Out of Chaos, Total Clarity

<div class="masa-blog-title">Out of Chaos, Total Clarity</div>

 

A Yom Ha’Shoa tribute to my late grandmother (Esther Klein, 1918-2011), who did more than survive Auschwitz and Ravensbruck:  She defeated them.

 

To truly do justice to Esther Klein, I ought to invite you to my kitchen as I tell you about her. I would seat you in the corner on a rickety step stool, play some swing music, and let you peel some potatoes for my soup, or very slowly add the ground nuts into the egg whites for the highest rising Pesach cake in Bayswater, if not all of Queens.

 

While you were on that step stool, I would tell you stories about my childhood and my sisters and my parents, all gone. I would never cry. I would tell you in a way that never scared you or depressed you, but instead compelled you to bring the story forward, to your own kitchens, later.

 

I would sing along with the music and laugh at your jokes, whether or not they were funny, and I would tell you my distinct opinion on family life, world politics, fashion, economics, literature, or social etiquette.

 

Later, we would play Rummikub and I would scratch your back until you fell asleep. I would tell you stories about your father, when he was little, and how he reminded me in this way of my own father, and in that way, of you.

 

Without too much effort, I would tie you generations back, and tie myself generations forward, completely by the way, as you were dozing off.

 

You would never guess that my own wonderful childhood ended at the train tracks, until I would tell you that part, too. There was a perfect sense that nightmarish evil was absolutely real, and also that, most decisively… “Ve Von.”

We won because, when you are not sitting on that step stool, I am using it, well into my 80’s, to climb to reach things from the top cabinet, teaching you that it’s all about balance.

 

I tell you about my very religious and learned father who learned at the Shabbat table with my mother, back when most European women were learning the Tzena Re’enna. Who sent his sons to yeshiva and expected them to work, like he did. I would tell you how my mother, Nechama, prepared blueberry jam for stomach ailments, because she was known as something of a medicine woman around town, and, like my father’s dry-goods store, her kitchen was a regular stop for the local poor.

 

I would create a seamless flow from the Hershkowitz’s charitable and intellectual kitchen in Seredna to my short but horrific stay in Auschwitz and then Ravensbruck, where I was sustained by my nieces, teenagers of whom my sisters put me in charge… and then right back to the kitchen where we now sit, making potato soup.

 

Which, if I were my grandmother, would bring me back to my mother, who told me on our first day in Auschwitz, when we were being processed into our potato sacks, to ignore the SS, just as I had ignored the goats and the cows back home. My mother had reminded me, in those two weeks we were together before she disappeared in a cloud over Poland, who was the human being in this situation, and what that demanded of me. I remembered, and reminded, every day since.

 

What it meant to be human was to have both determination and balance. Empathy and a sense of justice. Respect for the dead and a total dedication to the living. To living. A sense of reverence and a sense of humor. Balance. Living modestly but mindful of aesthetics. A dedication and deep gratitude to America, and a complete devotion to and support of Israel. Work outside the home well into her 70’s, and family always first. Being equal parts emotional, intellectual, and physical. Torah classes, survivor’s meetings, family events, the gym. Shul and the beach, both healing.

 

Being realistic and optimistic – living on that delicate edge of facing down yesterday and expecting a reversal tomorrow, while completely in the present, today. My Grandma was Zen before anyone knew what that was, except maybe my uncle.

 

My grandmother’s life, you would soon see, was a “Dayenu” story. Thankful and disbelieving of every victory, and also always pushing the envelope toward the next one, the one that her father demanded that she pursue.

 

Esther Klein did things on her terms. She accepted God’s will. But to the greatest possible extent, it would be God’s… and Esther’s.

 

It was the endless winter that began 1945. My grandmother and her nieces had just been marched through the snow from Auschwitz to Ravensbruck. The Nazis felt that the end was near, and the final solution needed final solving. To accelerate matters, they put the women in an outdoor tent in sub-freezing weather. The calculations were correct. Half died the first night there. The survivors, my grandmother told me, slept very little, and when they did, it was standing or sitting, huddled in groups.

 

They also didn’t let go of their tin cups, because that way, they could drink hot soup, when it was available. Being and asthmatic since age 13, my grandmother got sick. Very sick. She did the forbidden and fell asleep. She thought she would not wake up. But then something crazy happened. She had a dream.

 

In that dream, her father, whom she had not seen since getting off the train on Shavuot of 1944, was standing near a window in a long white robe. She said it looked like a kittel. He asked her to come look out the window. He pointed actively to a tree with white blossoms, and told her: When the trees start to blossom white, you and Ibby and Helen will be free. Please wait.

 

So she woke up. She stood up. And she waited. And encouraged others to do the same. As her father promised, they were liberated in spring. The Swedish Red Cross took my grandmother and her nieces back to Sweden. When they disembarked this more benevolent train, they found that they had arrived in an orchard in full bloom. On every tree, white flowers.

 

This story, which every Klein grandchild has heard more than once, was Grandma’s way of saying that you need an inner guide, one that is firmly planted in your own authentic roots, but that you make yours, and tell it your way. You need to hang on and believe in God, but you need to do your part to make it so. She believed in Divine miracles made real only via human effort, which is the message of the first Esther, too. She believed in bearing witness to the past, and she believed in writing your own story going forward.

 

Grandma, I miss you terribly. A world without you is a strange place. But you taught us what your idyllic life before Auschwitz, and your unthinkable time there, taught you: how to balance on a rickety step stool while singing and reaching higher.

 

What more could we have asked to know?
 

 

The Jerusalem Post: For those looking to explore Israel, emerging cities

The Jerusalem Post: For those looking to explore Israel, emerging cities

The Jerusalem Post: For those looking to explore Israel, emerging cities

April 26, 2016

By Shaina Oppenheimer

 

Integral to the choice of coming to Israel is the eagerness to give back to its people. Masa hopes to inculcate a sense of shared responsibility.

Every year, Masa Israel Journey enables thousands of young Jewish adults to come to Israel on various programs and experience the country as a local, diving deep into Israeli culture. However, the dynamic of these programs is starting to change; as more participants gravitate towards smaller cities, the focus is shifting from “my Israel” to “our Israel.”

 

A service and learning program incorporating gap years, study abroad, volunteer work and other post-graduate work contexts, Masa is starting to radiate waves of change throughout the Jewish community in moderately-sized metropolises, such as Beit She’an, Petah Tikva and Beersheba.

 

Read the full story on JPost.com. 

The Jerusalem Post: Hey America, 'ma Nishtana?'

The Jerusalem Post: Hey America, 'ma Nishtana?'

The Jerusalem Post: Hey America, 'ma Nishtana?'

April 24, 2016

By Liran Avisar, CEO of Masa Israel Journey

 

Today, there are more options available than ever before for young people to experience Israel, whether for days, weeks, months, or an entire year.

Every spring, Jewish people across the United States and around the world sit at a table with their friends and family to retell the story of our exodus from Egypt. The first leg of our journey back in time begins with the “Ma Nishtana” (“What has changed?”), also known as the Four Questions.

 

As we prepare to retell the story of the liberation of the Israelites and the birth of the Jewish people, it is also worth exploring the current state of our Tribe. This Passover, I have four slightly different questions for the American Jewish community.

 

These are the four major questions that are worth asking:

 

1. How can we increase young American Jews’ interest in Jewish life and Israel? 

 

If you just read the headlines, it might seem that engagement is on the decline and anti-Israel activities are expanding. But the sky isn’t exactly falling.

 

One thing we do know is that it takes a transformative Israel experience with a lasting impact for Jewish young adults to reestablish, or even establish for the first time, their personal connections to the Jewish people and to Israel – to discover the Tribe.

 

Now, I am not talking about a single event, happening, or “aha” moment. Though for some it may only take one spark to reignite the Jewish fire inside. I’m not talking about the classic structure of organized Israel trips that include a bus tour of the country’s sites like Masada and Yad Vashem, meeting Israelis, learning to count to 10 in Hebrew and stuffing your face with more hummus and falafel than you ever thought possible.

 

These are clearly cornerstones to a young Diaspora Jew’s introduction to Israel – the state, the land and the people. However, the personal moments, conversations and observations enabled by a long-term Israel experience are the lasting connections that help our young people realize they are part of something bigger than themselves – Am Yisrael.

 

I’m talking about your first trip to an Israeli mall, when you see the clothing and accessories covered in Stars of David instead of crosses. The grandmotherly women you encounter on the bus that offers unsolicited life advice and a bite of their snacks as if you were their own grandchild.

 

The way in which everyone wishes you “Shana Tova” in the fall, not because they’re religious or on the way to synagogue, but because it’s as natural as wishing someone “Happy Holidays” in the winter in America.

 

These are the local Israeli moments that stay with young Jews as they go back home and reflect on their experience and newfound connection to Israel and their Jewish identities. They are what make that connection durable.

 

2. How do we empower our students to authentically change the Israel conversation on college campuses across the country?

 

Young Jews who spend substantial amounts of time living in Israel are much more equipped to deal with the often hostile anti-Israel rhetoric and activities on campus. Having spent significant time in Israel, they know more about what’s happening (and has happened) on the ground. As such, they are not only able to take part in discussions and debates, but also have the knowledge and tools to change the tone and content of the conversations.

 

By bringing their own Israel stories and experience into campus dialogue, these students have the power to change a combative debate into a personal conversation. Having a trove of deeply personal experiences on the ground in Israel allows individuals to speak more knowledgeably and comfortably about Israel and its politics.

 

Spending significant time in Israel also enables young Jews to better differentiate between legitimate criticism and uninformed, misguided hatred. Rather than feeding into the entrenched, polarizing propaganda war, these students are empowered to respectfully confront dissenting viewpoints. They can go beyond traditional hasbara (public diplomacy) efforts and pro-Israel talking points to have nuanced and intellectual conversations about the reality of the challenges facing the State of Israel, its leadership and its people.

 

3. What will the US Jewish community’s professional and lay leadership look like in 10 years?

 

With the number of unaffiliated Jews in America on the rise, one might think that the American Jewish community’s professional and lay leadership is shrinking or narrowing. However, the pipeline is actually expanding. One key indicator of young Jews who remain engaged and take on leadership roles in Jewish life are those who have spent an extended amount of time in Israel.

 

The variety of opportunities to spend meaningful time in Israel has consistently grown over the past several years. Today, there are more options available than ever before for young people to experience Israel, whether for days, weeks, months, or an entire year.

 

In 10 years, the majority of Jewish adults in the United States will have participated in an immersive Israel experience. We are talking about an unprecedented reality for the American Jewish community.

 

Throughout my and my American colleague’s meetings with our numerous Jewish communal partners, from Jewish Federations to Hillels to synagogues and beyond, it becomes more and more apparent that alumni of immersive Israel experiences, particularly those who have spent between five to 12 months in Israel, are overrepresented in the Jewish professional world. They are everywhere, in every organization, and they are the future leaders of the Jewish community.

 

As a result, they are and will continue to be more determined to connect Israel to all aspects of Jewish life. More than anything, they will make Israel travel an integral part of Jewish life and Jewish experiences. That, my friends, is revolutionary.

 

In a decade, these same young leaders will hold influential positions, whether in the Jewish world, business world, the philanthropic world and beyond. They will be the ones calling the shots and making important decisions. To have their Israel stories to tell and an unforgettable experience to look back on will mold these discussions and decisions before they even begin.

 

4. Yalla, nu, when are you coming?

 

Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.

Masa Israel Alumni Fellow of the Week: Molly Radler

<div class="masa-blog-title">Masa Israel Alumni Fellow of the Week: Molly Radler</div>

alt="molly radler"After graduating, Molly did a Masa Israel Volunteer Program, for 10 months in the city of Akko, as well as various Druze villages in the North. There she taught English and other subjects in both formal and non-formal settings to young Jewish, Arab, and Druze teenagers. The connection Molly built with the students from different backgrounds was what lead her to want to further facilitate connections for students in the United States. Soon after she joined The David Project and became a Senior Campus Coordinator with, working with college campuses throughout the state of Florida. She helped guide pro-Israel college students to advocate for Israel on campus to the non-Jewish community, speaking on behalf of their own narratives and connecting those to their peers, making the Israel discourse on campus more inclusive and relatable.

 

Molly will be going to graduate school to pursue a Master's in Social Work with the Greater Rochester Collaborative Master of Social Work (GRC MSW) Program of Nazareth College and The College at Brockport, SUNY. 

 

 

What was the most meaningful aspect of your Masa Israel experience?


The most meaningful aspect of my Masa Israel experience was the network of people and connections I was able to take with me after my year with Masa. The bond that we formed while doing the truly amazing and unique work of our program is something that has bonded me to the group of my peers that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. In addition, Masa provided opportunities to connect with other Masa participants throughout the whole country of Israel, and some of my closest friends and some of the most inspiring people I have met are ones I met on Masa.

 

What inspired you to become a Masa Israel Alumni Fellow?


I have become a very passionate advocate for Masa and have actively been suggesting that my students and friends apply for Masa programs. I was very active in all the opportunities that Masa provided in addition to my actual program, and love to share my experience with others to hopefully get them involved as well. I hope to help connect the network of Masa alumni across the country in years to come after their volunteership, as well as advocate for many other Jewish people to be able to have a similar experience.

 

Each Masa Israel Alumni Fellow is required to create an Impact project to bring back to their local community, either to increase local alumni involvement or help recruit new participants for Masa Israel programs. What ideas do you have for your Impact project, should you be chosen as a Fellow?

 

I would love to create a network between the various Israel and Jewish organizations for young adults to learn about ways to get back to Israel through Masa. In Boston, there are already things in place for this to be successful, but on a very broad scale. If chosen I would love the opportunity to use this as a resource to start a specific project for students to find their perfect program to get back to Israel and explore their Jewish identity and connection to Israel through Masa.

 

To learn more about Masa Israel Volunteer Programs, Click Here. 
 

 

Masa Israel Alumni Fellow of the Week: Samantha Shevgert

<div class="masa-blog-title">Masa Israel Alumni Fellow of the Week: Samantha Shevgert</div>

Samantha Shevgert knew she was Jewish but didn’t know what it meant to live a Jewish life. She decided to learn about her Jewish roots in a 10 ½ month Neve Yerushalayim Seminary in Jerusalem, Israel. During her time in Jerusalem, she learned about the importance of Judaism, Torah, and gained friendships for a lifetime. She also gained experience in her career while in Israel by volunteering every week in a Jewish nursing home using her Russian speaking skills to assist those in need.


After her Masa Israel Journey, Samantha returned to South Florida and has helped strengthen the Jewish community. Samantha’s knew found knowledge and connection with Judaism helped her start and become part of many Jewish organizations and communities. She is a founding member of the Moishe House Aventura, Chabad of Ft.Lauderdale, and Yehudi of South Beach. Her efforts in the Jewish community have surpassed the norm and have made her an outstanding leader in the Jewish community of South Florida.


Sam holds a BA in Public Health and Associates Degree in Occupational Therapy. Her experience in Israel has helped her with her career as an occupational therapist. She focuses in In-Patient Rehabilitation Hospitality as well as working with children with autism.
 

What was the most meaningful aspect of your Masa Israel experience?


Every moment of the Masa Israel experience was incredibly meaningful! These 10 months changed my life and shaped who I have become. Being able to spend an extended amount of time in Israel allowed me to not just learn about what it is to be Jewish and how to lead a Jewish life but also how to integrate it into who I am and live it. It truly shaped me; it was the catapult to my now Jewish involvement.


What inspired you to become a Masa Israel Alumni Fellow?


I applied to be a Masa Israel Alumni Fellow because being a part of the Masa experience myself it changed my life. I am so passionate about Israel and bringing awareness to people and learning about Judaism. I would love nothing more than to become a great leader in my community. I want to help send people to Israel to have as much of a meaningful experience as I did!


Each Masa Israel Alumni Fellow is required to create an Impact project to bring back to their local community, either to increase local alumni involvement or help recruit new participants for Masa Israel programs. What ideas do you have for your Impact project, should you be chosen as a Fellow?


I am a member of the Moishe House in Aventura, Florida. I would love to incorporate all of the Israel opportunities to that experience. Masa has a lot to offer to our house and we are able to use the house to spread the word on what Masa does!

 

 

Learn more about the Masa Alumni Fellows Program.

 

 

Masa Israel alumnae giving back to the world. #InternationalWomensDay

<div class="masa-blog-title">Masa Israel alumnae giving back to the world. #InternationalWomensDay</div>

In honor of International Women’s Day, we decided to highlight our fellow Masa Israel alumnae and their amazing accomplishments. Here at Masa we know our participants have the potential to not only make a difference in their own lives, but in the lives of others. Giving back is the focus this month and it’s the perfect time to mention a few alumnae who have done just that.

 

1. Kayci Merritté, Yahel Social Change Program 2014-2015 Alumna

 

 

“After my Masa Israel experience, I returned to my hometown of St. Louis to serve as an AmeriCorps member assisting in refugee resettlement. Once-a-week I pick up new arrivals from all of the world – Congo, Iraq, Cuba, the list goes on – from the airport and bring them to their new homes. Throughout the rest of my week, I help these new residents of my city access the medical care that they need. I’m not sure I would have applied for this position if it were not for my experiences in Ramat Eliyahu.”


Learn more about the Yahel Social Change Program.

 


2. Jamie Gold, Masa Israel Teaching Fellows 2012-2013 Alumna

 



“As a result of her Masa Israel Teaching Fellows experience, Jamie chose to pursue a career in Jewish education. Upon returning to Los Angeles, Jamie moved into the Moishe House in West L.A. and enrolled in the DeLeT program at Hebrew Union College. “Masa Israel Teaching Fellows is the only reason I was picked for the HUC program,” Jamie says. She believes it gave her the necessary Israel and teaching experiences to be a top-notch Jewish educator.”


Learn more about the Masa Israel Teaching Fellows Program.

 

3. Rachel Pope, MSIH 2011 alumna

 


“Rachel is completing a two year fellowship in Malawi. She is learning how to repair obstetric fistulas and working with the next generation of Malawian residents at the newly created Malawian OB/GYN residency program. Rachel is currently living in Lilongwe, Malawi and working for the government hospital, Kamuzu Central.”

 

Learn more about the The Medical School for International Health (MSIH).

 


4. Ashleigh Talberth, Pardes Insitute of Jewish Studies 2014-2015 Alumna

 


“A serial green-tech entrepreneur, Ashleigh has pioneered initiatives for a broad range of leading companies, startups, and institutions for over 12 years. She currently consults for emerging companies primarily in California and Israel, the world's leading green-tech and startup hot spots.” ("Israelcagreentech." Israelcagreentech. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 Mar. 2016.)
 

Learn more about the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies. 

 

Masa Israel Alumni Fellow of the Week: Josh Entis

<div class="masa-blog-title">Masa Israel Alumni Fellow of the Week: Josh Entis</div>

Joshua Entis has a special place in his heart for the Jewish community around the world. After volunteering for Masa Israel Teaching Fellows in Netanya, Josh knew that his experience would remain a part of his life forever.

 

Becoming a Masa Alumni Fellow has encouraged Joshua to express his love and passion for Masa, the Jewish Community, and the State of Israel. Before his journey to Israel, Joshua's Jewish Identity was almost non-existent, and now, 2 years after returning, he feels more connected, educated, and part of a community more than ever before.

 

Currently Josh is living in Seattle, WA, he works as an account executive by day and a waiter by night. Joshua is always finding new ways to strengthen a strong set of values and beliefs to live by, while exploring his life path, where ever it leads.

 

What was the most meaningful aspect of your Masa Israel experience?

 

Having the opportunity to make a difference and add value to the lives of children in Netanya.

 

What inspired you to become a Masa Israel Alumni Fellow?

 

Being a Masa Alumni Fellow will allow my love and passion for the organization to shine. My experience with Masa changed the way I see the world. There are thousands of people who can help support Masa and even more who can benefit from the over 200+ Masa programs. Being a Masa Israel Fellow will help me spread that message. This opportunity will help me connect with the people who share the same values and beliefs; creating awesomeness!!

 

Each Masa Israel Alumni Fellow is required to create an Impact project to bring back to their local community, either to increase local alumni involvement or help recruit new participants for Masa Israel programs. What ideas do you have for your Impact project, should you be chosen as a Fellow?

 

One place to start would be the Hillel at the University of Washington. They host a  Shabbat Dinner every Friday night at their campus location. This is only for undergrads. This would be an unbelievable place to volunteer as a guest speaker. There can be an event planned (bowling, mini golf, something) that would take anyone who was interested to find out more about them and their interests, establish a relationship, and turn them into Masa participants. Jconnect would be another option too. They are post-college organizartion that caters to young professionals ages 22-31.

 

Learn more about the Masa Israel Alumni Fellows program.

 

Marisa Obuchowski

Valeria Esquinazi

Valeria Esquinazi

Spanish Speaking Desk Representative

Yael Pearlman

Yael Pearlman

English Speaking Desk Representative