Magen David Adom: Let the adventure begin

<div class="masa-blog-title">Magen David Adom: Let the adventure begin</div>

By Melissa Rosenbaum, Young Judaea Year Course, New York
 
My alarm was set for 8:45 on Monday October 4; I was packed and ready to leave for 10 days of isolation at the Beit Yehudah Hostel in the outskirts of Jerusalem for the Magen David Adom training course.
 
The Medical Track was participating in this training course in order to become first responders for MDA (Magen David Adom), the Israeli Red Cross organization.
 

For Applicants

For Applicants

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Masa Israel recognizes that spending five to 12 months interning, volunteering or studying abroad is a big commitment.  Before you select your program and apply for a Masa Israel grant, it’s important that you learn as much as you can about where you’re going and what to expect – both before you go and after you return. 
 
Talk to an alum to get a feel for how unique each person’s Israel experience can be. Learn more.
 

6 weekend adventures for fall in Israel

<div class="masa-blog-title">6 weekend adventures for fall in Israel</div>

 
Now that the chagim are over, you’ve finally started a regular schedule, whether it’s studying, interning, or volunteering (or a combination of those). But that doesn’t mean you can’t take advantage of your weekends and explore Israel!
 
Supplement your program’s siyyurim with your own—as any Israeli will tell you, there is no better way to get to know the country than to go out and explore it yourself.
 

Living the sweet life and feeling Israeli

<div class="masa-blog-title">Living the sweet life and feeling Israeli</div>

 
By Jessica Louise, Boston, Kibbutz Ulpan
 
I grew up always being the lone Jewish girl. I would be the one who always missed school in September for the High Holidays, who would always be asked to explain “my peoples’  special holiday” to the class, and of course, the one who was always asked “so really, why did you guys kill Jesus?”  
 
I suppose it didn’t help that I spent my high school years attending an all girls Catholic school south of Boston where my lack of Irish step dancing and red hair made me stand out like a sore thumb. It was always this wanting for a Jewish community that motivated me to someday find one; I just didn’t know where to search.
 
Additionally, freshman year had been a rough year for me and I felt myself slowly sinking. I didn’t know where I fit in at my university where everyone was super motivated and being a type-A personality wasn’t a nuisance, but a necessity. All I knew was that I needed to get away and slow life down before I would suddenly find myself cherishing my last few days of freedom before my senior year of university.
 
That is when I decided to go back to my roots and head for the Holy Land. Thus, in the first semester of my sophomore year at university, I did something so shocking and unbelievable to all my fellow students at my university- I decided to take a leave of absence and live on a kibbutz in Israel.
 
I found out about Masa Israel’s Kibbutz Ulpan experience on a late night Google search and made the impulsive decision to sign up. All I knew was that I would spend four hours a day learning Hebrew and another four doing menial labor.
 
Fast forward to four months later and I am peeling my sweaty shirt off of the bus seat as I was dropped off in what I described to as my mother as “the middle of nowhere, Israel.” I had somehow landed at Kibbutz Maag’an Michael in northern Israel with not a word of Hebrew to guide me, and a suitcase the size of an adolescent child.
 
I had no idea whatsoever what living on a kibbutz entailed and as the rest of the 130 ulpanists from over a 100 different countries drifted on to the kibbutz, I realized that this experience would be like none I had ever had in my life.
 
Life on the kibbutz reminded you how sweet life could be. The most stressful decisions of the day were whether to go to the pool or the beach. Our days alternated between four hours of work and four hours of learning Hebrew. I got lucky and was assigned to work in the laundry where I was privy to all the gossip of the kibbutz and I quickly learned that nothing is too private, and if you have a secret lover, someone will inevitably find out and spread it like wildfire.
 
It was here that I found out how the kibbutz used to offer condoms in a small bowl where the soldiers would come to pick up their laundry. They stopped doing this when one year the kids of the kibbutz decided it would be funny to poke holes into every one and nine months later the kibbutz experienced a baby boom of its own.
 
It would be impossible for me to pinpoint any one moment that truly defined my five month experience. As is the case with most significant life moments, it is sometimes the simplest ones that mean the most. For me, I truly realized how far I had come when our entire ulpan went to spend our last weekend together in the Bedouin camps in the Negev.
 
We had come so far together; we had laughed, cried, celebrated and mourned together and this last night would be a culmination of all those experiences. The next day we would literally be dispersing across the globe and hugging each other tearful goodbyes. That night was particularly memorable as news had just broken out about tensions on the border and some close friends had already been deployed to Gaza.
 
As we leaned on each other for support, we all felt an especially deep bond as we knew, finally, what it felt like to be Israeli. It meant taking the good with the bad, the painful with the sweet. It meant that we had to muster up our energy and spirit and light the Hanukah candles. So as we sat there, in the middle of the Negev desert, with nothing but the Hanukiah illuminating our faces, I never felt so much at peace.
 
Now, as I am sitting here typing this, I am cherishing my last few days of freedom before I begin my senior year of university. The path that led me here was not the most traditional, but it was the best path for me.
 
Deciding to take a semester off and fly across the world to spend five months living on a kibbutz turned out to be the best decision that I ever made. It shaped me into the person I am today and forged relationships that continue on to this day. Most importantly, those five months on the kibbutz planted a seed for me in Israel that has now grown into a beautiful tree.
 
I have returned to Israel twice since I left that kibbutz in December, first to spend a semester studying at Tel Aviv University and most recently, this summer to volunteer with African refugees in Tel Aviv.
 
Perhaps my most significant journey back to the Holy Land will be next January when I will descend off of the plane as an olah hadasha and continue my life that began three years ago on a kibbutz in the middle of nowhere, Israel.
 

Bat Yam: I Love It!

<div class="masa-blog-title">Bat Yam: I Love It!</div>

 
By Ariel Bigio, Young Judaea Year Course madricha
 
For my first blog post, I wanted to introduce myself and share why I chose to work with Year Course. My name is Ariel Bigio and I am originally from Rockville, Maryland. I attended the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School and my first trip to Israel was with my senior class on the Alexander Muss High School in Israel program.
 

Year Course Culinary Track Begins!

<div class="masa-blog-title">Year Course Culinary Track Begins!</div>

 
By Amy Schmidt, Young Judaea Year Course, Los Angeles, CA
 
Shalom from Israel!
 

The Chagim Chronicles: Yom Kippur in the Holy City – Nothing Like It!

<div class="masa-blog-title">The Chagim Chronicles: Yom Kippur in the Holy City – Nothing Like It!</div>

 
By Jordan Kalik, Charleston, South Carolina, Young Judaea Year Course
 
My first Yom Kippur spent in Israel was definitely one to remember.  After looking out the window, watching bus after bus of Chasidim traveling to the Holy City of Jerusalem for the chag, our group finally arrived in Jerusalem:  the holiest of places for the holiest of holidays.
 

Join the Masa Israel “Desert Queen” team!

<div class="masa-blog-title">Join the Masa Israel “Desert Queen” team! </div>

 
Interested in a unique opportunity to explore Israel through an extreme jeep challenge in the desert? We are looking for four women to make up the Masa Israel team. Desert Queen takes place in some of the most exotic and challenging landscapes in the world.
 

Celebrate like a local: festivals during Sukkot

<div class="masa-blog-title">Celebrate like a local: festivals during Sukkot </div>

 
Growing up, you might have celebrated Sukkot by going to your family, friends’, or synagogue’s sukkah, shaking the lulav and etrog, and eating outside under the stars. But if you are spending this Sukkot in Israel, there’s no reason to stay confined to your backyard—use the whole country as your sukkah!
 

7 unique ways to spend the chagim in Israel

<div class="masa-blog-title">7 unique ways to spend the chagim in Israel</div>

 
Every time we ask alumni of Masa Israel program what the best part of their semester or year was in Israel, the same things are repeated over and over: freedom to explore Israel on their own, Yom Ha’atzmaut (Independence Day) and the other national holidays in the spring, and the chagim—the High Holidays.
 
It’s no wonder. To experience the chagim in Israel, the only Jewish state in the world, is like no other holiday experience. Whether you plan on participating in the religious aspects of the holidays, taking it all in as an observer, or stepping outside your comfort zone and experimenting with a new way of observance, there is nothing like being in Israel for the high holiday season.
 
Here are seven ways Masa Israel participants celebrate the chagim in Israel:
 
  1. Shul-hopping Celebrating the holidays at home usually means a synagogue membership, tickets, and sometimes even assigned seats. Not so in Israel—try out erev Rosh Hashana in one shul, and head across town for Kol Nidre. Each synagogue has a unique atmosphere, and with so many close together in Israel you don’t need to settle for just one.
  2. Get placed with a host family Programs can usually set you up with a hosts family for one of the holidays. That way, you can celebrate the holidays in Israel with them, and they can help you navigate new traditions and show you a uniquely Israeli high holiday experience
  3. Participate in Kaparot Performed right before Yom Kippur, the ritual of Kaparot involves taking a chicken and swinging it over your head while saying several blessings, thereby imparting all of your sins upon it. Head to your closest shuk to take part in this tradition.
  4. Go on a Selichot tour Selichot are prayers of repentance that occur before the onset of the Jewish New Year.  These prayers are said at night usually between 11pm and dawn, and Jews of different backgrounds have different practices. Some programs offer tours around neighborhoods of Jerusalem the night before Yom Kippur to see different traditions in action.
  5. Walk on an empty highway on Yom Kippur In Israel, nobody drives on Yom Kippur—not even secular Israelis. Walking around your city or town on Yom Kippur is an experience like none other, an probably the only time you will ever be able to sit in the middle of a major highway (see picture below). You can also take advantage of the lack of traffic by joining in with the local teenagers who will be out on their bikes.
  6. Head to the Kotel for Birkat Kohanim Being in Israel for the chagim gives you the opportunity to go to what is considered the holiest site for the Jewish people on the holiest days of the year. During Sukkot, kohanim (descendants of the priests of Israel) come together to bless the Jewish people. Many Masa Israel participants have described it as an extremely moving experience.
  7. Festivals With all the time off, you have ample opportunity to check out some of the music and cultural festivals that take place around Sukkot. They are a great way to explore the country and get a taste of Israel culture.
 
The holidays are one of the bests times to be in Israel, and this list barely scratches the surface of what it is like to spend the season in Israel. But don’t take our word for it—try it for yourself!
 
[image credit: RonAlmog]