Israeli 9 - 5: In the Life of WUJS Alumna Rachel Ethridge

<div class="masa-blog-title">Israeli 9 - 5: In the Life of WUJS Alumna Rachel Ethridge</div>

Originally published on Finding Florentine on October 2015 by Rachel Ethridge, WUJS Alumna '15


My life in Israel has always had an end date.

If you've met me since I've moved here you know that on February 7th my butt will be seated on a double decker plane headed out of the Middle East towards the city where I left all of my friends, lovers, long sleeve shirts, good sushi, and deep dish pizza.

For a lot of people interning and living alongside me, this program is a trial run for their future lives as Israelis. When I touch down in the states, they'll be making aliyah (moving to Israel with a lot of perks from the government), an act of immigration I have never considered, one they all know the answer to when they hear new friends ask if I would ever make the move. But this past week made me think.

Photo by Rachel Ethridge

The life I lived. Work I completed. Waterfalls I rappelled down. Food I made (cut up cucumbers and tomatoes). Mouth-dropping meals I bought. The not so tasty ones I tossed down with chilled glasses of riesling. All the boulders I climbed. Trips I planned. And the people I jumped, ate, walked, talked, cooked and sat with, made me rethink everything.

Photo by Rachel Ethridge

Mom don't worry, I'm still going be booking a flight back to the United States, but last week was the first time I gave this country a chance at showing me all its got. You all know I love the food, the culture I'm being immersed in, the new things I'm learning and the people I'm meeting, but I've always proudly defined myself as an American, and nothing else.

I'm all in now.

I'm pulling the Israeli card. I feel a camaraderie with these people as they live under constant threat from their neighbors. The sand and setting sun over the Mediterranean sea are all mine. I'm realizing that every part of this program I thought was a long vacation , is actually my real life.

On Sunday I went to work and left with every intention to mad plan, with my mad planning friend, a weekend up north that would probably never happen (it did). I walked home from her house after googling the life out of my computer for hostels and how to rent a car, stopped at my favorite bread shop on the way and continued my carb-binging diet with a brick-oven cooked calzone and a coffee on the house. That's right, I drink coffee now, sometimes, once in a while, when it's free. Full disclosure, I had my first drag of a cigarette in a club a couple weeks ago, I also wear a bra as little as possible these days.

I'm Israeli.

Sunday finished with scrubbing the bathroom, skyping with my people back home, and passing out with Netflix on at a normal hour for the first time in forever.

Monday had the same comforting, smiling on my bus ride home from work, and completely satisfying vibe as the day before. I volunteered at the Israeli Tennis Center in Jaffa that night and played tennis with teenagers for two hours. It was incredible. I'll be playing with them two nights a week for the rest of my time here and can already tell some of my biggest tears in February will happen on those courts.

Photo by Rachel Ethridge

I get a little nervous when I know my day is over and I don't have a DVR to turn on, but Monday night changed that. I walked in the door, caught up with my roommates, kept all our doors open, blasted Amy Winehouse, colored on our living room floor and forgot I was in a foreign country.

On Tuesday I went to a museum with my program that lets you experience life as a visually-impaired person for one hour. It was terrifying, beautiful, really hard, so much fun and a life changer. We walked through a market, went on a boat ride, danced, and had a conversation all as blind people and walked back into the light with a new perspective on everything we see every day. Coming off the bus from that field trip a couple of us went to our market while most Israelis were still at work, which is weird, it seems like they're always eating and enjoying life instead of working, but the shuk (market) was quiet that afternoon and I walked though it sipping on freshly-squeezed lemonade and my mouth full of samples of cheese without being bumped into or stepped on.

Tuesday and Wednesday night looked the same, but were full of different tastes and people.

I ate at the Argentinian restaurant down my street with a new friend, finished planning our trip up north, went to work and left once I had finished everything I needed to get done (sometimes this is at noon, sometimes at four, sometimes I work from home).

Thursday began the coolest weekend of my life. We rented a car and headed up to the Golan Heights. Driving so close to Syria in the pitch black at 10:00PM was not what we had planned, but it lead us to our hostel which housed us the night before we climbed, jumped, rappelled, fell, ate, smelled, and swam for seven hours through Nahal Yehudia. The next day we rode horses through Mount Carmel and I fell in love with an enormous white stallion named Puzzle.

So far Israel has left me with feelings for food and animals.

Photo by Rachel Ethridge

Waiting for the gorgeous, almost done with med school, still has a full head of hair, loves his mom, will move to Chicago, Jewish prince my Nannie had always dreamed for me to marry, to be dropped right in front of my face before I leave.

If you made it through this whole post you're probably my dad, or you had a little free time before going to Didier farms and taking a hay ride through the pumpkin patches with an apple cider donut in your hand, flannel shirt wrapped around your goose-bump filled body, and crispy, colorful, crunchy leaves falling all around you (please do this for me), then you now know why I would want to move here.

Israel is making me think about things I said absolutely no to two months ago.

Wondering what my thoughts will read like in 100 days.

To read more about Rachel's life in Israel, check out her blog, Finding Florentine.



A Look Inside MITF's Youth Village Location with Deena Martin

<div class="masa-blog-title">A Look Inside MITF's Youth Village Location with Deena Martin</div>

At the time I decided to spend a year abroad on Masa Israel Teaching Fellows my life was in a whirlwind. For a long time I had a desire to volunteer abroad and with my current situation, I had to take the plunge. I researched different regions and programs throughout the world yet, something within my heart was always drawn to Israel.


I knew I could choose to go where ever I wanted, but Israel had a hold on me. I knew it was the right place to spend this year giving back to my people in our homeland. Although the decision to go to Israel was easy, I was concerned about language barriers, since my Hebrew skills from my Bat Mitzvah era were long gone, plus I had no friends or family in Israel.


Everyone and I mean EVERYONE thought I was crazy. People asked me "are you scared, isn't Israel always at war?" "Why would you go somewhere you don't speak the language and know no one?" I took these questions in stride and smiled.


My only response was "No, Israel is amazing and not dangerous" and "yes, I am crazy."


I come from a strong Zionist home where Israel, Jewish life and strong connection to giving to the Jewish people was fostered and encouraged.


So, my mind was made up, I was like I said before, taking the plunge and going to Israel. I was so blessed to have a family who not only supported my decision but also encouraged me to go and give back to our homeland.


When my plane landed in Tel Aviv, I was every feeling emotion under the sun. It all didn't seem real on the ride over- it felt like a quick trip and then I would home in a few weeks. When I got to the youth village is when it all started to sink in.


The first few months of school were tough. I took part in the pilot program of the Youth Villages for Masa Israel Teaching Fellows and we were year one and the very first participants to experience teaching in a youth village. To give the expression, too many cooks in the kitchen would be an understatement. You’ll learn soon that although Israel is the startup nation and uber successful, things can sometimes be a balagon (a mess). With that being said the beginning of my MITF program, there were a lot of people and organizations trying to make it the best it could possibly be, which at times was frustrating.


It took until the winter for there to be some clear direction and method to the madness of starting a new program. By the first break, the program seemed to have found its rhythm. Everything was on track. Being with the students in the midst of all the bumps of the program was the highlight and being able to work with them in a way that the teachers were unable to make me feel like I was truly doing what I came to Israel to do, make an impact.


I held many late night study groups and early morning prep sessions. I worked with the students on their chores and had meals with them in the evening. The students took me in as a friend and mentor, which made the Youth Village feel like home.


Through the support of the village community, I was able to have the confidence to explore Israel and fell in love with the desert, the cities and all of Israel’s wonders. I ventured from the North to the South, heard stories from Israelis, made friends with members outside the Jewish community, learned about the challenges each community faces, saw the diversity and freedom each community has in Israel.


I saw the amazing landscapes, enjoyed Shabbat meals with strangers that felt like family, cried when there was conflict, prayed for safety, discovered the depth of social, political and community issues facing this land. My Zionism became even stronger and I reconnected with my Jewish roots in a way that I thought I never would. I have always been an advocate for Israel, now I find myself to be a fierce and loyal ally. Always standing up for her rights, not afraid of engaging with people who want to see Israel off the map or try to misrepresent it.


I came back to America stronger in so many ways, but I am strongest now in my love, loyalty, and devotion to protect Israel. I came back home with my heart still in in Israel, ready and prepared to do my part in protecting Israel and the Jewish people.



Carol Kaplan: One Girl, One Desert, One Journey

<div class="masa-blog-title">Carol Kaplan: One Girl, One Desert, One Journey</div>

Carol Kaplan, Permaculture Design Course Certificate at Kibbutz Lotan and the Shvil Israel with Walk About Love, Alumna ‘12


After spending a semester in Israel a few years ago, I have made the choice to attain my MA in Conflict Resolution and Coexistence under the Heller School of Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University.


Want to know how I got figured this all out? Check out my story or more of a journey below:


It all began at Kibbutz Maagan Michael, where I was fortunate enough to have a great taste of Kibbutz life… on the beach! My new life in Israel was simple; as a group, or newly founded family  we walked to the dining hall, אוכל חדר in Hebrew (pronounced hadar ohel) barefoot, enjoyed a heavy Israeli breakfast of cheeses, fresh salads, and warm bread, then rode bikes to Ulpan and later began to our separate work assignments.


Being the animal lover I am, I quickly requested to work in the cow shed, רֶפֶת in Hebrew (pronounced refet) and fell in love with newborn baby calves on my first day at work.


After herding the cows, I rode my bike to the sea, ים in Hebrew (pronounced yam), where the expert Kibbutzim surfers showed off their mad surf skills to us newbies. There, my thoughts dwelled on the simplicity of life in a small but beautiful Israeli community.


Upon completing Ulpan, I then traveled to Kibbutz Lotan, leaving behind the beach and transitioning to the beauty of the silent desert. It was here that I would begin my studies to obtain my Permaculture Design Course Certificate that I hoped to translate into my degree back at the University of Washington.


While living in a mud geodesic dome, I learned about sustainability and the possibility of not only growing organic food in the desert, but thriving in the desert sun. Of course, my favorite time of the week was harvest day, when my group and I would make full meals out of fresh vegetables we had just harvested. There's nothing quite comparable to harvesting and cooking together after a long day’s work building mud structures!


After my time at Kibbutz Lotan, I then joined a group called Walk About Love, traveling, living and sleeping the Negev, all the way from Eilat to Jerusalem. It was myself and people from Germany, Spain, Sweden, the Americas and Israelis all coming together. Like our forefathers before us, we used rocks as a pillow, stared at the hot hot sun and cried with happiness upon reaching Jerusalem.


It was at the end of my journey, after such a diverse experience throughout the country, that I realized Israel and I are inextricably tied. It was not just a country I was exploring; it was MY country I was exploring, not out of curiosity but out of devotion.


For how could I help a country I had not touched with my own hands, walked with my own feet and viewed with my own eyes? I now feel truly ready and capable to learn about the creation of peace in a country so disheveled but at the same time vibrant and humane, which takes me back to the beginning of all of this and what’s landed me at Brandeis years later to get my MA in Conflict Resolution and Coexistence.


These last few years have been an amazing time of my life and without Israel I wouldn’t be who I am or where I am.




Quiz: What Israeli Food Matches Your Personality?

The Best Places To Study In Tel Aviv

<div class="masa-blog-title">The Best Places To Study In Tel Aviv</div>

Part of the reason I did my Security and Diplomacy Master’s program at Tel Aviv University was location and curriculum. Of course, the beach and the parties was a huge motivator, but career wise it offered what I needed for my resume.


When I say location, I meant the Middle East. I wanted to be in the area, live the culture and travel to surrounding countries.  Curriculum wise, I researched all the professors and syllabus to see if the courses were more than legit and they were. My professors were current and former Army Generals, Ambassadors, and Israeli Intelligence Officers. 


The point is, I signed up, I was living in Tel Aviv, and I had A LOT of books to read, papers to write, and people to meet. Looking back, I was blessed with all the study options available. 


Here are some of the best places to study in Israel:


The beach



There are 8 miles of beach and the best part? Most of the sections of the beach have a restaurant, beach chairs, and most importantly WIFI! In my case, I would go to Tal Baruch beach because it was super close to campus. You can bring a towel and your books and chill for hours while getting ahead on your research paper. I would spend hours before class just reading about military strategies and the history of war while gazing out into the Mediterreanean Sea and natural background music of the waves crashing along the shore. Oh yeah, and you can work on your Tel Avivi tan.


Best beaches:



1. Tal Baruch Beach: I probably spent most of my time at this beach. It’s the closest beach to TAU’s campus and also considered one of the cleanest of all the Tel Aviv beaches. It is usually very calm and not crowded at all. Sometimes, I would go to the restaurant and lay on their chairs while sipping on my Ice Café and reading about Napoleon’s war strategy.

2. Frishman Beach: A very popular beach. Sometimes I felt like I was in the traveling section of a magazine. You have the colorful Dan Hotel in the background, the Matkot (paddle ball) sounds, languages from all over the world, and just an exciting beach vibe.


3. Banana Beach: I love this beach! It’s relaxed, not a lot of tourist and most people are reading, meditating, and playing the famous Shesh Besh (Backgammon). You can study here and meet the locals as they tend to hang out here to avoid the tourists. The best time to go is on Fridays. Next to this beach you will find a Dolphinarium where locals get together during sunset for their weekly drum sessions. People dance, laugh, and most importantly watch the addictive Tel Aviv sunset.





When I wanted to write papers, I would go to the many cafés in Tel Aviv. This was a lot of fun because it helped me meet Israelis (working or chilling) at the café and also get to know the city. Each little neighborhood in Tel Aviv has a hidden gem and popularity. I would go with another friend and we would work for hours on our “National Security Policy” papers while sipping on some Ice Café and Sabich sandwich. Yes, I got all my papers done with good grades, but the best and most rewarding part is that this is where you can discuss openly about any academic thoughts or culture shock you might be going through during your program.


Best Café’s:

1. Arcaffe: This café is located right next to TAU, they serve a strong coffee that will help you dig deep into your studies. It’s also very peaceful, which is nice when you want to focus on your work.


2. Book Worm: This place seems right out of a movie or magazine, it is basically a library/café. There are books everywhere, and the environment is perfect for those that want the “library” feel but still want to go out and about. They also have a garden in the back where you can get away from the hustle and bustle and enjoy a nature filled study vibe. Located on the popular King George Street.

3. The Streets: Open 24/7 this place is where you can hang out on the terrace and get things done. They play hip music, and the crowd is very relaxed.


4. Nechama Va’Chetzi: If you want to be in the “scene” this is the place for you. This place is popular because of its crowd which consists of celebs and everyone who wants to be cool. If you like to people watch and get work done at the same time, this is a cool place to spend some time.



Hayarkon Park

This is my little secret. I would bike everywhere in Tel Aviv, and sometimes I just didn’t feel like being in a café, beach or the city. I wanted something more relaxed and with nature. Well, Hayarkon Park is Tel Aviv’s little secret. Here you can sit on a bench or under the trees while overlooking the lake and hearing the many birds that live in this park. One of the coolest things about this park is the Tsapari, a 7.5-acre bird park, and the largest in the Middle East.  


Do you want to Study Abroad in Tel Aviv? Click Here for more info. 


What Is Matkot? And Why You Should Play It On The Beaches Of Tel Aviv

<div class="masa-blog-title">What Is Matkot? And Why You Should Play It On The Beaches Of Tel Aviv </div>

Imagine lying on the beach in Israel, the sun shining on your face and body, the water waves hitting the shore. Life is good! You might be studying abroad at Tel Aviv University or interning at a start-up in Tel Aviv, but then you hear a foreign sound, a sound that is constant with a rhythm that does not stop. If you’re ever on the beach in Israel, you will hear a constant sound that goes, “blap, blap, blap”. What is all that noise you ask?!


Well, it’s called Matkot, also known as paddle ball. It’s a beach paddle ball game that almost every Israeli has played in their lifetime and that you cannot miss when you visit the beach in Israel. There are three components: two racquets (usually wood) and a ball (same one used in squash). It’s fun, easy, and all you need to do is pay attention to the ball and your partner.



Now, when you think of the beach, the usual plan is to lie out and get a tan. An occasional dip in the water and swimming is involved, alright; some of us are not that lazy and will play volleyball. The problem with playing a popular sport is that you have to be somewhat good. On the other hand, with Matkot there is less worry about being good and more focus on keeping the ball in the air. It’s a game for all ages, and it defines the Israeli approach to just take action and go with the flow.


Matkot has been played on the beautiful beaches of Tel Aviv since the 1920’s. The name of the sport comes from the name of the racquet, matka. It’s been around for a really long time, and it is not going anywhere anytime soon. Many call it the Israeli national sport; there’s even a paddle ball stadium in Tel Aviv. This game has no rules, no winners or losers; the only goal is to have fun and show off that beach body.



How do you play Matkot?

It’s easy!

1. Convince your friend or stranger to play with you.
2. Stand in front of each other, at least 20 feet apart. Give your partner some space.
3.  Serve your opponent with the racquetball from the bottom up.
4. When your opponent hits the ball back, try to hit it back to him/her.
5. Make sure to keep the ball in the air without the ball falling on the floor.
6. Get a flow going, it’s okay if the ball falls on the floor, pick it up and try again!
7. Fun games: count your ABC’s until the ball drops, see how far in the alphabet you can get. 


Where to buy a racquet?

Literally, any macholet store (corner store) on the beach will have one; they are fairly priced and easy to carry. If you want something more professional, then head to the mall and inquire in one of the sports stores. Life hack: just make friends with the Israelis, they will love showing you how to play their favorite beach sport.


To learn more about how to get your Grant and to choose the right Masa Israel experience, click here


The Best Hikes In Israel

<div class="masa-blog-title">The Best Hikes In Israel</div>

When you think of Israel, many people only think of the beaches or religion, but seem to forget the diverse landscape. This tiny country offers more than many other countries in the world, and one thing that Israel has are amazing hikes!

Israel is truly a hiker’s paradise, from waterfalls and lush green mountains, to caves and salt mountains, and even canyons in the desert. What more can you ask for? Here are some of the top hikes you can do in Israel. 

1. Nahal Jilabun


Photo credit:

Located in the Golan Heights (North), this is Israel’s second largest waterfall. This is one of the most beautiful hikes in Israel since it highlights the Jilabun waterfall and pools. It will take about 3 hours to complete with moderate effort, but is well worth it at the end. The best part, you can swim in the water right under the waterfall and even get a glimpse of the rainbow that reflects from the sun!



2. Nahal Amud


Located near Tzfat, this scenic hiking trail will keep you wanting more.  It means “Pillar River” because the stream along the trail flows into the Sea of Galilee. It’s only 3 miles and at the end of the journey, many go into the pools!


3. Wadi Kelt


One of the most popular destinations for tourists, this canyon trail, is often visited not only for the historic Greek monastery but also believe it or not, the natural pools. The best times to visit are on the weekends when everyone is together, and there is more life and other hikers on the trail.


4. Mount Sodom


Located in the Dead Sea area, this mountain is literally made out of salt. It has some amazing caves and views! You will be impressed at the many rock formations that look like they are out of this world. This 5-mile stretch can take up most of your day as you will be gazing at one of the rarest rock formations in the world.


5. Ein Gedi Nature Reserve



Also located in the Dead Sea area, this famous water hike is by far the most popular hike in Israel. Get away from the heat of the Dead Sea and jump into a waterfall that will blow your mind. After about an hour of hiking, which is fairly easy, you will get to the famous Wadi David waterfall which is breathtaking and refreshing.

6.  Nahal Og

Photo credit:

This hike walks you through many white chalk canyons that look straight out of a movie. The walk is very easy as most of the way its flat. On the other hand, there is one challenge, the almost vertical descend. Not to worry, there are rungs in place to climb down and very sturdy in case you are wondering about safety. This trail is best started during the mid-day and should end before sunset as you can see the colors of the sky and contrast of the white canyons.


Use the program finder widget to find your perfect Masa program and hike acorss Israel during your free time


10 Things To Buy At The Shuk

<div class="masa-blog-title">10 Things To Buy At The Shuk</div>

In Israel, one of the cultural highlights of the country is the Shuk. Yes, this loud and crowded place that sells everything and anything. There are also hidden gems on the periphery like restaurants and bars, but that’s for another blog. Here I will be focusing on the essentials of everyday life while living in Israel.


Although these items might seem a bit basic, they have their Israeli flavor to them, and you will know what I am talking about once you return from your amazing Masa Israel program. Here are ten things you have to buy when visiting one of Israel’s famous shuks.

Just remember! Bargaining is expected and should be practiced…but don’t get too crazy.


1. Phone case


One of the first things you will see is cell phone cases. The unique thing about these is that they have a lot of humor and sometimes seem very blunt, but hey, when in Israel right? One thing I can guarantee is that you will not find many of these graphics or styles in the USA. Oh, and they do fairly well protecting your phone.

2. Jewelry


Ladies, there are tons and tons of different little trinkets everywhere. I went with my sister one time and left her behind. At the shuk you will find earrings, necklaces, rings, you name it they have it. The cool thing about the jewelry in the shuk is that they offer so many styles and colors; many of these are handmade so you will rarely find them at your favorite go to store. Guys, there is some cool stuff for you too!

3. Underwear


This one is funny; I know what you are thinking…Really? Yes, really. Guys you can find cool underwear here. From Israeli flag and army inspired to imitation Calvin’s. They are pretty good quality and if you really want to show them off, be like some Israelis who use them as bathing suits (not suggesting you do this).

4. Art


I listed this because we all need a little color in our lives. You don’t want to have a dull dorm room or apartment, do you? Well at the shuk you can find all the colors, from Einstein sticking out his tongue to that Goat painting by Menashe Kadishman you keep seeing randomly in some galleries around the city. The shuk is great to buy art because it’s fairly cheap and they offer you 3 for 100 shekels in some places.

5. Fruits and Vegetables


This is my favorite reason to come to the shuk. Israel is known for their super fresh and organic fruits and vegetables. Trust me on this, the taste of a tomato and/or cucumber will make a long lasting impact on your palate.

6. Nuts


When I think of the shuk for some reason, I always imagine a bazaar-like in the Aladin movies and the monkey stealing. Well that’s not the case in Israel, no animals walking around (haha no but really) and one thing you will notice is the ocean of nuts all over the place. Besides people being a little nuts, there is all kinds of options from macadamia to almonds and pecans. There are even some you’ve probably never even knew existed. This is the time to try new things; I challenge you!

7. Tea


While most of us LOVE coffee, out here in the Middle East Tea is more popular. From Green Tea to Mint tea, you can swim in all the flavors. Many Sephardic families often have their morning tea with a nice chocolate cake for breakfast; take that for a sweet tooth.

8. Spices


You’ve seen the images of piles and piles of spices. You also know how important these are for the taste of your food. From curry to paprika you will smell all of the spices from all over the world! Believe it or not, this is a great present to bring to your parents and friends.

9. Zaatar Halva


Give your chicken and vegetables the real Middle East flavor! These blocks of spice are so weird looking but within them lays the secret taste we all love. Take some of this home and start experimenting, there are even sweet ones with chocolate.

10. Beer


Last but not least, amongst all the yelling, bargaining, and balagan (craziness) there is the beer at the shuk. After hours, some shuks become a place to meet up with friends and grab a drink. Here you can find many Israeli Breweries and taste the real flavor of Israel!


Do you want to come to Israel? Click here to learn how you can get your grant and find the right Masa Israel experience! 


The Forward: How I Fell in Love With a Nice Jewish Boy Named Christian While in Israel

The Forward: How I Fell in Love With a Nice Jewish Boy Named Christian While in Israel

The Forward: How I Fell in Love With a Nice Jewish Boy Named Christian While in Israel

August 18, 2016

By Eliana Rudee, Career Israel alumna

On the first day of our semester-long Israel program, Chris and I met on the bus. But it’s safe to say that our relationship was not nurtured on wheels, but rather, on foot. Living at the Hebrew University campus, we always had an extra-long walk to our Shabbat hosts. We’d walk along the light rail tracks, long after the train stopped running for the Sabbath. We walked, talking about our jobs, our families back home in the United States and Brazil (respectively), and our thoughts and dreams.


Chris’ family was secular, somewhat culturally Jewish, but mostly Brazilian. Until he went on Birthright, he had very little exposure to Judaism within his family — no Shabbat, Hebrew school, or Bar Mitzvahs. His father had a hobby of pointing out Jewish celebrities but had never been back to Israel, his birthplace that he left as a toddler. As Brazilian Jews of Egyptian and German descent, Chris tells me that his family identified more with the Brazilian culture than anything else, which explains his intriguing name, Christian, “a beautiful Brazilian name not having anything to do with Christianity,” his family says.


I was brought up in the suburbs of Seattle, in a Conservative Jewish community where we drove to and from Shabbat services and ate pepperoni pizza, not realizing it was pork. Hebrew school was something forced upon me by my parents, and boy did I give them a hard time for it.

As a kid, I did everything I could to get out of going to Sunday school, including screaming, crying, and wearing short skirts that I knew my mom would deem inappropriate for synagogue. I did love my family’s Jewish traditions, including our Hanukkah parties, Rosh Hashanah get-togethers, Pesach Seders, and our weekly Shabbat dinner with all of my cousins, aunts, uncles, and my grandma. But until I came to Israel, I would never have said that I loved being Jewish.


Chris and I both viewed coming to Israel as a way to advance our careers, which is why we chose to come on the a program called “Career Israel,” organized by Masa Israel Journey. We were the babies of the group, each taking a semester off from school, whereas most had already graduated college.


Neither of us chose to come to Israel for religious purposes, but we did end up exploring our Jewish identities and religious customs. Being in Jerusalem introduced us to the observant way of keeping Shabbat. Each of us lived with roommates who kept kosher and Shabbat, so we had to learn how to be respectful of their practices. At Shabbat meals, we learned rituals like washing our hands before the meal, dipping the challah in salt after saying the blessing over the bread, hamotzi, and saying a blessing after the meal.


Although we did not keep Shabbat ourselves, we believed in the saying: “When in Israel, do as the Israelis do” and we kept the spirit of Shabbat. Although many Israelis are secular, they respect the idea of Shabbat even if they do not observe all the laws.


Chris and Ellie

Chris and Eliana at Passover 2016


That is, they believe there should be one day dedicated to rest, and even more, to building relationships rather than withdrawing into our work or our smartphones. So on Saturdays, Chris and I hung out with our friends and we actually talked to one another without the use of any electronics! We played cards on the lawn of the student village, passed around a soccer ball, and ended Shabbat with friends by our sides as we did Havdalah.


Of course, as many of the best relationships begin, we were “just friends” for the first four months of our program. More accurate, however, would be that we were “just best friends.” We did everything together — we decompressed after work together, cooked dinner together, and we even did laundry together.


Little did I know that Chris would soon admit his love for me in a letter, just a month before our program ended and we were to part ways. When we did part, Chris left me with a plan for our relationship: we will finish school in our respective countries and later, move to Israel together. And that’s exactly what we did.


Looking back at the five months we spent together in Israel, I think about the phrase, “More than the Jews have kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept the Jews.” I believe that on an interpersonal level, Shabbat kept, or perhaps fostered, our relationship. Without the Israeli spirit of Shabbat, I’m not sure that we would have gotten to know each other as well as we did.


Perhaps this is one reason why we ultimately decided to make aliyah together, to begin our life together as immigrants in Israel. We are far from the United States and from Brazil and neither of us has family in Israel, making it an unlikely place to live.


But in a significant way, our relationship is based in, and on, Israel. After the five best months of our lives, we had fallen in love with Israel, and then, with each other. It felt natural to move to Israel, the place where we met, where we had our first date, where we fell in love, and where we walked together on those many Shabbat afternoons.


Eliana Rudee is a fellow with the Haym Salomon Center and the author of the “Israel Girl” column for She is a graduate of Scripps College, where she studied international relations and Jewish studies. Her bylines have been featured in USA Today, Forbes, and The Hill.


Originally published in The Forward.

Haaretz: Letters to the Editor: Responses to Arab English Teachers in Jewish Schools

Haaretz: Letters to the Editor: Responses to Arab English Teachers in Jewish Schools

Haaretz: Letters to the Editor: Responses to Arab English Teachers in Jewish Schools

August 18, 2016

By Tamar Zilbershatz, Director of Service and Gap Programs at Masa Israel Journey


Another resource to address English teacher shortage


In response to “With Qualified English Teachers in Short Supply, Israel’s Jewish Schools Start Courting Arabs” (, August 9).

Judy Maltz addresses the shrinking number of English teachers available to work in Israel’s schools. As the article shows, this is a critical issue — especially in the country’s periphery — and the Education Ministry has taken notice.


The influx of recently graduated Arab-Israeli teachers hired to work in Jewish schools is a welcome development that should be fully supported.


But there’s an additional resource, created through a partnership between the Education Ministry and Masa Israel, that could also help fill the void. Schools in Israel searching for extra bandwidth for English education should consider bringing in native English speakers living abroad who are eager to spend a year serving Israeli communities and gaining professional experience.


More and more, young people are seeing Israel as a prime destination for teaching English after college — right up there with Spain, China and South Korea. Through Masa Israel Teaching Fellows, we’ve brought hundreds of participants to more than a dozen Israeli communities from Netanya to Rahat, where they have a real impact tutoring in small groups and through one on one instruction. These are college graduates who come to Israel year after year to bolster their personal and professional growth, form lasting bonds with the country and make a positive difference in the lives of Israeli children.


So, as schools continue to identify solutions for the shortage of English teachers readily accessible, it’s worth highlighting the potential of this newly tapped resource.


Originally Published in Haaretz.