Lauren Zink

Lauren Zink

Otzma
 
In 2009 I was just beginning my senior year of college at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Connecticut. Like every student getting ready to graduate, I was thinking ahead to what I was going to do after I received my degree in public relations and marketing. I thought about choosing the more typical path and looking for a job. But I knew in my heart that this was not the path I wanted to take yet. Ever since I was little I had wanted to carve out some time in my life to volunteer, and I wanted that volunteer work to be done in Israel.
 
Growing up in Pittsfield, Massachusetts I had attended Hebrew School until I was 18. I was also an active member of United Synagogue Youth (USY). One summer I participated in USY on Wheels, a six-and-a-half week cross-country journey with other Jewish young adults. It was this trip, along with Birthright, which made me realize how much I love being in an environment with Jewish peers, learning and sharing new experiences.
 
Masa Israel’s OTZMA is a ten-month long program incorporating all of these things I was looking for: living in Israel like an Israeli, contributing to the country through volunteer work, making new friends, and learning the Hebrew language. I especially loved the variety of the program. While living in three locations during our year in Israel, we first focus on learning Hebrew and doing some volunteer work, then we fully immerse ourselves in volunteer work, and lastly we have the opportunity to live on a kibbutz or intern inTel Aviv or Jerusalem.
 
This is how my first month experience looked like. We were living in an absorption center in Ashqelon, Israel with Ethiopian immigrants and other Israeli volunteers who were taking a year off before they enter the army. Although this place was not as nice as the types of places I was used to live in, it became my new home. After all, home is where the heart is, and right now my heart is in Israel. 
 
I started taking Ulpan, an intensive Hebrew course, which is five hours a day, five days a week. In Ashqelon, not everyone can speak English and it was great to be able to practice my Hebrew speaking skills outside of the classroom. I also knew that it was crucial to learn as much as I can for part two of the program when I lived in Rehovot. The more I know, the more I will be able to volunteer and help my community and this has been nothing but motivational when it is time for me to study. 
 
My favorite volunteer opportunity was painting an apartment, which was easily the most disgusting living quarters I have ever seen, with bedrooms containing only a bed, cat hairballs strewn all over the floor and a stench from the bathroom lingering throughout the apartment. But I must admit that as we painted, the place certainly started to improve. That day I learned that a little bit can really go a long way. 
 
When the other Otzmanikim and I decided to take a break, we made our way up to the roof. It was in that moment that I realized that no matter how much paint was splattered on my body and face, or how gross the apartment was, there is always surrounding beauty. The area was not the nicest part of town, but that did not take away from the cool night air that we could feel and the beautiful landscapes that we could see. 
 
There have been many moments like this one in Israel. At times I was very frustrated or quite homesick for certain things. But at the end of every day when I got ready to go to sleep I thought to myself how I am nothing but fortunate to be here and able to dedicate my time to something that I am so passionate about. 
On our Sukkot break, I chose to travel to Jordan. There I was able to experience a new culture and see what one of Israel’s neighboring countries is like. I think the best part of the experience for me however, was realizing how much I missed Israel and looked forward to returning to what now truly feels like home. 
 
OTZMA gave me a little slice of the pie of what the rest of my experience will be. If the other slices taste as good as that one, then I cannot wait for the new knowledge, experiences, and memories that will surely have lifelong impacts.

Rachel Olstein

Rachel Olstein

Hebrew U MA in Leadership & Philanthropy
It was only as an adult, working in the non-profit sector, that I at last discovered my real place in the Jewish community – a place that combines my passion for social justice with my love of Jewish values and the State of Israel.
 
Three years ago, fueled by a desire to arm myself with management skills for this career, I enrolled in an Israel-based Masters program in Community Leadership & Philanthropy Studies. Today, I am the Director of Volunteer Services at the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village in Rwanda.
 
Growing up in a large Jewish community outside of Boston, Judaism was a significant part of my life. In college, however, my commitment wavered as I became disillusioned with what I saw as the insularity of the community; I turned my energies to poverty and education. As a student at Vassar College, where I majored in urban education, I became active in social justice causes and prepared for a teaching career. I wanted to follow the wisdom I had learned in AmeriCorps and leave the world better than I had found it. I spent two years teaching second grade in an underserved neighborhood in Connecticut.
 
But something was missing.
 
I took on the challenge of a second job, directing a local USY chapter. There, I learned about theTeva Learning Center, a Jewish environmental education center where I found a community of active and engaged Jews dedicated to tikkun olam and educating youth, and each other, through radical amazement.
 
I left the formal classroom to work at Teva, where Israel was a popular topic of conversation. For thousands of years, Jews have wanted to be in Israel; not only did I feel privileged to be born into an era when it was possible to visit Israel – I felt obligated to spend an extended period of time there. I enrolled in the Masa Israel-accredited M.A. program at Hebrew University.
 
From the moment I landed in Israel, not a day passed when I did not want to be there. Once again, I found Jewish peers who believed in the importance of social responsibility that extends beyond one’s own community. While I spent the weeks gaining valuable skills for the nonprofit world, on weekends I traveled the country with a hiking group. On treks that took me to the Judean Desert and the wadis of the Negev, from Mount Hermon to the Kinneret, I met my husband.
 
Meanwhile, at Hebrew U, I decided to focus my studies on organizations that pursue social justice from a Jewish perspective, but work to help populations beyond the Jewish community. I believe that Israel needs positive ambassadors and that such globally-minded programs can leave communities around the world with a positive impression about Judaism and Israel. I believe that Jews have a social responsibility that extends beyond their own world and, to me, there’s something intrinsically Jewish about helping people, regardless of their race, religion or culture.
 
Today in my work as the Director of Volunteer Services for the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village in Rwanda, I am able to help young Jewish volunteers make a similar impact and be part of a revolutionary development initiative in Africa. The village, which was modeled after Yemin Orde and other Israeli youth villages created for orphans after the Holocaust, provides a nurturing, safe and structured environment designed to enable orphaned youth to realize their maximum potential. We offer housing, holistic health care, innovative education and extracurricular activities for 250 Rwandan teenagers, most of whom were orphaned during the 1994 genocide. I coordinate volunteer opportunities and programming in North America, Israel and at the village in Rwanda. I also lead groups of Jewish and interfaith volunteers from North America and Israel who come to the village for a few weeks at a time to help promote the future sustainability of the village.
 
Every day I am able to not only live the knowledge I gained in my Hebrew University Master’s program, but also apply it in a way that I find meaningful. I urge other young adults to spend an extended period of time on a Masa Israel program, developing their connection to Israel, and perhaps even discovering a clear path they want their lives to take.

Rachel Snider

Rachel Snider

Career Israel
Program: 
I never would have imagined that seven months after my Birthright trip in June 2008 I would return to Israel to develop my career. Birthright was a fantastic whirlwind trip. I met amazing people and fell in love with Israel, but I did not expect to return for at least a few years.
 
The summer wore on as I resumed my day-to-day office life at a Boston PR firm. The contrast between the excitement I felt in Israel and the monotony I felt in my present life made it clear that I needed a change. But suddenly the economy began slipping, lay-offs increased and it was not the right time to begin job searching. Ultimately this proved to be a blessing; I took advantage of the situation and enrolled in Masa Israel’s Career Israel, an internship program for college graduates in Israel. Not only would it allow me to return to Israel, but it would also enable me to explore a new career path.
 
While living in the center of Tel Aviv, I worked at Save A Child’s Heart (SACH), an Israeli-based international, humanitarian project that provides cardiac care for children from developing countries. Using my experience in public relations and communications, I helped raise awareness, set up young leadership boards across the globe, and promoted events and volunteer programs. I witnessed first-hand how cardiac surgery and appropriate rehabilitative care transformed these children into active, happy and healthy children who were able to return home with a second chance at life.
 
In addition to finding a new professional path, my knowledge about Israel increased dramatically. Before I embarked on the trip, my friends back home envisioned me going off to live in a war zone. As a result of American media which so often presents Israel in a biased way, I lacked the information to repudiate their ideas and to stand up for the country. Once I actually experienced daily life in Israel, I gained realistic perspectives about the country. In my interactions with Israelis, I gained a sense of the Israeli lifestyle, culture, and idiosyncrasies. Through Career Israel’s weekly activities, which included trips to enemy borders and dialogues about religion with Israelis peers, I was further able to expand my knowledge of Israel while discovering my own Jewish identity.
 
I attended Jewish sleep away camp and I studied abroad, but I have never met people like the 100 diverse young adults on this program—each with a unique story. The program brought us together regardless of our reasons for joining Career Israel. I didn’t go on Career Israel with the intent of finding my hidden “super Jew” nor did I find it. But I did come back with a stronger connection to the country, my Israeli peers, family, and young Jews from all around the world.
 
I returned home from Israel full of stories from my adventures in Israel and additional travels to Greece, Turkey and Jordan. Upon reflection, I can see how much I grew and matured during my Israel experience. Not only did I return with a renewed sense of self and more confidence but as a result of my internship at Save a Child’s Heart, I solidified my determination to pursue a career in public health. Soon after I returned to the States, I moved to Washington, D.C. to work at the American Public Health Association. I am currently pursuing a Masters in Public Health at George Washington University.
 
My hope is that more young professionals looking for career development opportunities or just trying to explore their identities will consider a Masa Israel program. It was a big leap for me but I am so happy I had the courage to embark on this adventure because not only was the experience unforgettable; it was also life changing.

Josh Tolkan

Josh Tolkan

Kibbutz Lotan Green Apprenticeship
 
After graduating from Carleton College in Minnesota with a concentration in environmental and technology studies, I was interested in gaining hands-on ecological experience and seeing Israel. On Masa Israel’s Kibbutz Lotan Green Apprenticeship program, I was able to explore the fields of permaculture and natural building. Today, in my work with AmeriCorps, I apply the lessons I learned on Kibbutz Lotan through conducting eco-projects in low-income areas of Minneapolis.
 
While I always had a strong interest in the environment and served as the nature counselor at a day camp during summer breaks from college, Kibbutz Lotan gave me the tools and vision to lead an environmentally conscious life. Combining practical study with hands-on projects, I learned about gardening and sustainable natural building, and took part in building the first geodesic dome in Kibbutz Lotan’s Green Apprenticeship neighborhood. A few other apprentices and I also built a sunflower-shaped bench solely from used material, including old tires and plastic bins.
 
The most important lesson I gleaned from my experience was probably the simplest one: it was to encourage people, and especially children, to connect with the earth. In order to craft a population that cares about the environment, children must have the experience of planting a seed that becomes a plant. Upon my return to Minnesota, I took this lesson with me in my work at the day camp, where I started Kibbutz Keshet and worked with the campers to plant a garden and build an earth oven, and to the Roots and Reading group in Minneapolis, which combined reading and gardening for children from low-income families.
 
After earning a Masters degree in urban planning with a certificate in metropolitan design from the University of Minnesota, I got a job with AmeriCorps’ Project for Pride in Living, a nonprofit which addresses poverty and low-income housing in the Twin Cities.
There, I work on a variety of projects, including several landscaping initiatives, redesigning poorly engineered storm water ponds that look like mud pits into beautiful natural amenities, and planting gardens with nonpolluting native plants in the new “Eco-Village,” a neighborhood which is stricken with foreclosed vacant homes.
 
Though I had not expected to find such a green-conscious community in the small country, its presence in Israel soon made sense to me. As tikkun olam, or seeking to repair the world, is a core Jewish value, environmental awareness should be a central part of Judaism. In everything I do, I try to remember the values I gained on Kibbutz Lotan and incorporate them into my work.

Kassandra Grunewald

Kassandra Grunewald

Otzma
 
Raised in a Minnesotan town with a small Jewish population, Judaism was a peripheral part of Kassandra Grunewald’s life. “My Jewish friends and my daily friends were always separate. They were two different sides of me,” she said.
 
With a large Jewish population as its main appeal, Kassandra enrolled in Boston University, becoming active in the Hillel and taking multiple Jewish courses. After graduation, Kassandra joined OTZMA to work and volunteer in Israel, where she believed she could continue leading a Jewish life. 
 
During the internship stage, Kassandra lived in Tel Aviv and worked for businesswoman Galia Albin on a project called, Live Hatikva. Albin envisioned a broadcast in which a record-breaking number of Jews in Israel and around the world would sing Hatikva at a specific time on Israel’s 60th Independence Day. The initiative was meant to unite Jews in Israel and around the world in celebration of Israel, to revive the national anthem’s words, and to make it into the Guinness Book of World Records. Kassandra coordinated this event in Jewish communities throughout the English-speaking world. 
 
“In Israel, people aren’t used to having interns, so either they will give you envelopes to stuff or they will send you into the courtroom,” Kassandra said. In addition to contacting every Hillel inNorth America and many other Jewish organizations, Kassandra worked to ensure that each group involved in the project was filmed – a Guinness Book of World Records regulation. 
 
In the end, the initiative included 30 states and 20 countries, with groups ranging from three to 5,000 people. On May 7, 2008, at 10:50 P.M., Jews from all around the world sang Hatikva while simultaneously watching live broadcasts of Israeli communities doing the same. “It was bigger than anything I had ever imagined I’d be a part of,” Kassandra said. 
 
After the event, Kassandra received emails of appreciation from participants around the world. “So many of them hadn’t even been to Israel and, yet, this had made them feel so connected,” she said. The U.J.C. expressed interest in making the Live Hatikva initiative annual. 
 
At the end of her nine months with OTZMA, Kassandra decided to make Aliyah and continue her work for Live Hatikva. 
 
“I’m not that religious, but Israeli culture is one of closeness, of family. People on the street will tell you to use their cell phone and will try to lend you money,” she said. “And, if I haven’t had enough of Israel for the year, then it makes sense to stay.” 

Lindsay Rothschild

Lindsay Rothschild

Otzma
After her Birthright trip to Israel during college, Short Hills-native Lindsey Rothschild knew she had to return. “I know it’s cliché, but I just really fell in love with it,” she says. “While at the Kotel, I ran into a recent Northwestern alum who was on a Masa Israel Journey program and I thought to myself, this has to be me next year.”
 
With the encouragement of the Hillel Israel Engagement professional at Northwestern, Lindsey enrolled in Masa Israel’s OTZMA, a ten-month service-oriented program. “When I bumped into another Northwestern student at the Kotel during my first Shabbat on OTZMA, I was really happy to have come full circle,” she says.
 
During her ten months in Israel, Lindsey lived and volunteered in various cities. Starting off in Ashkelon, Lindsey lived in an absorption center, took an intensive Hebrew course and volunteered in a local foster home and synagogue. After spending a few weeks studying at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies, Lindsey moved to Ofakim, Metro West’s Partnership 2000 sister city. 
 
When Lindsey arrived, she met a visiting yoga delegation from the Metro West area. Spearheaded by a woman who had participated in the first OTZMA, Lindsey, who also had experience teaching yoga, was inspired to start her own program. “I thought it would be a great thing for the community, and they responded really well to it,” says Lindsey. Lindsey held classes for teenaged girls from the local center for troubled youth, as well as middle-aged women. “The teenagers would only participate if I put on really non-yoga pop music but after a few minutes, they’d just end up dancing,” says Lindsey. “Then I got the community’s Israeli volunteer to join and they started to get into it.” 
 
After leaving Ofakim, Lindsey went to Tel Aviv, where she worked in the marketing department of the Women’s International Zionist Organization (WIZO), updating the English website and improving the content. “My boss really reached out to me, inviting me to her home, press conferences and WIZO-benefactor site visits throughout the country,” says Lindsey.
 
The highlight of Lindsey’s year was having the opportunity to take part in the weeklong Desert Queen Journey, a Jewish Agency-sponsored jeep challenge for women from Israel and the Diaspora. As part of a Masa Israel team with other participants from England, Argentina and Canada, Lindsey learned how to drive a jeep in the desert, gained biblical knowledge, took part in team-building activities and ate incredible food. The theme of the journey was “Freedom” and two of the Journey participants were women whose brothers had been captured and killed in the Second Lebanon War. Lindsey also had the opportunity to meet Gilad Schalit’s parents. 
 
“The whole experience was very moving,” says Lindsey, “One night, my group put on a skit about what it means to grow up outside of Israel. We were really able to have important discussions and learn about each other’s perspectives.” At the end of the Journey, the Desert Queen participants chose the Masa Israel women as the winning team.
 
After Lindsey returned from Otzma, she landed a job in the Jewish world. Lindsey is excited to begin a Hebrew ulpan course in New York in a week.

Rina Gluckman

Rina Gluckman

Otzma
 
I chose to participate in Otzma at the age of 23 because it had everything I wanted in an experience abroad.
 
During the first part of the program, I lived in northern Israel with other Otzma participants and volunteered at the Nazeret Elite absorption center with new Israeli immigrants. 
 
With my economics degree and business interests, I was in heaven. Living in a development town, I acclimated to day-to-day life with the help of the locals, while learning about how they got to Israel, what made them want to come in the first place, and what skills they expected to use to find a better life for their children.
 
Three months later, I headed to MetroWest’s partner town of Ofakim, 20 minutes south of Be’er Sheva, with two other Otzma participants from MetroWest. While settling into Ofakim life, I learned about the Moroccan immigrants who had developed the town in the 1950s and immersed myself in their culture.
 
For the last part of Otzma, I was in Tel Aviv, where I was the only Otzma participant interning with the Reut Institute, an Israeli policy group/economic think-tank. As a research fellow for its socio-economic team, I conducted strategic analysis on the Israeli economy to figure out how Israel can remain a global competitor.
 
Otzma was a history, economic development, and business lesson in one. With the freedom to design my own experience, I made an effort to incorporate my business background and economic curiosity into my volunteer work and internship. My “planning” began even during my interview with the MetroWest office, when I was told about a group of local women in Ofakim who desperately needed help with their catering company. Otzma enabled me to give back to my community in Israel, where I was needed the most, while fulfilling my personal career goals.
 
Following Otzma, I was hired to be project manager of BDO Israel’s business development and marketing department in Tel Aviv.
 
Through Masa, in one year, I forged more close relationships and learned more than I ever thought possible, and all in the beautiful land of Israel.

Vivan Futran

Vivan Futran

Arava Institute for Environmental Studies
 
Since the womb, my passion has been environmentalism. Despite my seasonal allergies, I was the kid rolling around in the grass, rescuing animals, and sending ecologically-focused op-eds to my local paper. After studying at the Arava Institute of Environmental Studies, a Masa Israel Journey accredited program, I decided to turn my passion into my career and I plan to begin a Masters in Environmental Studies at the University of Pennsylvania this January.
 
The Arava program, which seeks to tackle environmental degradation and address the Middle East conflict, combines courses, independent studies, leadership seminars, peace-building skills, and 35 students of Jewish Israeli, Jordanian Arab, and American descent.
 
Upon graduating from Duke with a focus in international relations and environmental studies, I knew I wanted to work in the environmental sector, but was uncertain about the specific capacity. A position in an environmental consulting firm in Washington, DC left me craving interaction with people. At an internship with a congressman's environmental legislative assistant, I found myself wanting to be the one communicating the needs rather than formulating the policy. With a desire to explore this path and return to Israel after my college Birthright trip, I enrolled in Arava's one-year program.
 
Arava placed me back in nature, doing hands-on work in the environment, among peers who realized the significance of our pursuits. In the midst of a desert valley, just a stone’s throw from the border with Jordan, lies Kibbutz Ketura, home of the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies. Surrounded by mountains, bike paths, and dusty yellow sand, Kibbutz Ketura is a region ripe for exploration and environmental research. When I first arrived with my parents after two weeks of traveling through the greener north, I was well aware of the importance of the work we would pursue.
 
While the students spent a great deal of time discussing politics and sharing personal stories of wars and loss, we learned the most about cooperation from the environment. The environment does not respect political borders and it provides a perfect way to bring people from all over the region together to pursue vital and meaningful projects in a country that is on the cutting edge of environmental initiatives.
 
One such project that I spearheaded at Arava involved the preservation of biodiversity within the Samar sand dunes, which are all too often destroyed to make cement. After learning about the issue in an Arava course, I started researching best strategies for a grassroots campaign to spread awareness. Combining my research about the issue and my correspondence with scientists, activists, and students about their own attempts to publicize the issue, I created a packet of best practices which I sent to relevant organizations.
 
The opportunity to transform our studies into action was invigorating and uplifting and pervaded our setting and relationships. Though our backgrounds, ages, personalities, and viewpoints were different, the 35 students were all united in the desire for peace and love and respect for nature. On the grassy quad along which we lived, people could always be seen kicking soccer ball and reading for class under the hot sun. We became close during lecture courses, such as Water Management, on 4 AM hikes to the sand dunes, in study groups, and while dancing late into the night in the kibbutz pub. Together, we realized our strength. On the first day of the program, our bodies jolted dangerously as we toured a rocky nature reserve on mountain bikes. Later, we relaxed, cooking kabobs to music, around a bonfire late into te night. This presence of both intensity and serenity, of the desert and the lush green, was a consistent background to our learning and growth. While there are clashes, as in any family, our love and mutual respect for one another grew from our shared common ground.
 
After being engaged in hands-on environmental work at Arava that brings diverse people together into the field to repair the world, I know which direction I want my environmental work to take and am currently studying at the University of Pennsylvania.

Zohar Flamembam

Zohar Flamembam

Career Israel
Program: 
 
A few months before I graduated from Monmouth University with a degree in business management, I was hounded with the dreaded question, “So...what are your plans after graduation?" Soon I would be forcefully pushed out of my four-year nest of comfort and carelessness and placed in "the real world," where I was expected to embrace a life of responsibility and direction. Having grown up as a beach bum and a party girl on the shores of Atlantic City, I tended not to take my future too seriously and just tried to live life day by day. I had little knowledge of what I wanted to do professionally, but I knew that I never wanted to work the typical 9 to 5 job in a cubicle, that I wanted to travel the world, and that I needed to save money to make it happen. 
 
After graduation, I found myself back in my parents’ home, working from 9 to 5 in the customer complaint department at a local casino and sitting in my very own cubicle. After sticking it out for a year and a half and saving money, I decided to enroll and was accepted to Masa Israel’s Career Israel, a five-month internship program based in Israel. At the time, I was still unsure of the direction I wanted my career to take and the opportunity seemed perfect. 
 
I arrived with no expectations and an open mind, the only way to be when embarking on such a journey. I lived in the center of Tel Aviv, where the weather is warmer, the falafel balls are sweeter, and dreams are known to come true. The best part about it...I was surrounded by 100 others who were in the same boat as me. No one knew exactly what they wanted, only that it was a step in the right direction and that we were lucky to be living it in Israel. 
 
It’s difficult to explain the feelings that come with being a foreigner in the Jewish state, and frustrating moments happen often. It’s common to go to the bank six different times to open a bank account. Yet, in the midst of a region filled with unfriendly neighbors, I have never felt so safe especially knowing that I have one of the strongest armies to protect me at every turn. All in all, daily life in Israel is amazingly fulfilling. It is something that could never be truly explained, but that an individual must experience on their own to gain true knowledge of the feeling. 
 
I interned at Hillel at Tel Aviv University where I planned fun and educational events for the students from the overseas program. I was responsible for events from start to finish, finding venues, planning content and music, advertising, and my personal favorite, negotiating drink specials. Adapting to the Israeli work environment was easy, as it is more laidback and deadlines aren’t life or death. Despite working 40 hours a week, I still felt like I was on vacation. In the American culture, work defines who one is and many people are caught up in the “live to work” mindset. The Israeli work culture is on the other side of the spectrum. Everyday is casual Friday and people always have time to stop and smell the shakshuka. It was the exact breath of fresh Mediterranean air that I needed. 
 
As the five months winded down, I realized that my internship may have been more meaningful than just another bullet point on my resume. During those months, my involvement in event planning extended beyond Tel Aviv University and infiltrated my Career Israel group experience, as I helped plan Shabbat dinners, beach barbeques, nights out on the town, and a marathon week at the end of our session. It became clear that a career in event planning was in my future. 
 
The impact of my Masa Israel experience is priceless. While my time abroad included trips to Jordan, Greece, Turkey, and Italy, Israel trumped all. Not only was I able to find my career path, I made amazing friends along the way. We lived in a city that never sleeps, where one can parties all night, beach all day, stop along the way for some mint tea and a scrumptious homemade pastry, and live life to the fullest every day. 

Elliot Lazarus

Elliot Lazarus

WUJS Internship Program
My arrival in Israel came about through an ironic convergence of difficult circumstances and fantasy. After losing my job at an architectural firm in Manhattan, my wife and I decided to participate in Masa Israel Journey’s WUJS internship program in Jerusalem. While pursuing continued professional growth, we have appreciated the pause in the midst of our rushed New York City life. 
 
Since graduating from the New York Institute of Technology five years ago, I had been working as an architect in Manhattan. While we were both very busy professionally, my wife, Michal, and I fell in love and married. Though we felt enslaved by the daily grind, we never really had a chance to step away from it all and think about how we wanted to structure our lives going forward. On weekends we sometimes fantasized about creating a less harried, more meaningful life together – but that was all forgotten come Monday. 
 
Then the recession hit. Architects feel the effects of recessions immediately because the first thing to go is future planning. Design commissions were scarce last year and then construction came to a grinding halt. Rather than waiting around for the markets to turn, we decided to take advantage of this slow time by fulfilling our weekend dreams. We chose to participate in the WUJS Internship program, which would place me in an architecture firm in Jerusalem for six months. 
 
Anyone in a creative profession can benefit greatly from spending some time abroad. It opens the mind and heightens the senses. As an architect in Jerusalem, I am keenly aware of these effects. 
 
Visually, there is something about the purity of Jerusalem’s light. It makes the white architecture, often ancient, appear crisp and fresh against a deep blue sky. The composition is punctuated with bold, dark green Mediterranean cypresses. One would think that building an entire city of the same stone would get monotonous. Instead, it makes the eye more sensitive to nuance. There is a subtle interplay of stone textures, and a myriad of ways to make an opening in a wall. 
 
While walking in Jerusalem—and I walk a lot—I pay close attention to the articulation of window and door openings in the ubiquitous limestone walls. My commute to work is a far cry from the frantic, overcrowded subway ride on so many levels. 
 
Jerusalem’s tremendous historical and religious significance is a constant presence as I work now. To be designing a project alongside the site where King Solomon built his Temple almost three thousand years prior is unbelievable. It is an architect’s dream. 
 
When I spent two wonderful years studying in Yeshivat Kol Torah in Jerusalem after high school, I left with the impression that Jerusalem was the place to nurture the spirit and but not much else. Coming back here to work has negated that preconception. Every day, I work alongside highly professional, talented people from all over the world on cutting edge projects. Right now, I’m involved with a light rail project that runs just outside of the old city. Once completed, it will resolve the congestion problems of a city whose streets were designed long before automobiles, and will make a significant dent in air pollution. It is a privilege to assist in weaving such a piece of modernity through an ancient urban fabric in a way that is both efficient and contextually sensitive. 
 
While on WUJS, I had the opportunity to attend the Israeli Presidential Conference, through Masa Israel’s Activities for Participants (MAP). Bringing together some of the world’s greatest minds in various disciplines to discuss Israel’s future, including Tony Blair, Ray Kurzweil, James Wolfensohn, Jimmy Wales, and Josh Silverman, it was a huge accomplishment for the tiny Middle Eastern country. Speaker after speaker discussed Israel’s pivotal role in the technological, scientific, economic, and political future of our changing world. 
 
But my exposure to the modern, professional side of Israel is only a small part of the overall Masa Israel experience. I also made great friends. The WUJS program brought together a colorful cross section of Jews from all over the world. Growing up in a strongly Orthodox Jewish community in Far Rockaway, New York, “diversity” meant (slightly) different yarmulke styles. I attended yeshiva for both elementary and high school and had a rather homogeneous group of friends. Spending quality time with Jewish people from so many different backgrounds has made me feel more connected to the Jewish nation as a whole. Our commonalities are so much greater than our small, mostly superficial differences. When we sat around the dinner table on Friday nights, we are just one ancient family that has come home for Shabbat. 
 
I do not know too many people who can say that job loss led to further career development and life enrichment. I can confidently say that, aside from marrying my wife, participating in WUJS’s internship program has been the best decision I’ve ever made. 
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