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]
 

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.