while a bit crazy, had an absolutely fascinating story to tell. He truly exemplified the typical Israeli, who is hospitable and wants to share their love of the land and their story with others.
 
What was the greatest challenge you overcame while in Israel? 
Learning to live in a foreign country without the support system that I was used to having back home was quite a challenge. While I made a great group of friends quickly and we relied on one another to get through challenging times it was still a culture shock. From learning how to go grocery shopping in a foreign country to how you are supposed to act while in public was all very different from what I was used to.
 
What were the best skills I learned while in Israel?
I learned to be independent and more than that I learned about the person that I wanted to be. Being in Israel for a year, traveling and volunteering gave me insight into the type of life I wanted to be leading and the type of person I wanted to be. I grew up in a way I didn’t think was possible, and learned how to take control of my life.
 
How do you stay connected to Israel today?
Israel is still a huge part of my life. I am on the pro-Israel group on campus and advocate for Israel on an almost daily basis. In addition I have tried to share my love of Israel with others. I am currently the Israel Educator at Camp Chi in Wisconsin. I also help Young Judaea with recruitment for Year Course because of what a huge impact it had on me.
 
What is your favorite Israeli song?
Either Mi’mamakim or At Yafa.

Gabriel Seed

Gabriel Seed

Nativ
Program: 
While the whole year has been one amazing experience, one of the most unique moments that I will hold onto was spending Yom Kippur in Jerusalem. Although the services I attended were very moving, it was nothing compared to walking down Emek Refaim and Keren Hayesod streets, packed with pedestrians and bicyclists (and no cars) as even the traffic signals were shut off.  There is nothing more special than realizing that the entire city is observing the holiday along with you.
 
I feel that I have become more independent and prepared for life on a college campus next year through my studies, work, and all of the other experiences I have had this year. Being on Nativ and in Israel has exposed me to many different people and places, sights and sounds.  I will never look at many things the same way I did before this year as a result of the important life lessons I have learned.
 

Bucket-showers and brick-shlepping

<div class="masa-blog-title">Bucket-showers and brick-shlepping</div>

 
By Elana Stern
 
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.