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]
 

Keeping the connection to Israel

<div class="masa-blog-title">Keeping the connection to Israel</div>

 
By Gabi Gordon, Chicago, IL, Nativ
 
Having been 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.  I have recently 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.
 

Developing mentally and physically on the Budokan Martial Arts and Leadership program

<div class="masa-blog-title">Developing mentally and physically on the Budokan Martial Arts and Leadership program</div>

 
By Budokan Israel participant Jordan, 18, Baltimore
 
I’ve been to Israel only once before my stint with Budokan, and that was for a month long high school senior trip. I knew by the end of that trip I needed to spend more time in the land of my people, but I wanted a unique Israel experience; and boy did I get it!
 

The Chagim Chronicles: New years, transitions, and celebrations

<div class="masa-blog-title">The Chagim Chronicles: New years, transitions, and celebrations </div>

 
By Ariella Kristal, Nativ
 
I always found it quite convenient that the academic year and the Jewish year started at the same time. My family would gather together to celebrate the High Holidays, discuss plans for the upcoming year over festive meals, and then disperse back to our respective towns and states as soon as the last shofar blowing was over.
 

Dancing Their Way to Success

<div class="masa-blog-title">Dancing Their Way to Success</div>

 
When the Masa Israel-accredited Dance Journey program came onto the scene in 2008, the idea of a program that would offer young Jewish adults from around the world the opportunity to study dance and repertory with professionals of the highest caliber for five months was a new one.
 
One of Israel's best-kept secrets, the Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company's (KCDC) Internation
 

Social Entrepreneurship: Leveraging Your Masa Israel Experience for Success

<div class="masa-blog-title">Social Entrepreneurship: Leveraging Your Masa Israel Experience for Success </div>

Masa Israel Journey strives to engage talented young adults in the global Jewish community, bolstering the next generation of Jewish leadership with a cohort of passionate, innovative individuals who have deep, personal connections to Israel. 
 
Through the Masa Israel Community, participants have access to leadership training during your time abroad.
 

Packing List: “Must haves” for your gap year in Israel

<div class="masa-blog-title">Packing List: “Must haves” for your gap year in Israel</div>

 
The idea of packing for your gap year in Israel can seem a little overwhelming. How do you decide what to bring on your year abroad? How many bags can you get away with before they start making you throw things away at the airline check-in to hit the 50 lb weight limit?
 

Growing up on my gap year in Israel

<div class="masa-blog-title">Growing up on my gap year in Israel</div>

 
by Sarit Tolzis, Cleveland, OH, Young Judaea Year Course alum
 
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.
 

The 'ABC's of going abroad | Weekly Roundup

<div class="masa-blog-title">The 'ABC's of going abroad | Weekly Roundup </div>

A collection of updates covering the intersection of Israel programs, the Jewish world, and international education.
 
  •  We were recently featured in a series on ABC News about going abroad as an alternative to facing the challenging job market in the US.
     

Sharansky Addresses Masa Israel Participants

Sharansky Addresses Masa Israel Participants

Sharansky Addresses Masa Israel Participants

May 10, 2010

The following is an update from the Jewish Agency for Israel
Ian Carchman was disconnected from Jewish life.
 
But Masa Israel Journey changed all of that. “Living in Israel for a year has been an eye opener,” said the 18-year-old from Maryland, who came to Israel
 
“I never really felt a connection [to Jewish life]. My parents are not connected and I grew up in an interfaith community. I think Masa is so important because it is not a trip or a vacation. We’re living here,” said Carchman who has been spending the year on Nativ, a Masa program that is dedicated to inspiring Conservative Jewish leaders.
 
Carchman was one of over 3,000 participants who attended the Masa Israel Journey mega-conference in Jerusalem on May 2, 2010, a day-long event featuring seminars on “next steps” for participants, many of whom are preparing to leave Israel and return to their Jewish communities across the globe. The event also featured addresses by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky.
 
 
Founded by the Jewish Agency and the Government of Israel in 2003, Masa Israel enables young Diaspora Jews to experience life in Israel for a semester or a year on any of over 160 programs aimed at strengthening their Jewish identity and their connection to Israel. Since its inception, Masa Israel has brought 45,000 young Jews between the ages of 18-30 from 60 different countries to live, work, study and volunteer in Israel.
 
During his address to an auditorium of over 1,000 Masa participants, Sharansky stressed the importance of a strong Jewish identity, which empowered him during his years as a Soviet dissident, including nine years incarcerated in a Soviet prison.
 
“People with absolutely no roots have no strength,” said Sharansky. “My fight for my people comes from my identity. Once I discovered my roots, my people, my identity, I had the strength to fight.”
 
Such a strong sense of Jewish identity will fortify Masa participants who are headed to university campuses where anti-Israel feelings are wide-spread.
 
“Those of you who decide not to stay in Israel but to go back have a very important mission. We expect you to be proud ambassadors of our country, proud Jews, who know how to debate and how to stand up against hooligans. You must know the facts and you should not be afraid,” said Sharansky.
 
Sharansky also dismantled the prevalent notion on college campuses that a commitment Jewish identity is in conflict with a commitment to human rights. “They are going to try to convince you that you have to choose between being loyal to humanity or loyal to Israel, and this is a false choice. If you want to be a strong supporter of human rights then first you must be a proud member of the Jewish community,” he said.
 
“Look who is fighting on the forefront of the struggle between democracy and dictatorship, it is the state of Israel and the Jews who are proud of this state,” Sharansky continued. “As the Jews of the Diaspora become stronger in their identity when they are exposed to Israel, the Jews of Israel will also become stronger in their identity when they are engaged with Jews of the Diaspora. The goal of the Jewish Agency is to be a bridge between Jews of the world and Israel.”
 
Sharansky concluded his talk by crediting Masa Israel with doing “critical work.”
 
For his part, Carchman agrees. “We will take these experiences back to campus with us and to our communities,” he said.