Drew Fidler

Drew Fidler

Yahel Social Change Program
Program: 
As I was nearing the end of my Masters in Social Work at New York University, I decided that I wanted to come live and work in Israel. Having grown up in a Jewish home in Owings Mills, Maryland and fallen in love with Israel on a Birthright trip two years earlier, I wanted to experience another side of Israel and grow and develop my skills as a social worker in another country. 
 
I enrolled in Masa Israel Journey's Yahel Social Change, a five-month service-learning program that enables individuals to live in the community where they volunteer with the goal of helping to strengthen the community from within. Two and a half months into the program, my new residence in Gadera, a fast-growing city 40 minutes southeast of Tel Aviv with a large immigrant population, feels like home. Neighbors greet me by name as I walk along the street, and I feel at ease in the neighborhood where I live. 
 
My comfort in Gadera was not instantaneous. In a community where most people speak Hebrew, my neighbors first viewed me as a strange outsider. The children and families living in the Shapira neighborhood, a single street of twenty-four-story cement apartment buildings, did not know who we were or understand why we were in Gadera. My group was known literally as “the Americans.” It was challenging to stay patient and build trust. But gradually things changed. People realized that we not only made promises, but that we followed through. 
 
Two mornings a week, I went to the local elementary school to tutor students in English and in the afternoons, I worked alongside Ethiopian-Israeli volunteers from Chaverim B'Teva, a local not-for-profit organization that seeks to empower the Ethiopian community in Israel. As a part of one of Chaverim B’Teva’s programs, I tutored two different pairs of Ethiopian-Israeli teenagers in their homes twice a week. The purpose of the program is to spend an hour and a half tutoring and then spend the last half hour with the family. Lacking Hebrew fluency, I first worried about how we would communicate. But through the openness of the family and our shared willingness to use whatever Hebrew, English and Amharic we could to connect, our relationship had grown exponentially. 
 
With our grassroots efforts, we cannot have expected to fully see the impact of our work during our stay, but we can plant seeds and help to create new and innovative sustainable projects. Having worked in a Jewish camp in the U.S. for the past three summers, I have seen firsthand the positive impact that Israeli counselors have on campers. As a result, I have teamed up with Chaverim B’Teva to launch a program to help prepare Ethiopian-Israeli young adults to take the Suchnoot exam, which makes them eligible for these positions. The test requires that young adults be able to express their passionate views about Israel in English and plan programs for American kids in English. We are currently in the process of creating the training. 
 
Though I attended a Jewish elementary school, I knew little about the rich culture and traditions of the Ethiopian Jews before living in Gadera. I believe it is important that American Jewish youth gain exposure to Jewish diversity in order to explore similarities and differences within widespread Jewish communities. 
 
Living among people whose descendents are from all over the world, I have never found it easier to live a Jewish life. I have spent Shabbat relaxing, exploring the country, and visiting numerous different synagogues and kabbalat Shabbat services. My Hebrew is getting stronger everyday. 

 
 
In the future, I hope to receive my clinical license, lead individual and group therapy with adolescents and their families, and create and implement after-school programming for at-risk adolescents in the Maryland area. Yahel Social Change is giving me very valuable experience in the social work field not only in meeting a community’s needs of today but also in helping them cultivate dreams and give them the resources to plan for their future. It's been wonderful to realize that the more I immerse myself in Israel, the more invested I feel in my work and the more confident I feel about my contribution.

Lauren Plunka

Lauren Plunka

WUJS Israel
After graduating from Goucher College, I, like so many others, realized that I had no idea what kind of career I wanted, who I was, or what I wanted out of life. So, I decided to clear my head and explore my passions in Israel.
 
I enrolled in Masa Israel’s WUJS, a six-month program for college graduates that combines Jewish and Middle Eastern Studies against the backdrop of a living classroom, as well as volunteer opportunities. Having visited Israel on only two short-term trips, I was finally able to not only see a multifaceted Israel on WUJS, but to become a part of it. In addition to taking an intensive Hebrew ulpan course, the group traveled to diverse sites around Israel, which ranged from the Independence Hall in Tel Aviv to Kibbutz Metzer, the only kibbutz where Israelis and Palestinians live and work together, to Sderot, where we visited playgrounds, which serve the dual purpose of bomb shelters. 
 
While our trips throughout Israel gave us a real framework for our studies, volunteering gave us a place in the community. During the war in Gaza, my fellow participants and I packaged meals for over 10,000 soldiers at an army base in Tel Aviv, and led arts and crafts projects with children who fled the rockets in Sderot and Ashkelon. Throughout my time in Israel, I also volunteered at Amir Stables, a farm that offers riding lessons as therapy for terror victims, children with disabilities, and even Holocaust survivors. 
 
As my Hebrew grew and I learned how to relate to the sometimes-pushy Israelis, I grew more at ease in Israel and began exploring it with friends—spending a few days in the Golan Heights and attending the Rainbow Gathering, a hippie festival in the middle of the desert, and then camping out at the Dead Sea.
 
On WUJS, I was finally able to explore Judaism in its central location and experience Shabbat all over the country—from Haifa to Zichron Yaakov to Tzfat. 
 
Now, back in Maryland, I am a teaching assistant in Hunt Valley and work with low-functioning autistic children. In the near future, I hope to earn a masters degree in occupational therapy. Though I studied biology in college, my volunteering with WUJS made me realize that my calling is in helping people through hands-on interaction. 
 
I never would have expected to see myself in Israel a year after graduation. However, I am so lucky I chose that path. Not only did I make life-long connections, visit beautiful places, experience a country so full of life, but I discovered the sort of person I want to be. I encourage other young adults to take advantage of the opportunities that Masa Israel has to offer and to take the time to explore their passions in Israel.

Jessica Louise

Jessica Louise

Kibbutz Ulpan
Program: 
 
I grew up always being the lone Jewish girl. I would be the one who always missed school in September for the High Holidays, who would always be asked to explain “my peoples’ special holiday” to the class, and of course, the one who was always asked “so really, why did you guys kill Jesus?” I suppose it didn’t help that I spent my high school years attending an all girls Catholic school south of Boston where my lack of Irish step dancing and red hair made me stand out like a sore thumb. It was always this wanting for a Jewish community that motivated me to someday find one; I just didn’t know where to search. Additionally, freshman year had been a rough year for me and I felt myself slowly sinking. I didn’t know where I fit in at my university where everyone was super motivated and being a type-A personality wasn’t a nuisance, but a necessity. All I knew was that I needed to get away and slow life down before I would suddenly find myself cherishing my last few days of freedom before my senior year of university. That is when I decided to go back to my roots and head for the Holy Land. Thus, in the first semester of my sophomore year at university, I did something so shocking and unbelievable to all my fellow students at my university- I decided to take a leave of absence and live on a kibbutz in Israel.
 
I found out about Masa Israel’s Kibbutz Ulpan experience on a late night Google search and made the impulsive decision to sign up. All I knew was that I would spend four hours a day learning Hebrew and another four doing menial labor. Fast forward to four months later and I am peeling my sweaty shirt off of the bus seat as I was dropped off in what I described to as my mother as, “the middle of nowhere, Israel”. I had somehow landed at Kibbutz Maag’an Michael in northern Israel with not a word of Hebrew to guide me, and a suitcase the size of an adolescent child. I had no idea whatsoever what living on a kibbutz entailed and as the rest of the 130 ulpanists from over a 100 different countries drifted on to the kibbutz, I realized that this experience would be like none I had ever had in my life.
 
Life on the kibbutz reminded you how sweet life could be. The most stressful decisions of the day were whether to go to the pool or the beach. Our days alternated between four hours of work and four hours of learning Hebrew. I got lucky and was assigned to work in the laundry where I was privy to all the gossip of the kibbutz and I quickly learned that nothing is too private, and if you have a secret lover, someone will inevitably find out and spread it like wildfire. It was here that I found out how the kibbutz used to offer condoms in a small bowl where the soldiers would come to pick up their laundry. They stopped doing this when one year the kids of the kibbutz decided it would be funny to poke holes into every one and nine months later the kibbutz experienced a baby boom of its own.
 
It would be impossible for me to pinpoint any one moment that truly defined my five month experience. As is the case with most significant life moments, it is sometimes the simplest ones that mean the most. For me, I truly realized how far I had come when our entire ulpan went to spend our last weekend together in the Bedouin camps in the Negev. We had come so far together; we had laughed, cried, celebrated and mourned together and this last night would be a culmination of all those experiences. The next day we would literally be dispersing across the globe and hugging each other tearful goodbyes. That night was particularly memorable as news had just broken out about tensions on the border and some close friends had already been deployed to Gaza. As we leaned on each other for support, we all felt an especially deep bond as we knew, finally, what it felt like to be Israeli. It meant taking the good with the bad, the painful with the sweet. It meant that we had to muster up our energy and spirit and light the Hanukah candles. So as we sat there, in the middle of the Negev desert, with nothing but the Hanukiah illuminating our faces, I never felt so much at peace.
 
The path that led me here was not the most traditional, but it was the best path for me. Deciding to take a semester off and fly across the world to spend five months living on a kibbutz turned out to be the best decision that I ever made. It shaped me into the person I am today and forged relationships that continue on to this day. Most importantly, those five months on the kibbutz planted a seed for me in Israel that has now grown into a beautiful tree. I have returned to Israel twice since I left that kibbutz in December, first to spend a semester studying at Tel Aviv University and most recently, to volunteer with African refugees in Tel Aviv. Perhaps my most significant journey back to the Holy Land will be when I will descend off of the plane as an olah hadasha and continue my life that began three years ago on a kibbutz in the middle of nowhere, Israel.

Josh Dickinson

Josh Dickinson

Tikkun Olam in Tel Aviv-Jaffa
It was my first day of volunteering with Masa Israel's Tikkun Olam Tel Aviv-Jaffa, a 5-month volunteer program, and I was spending my morning at an all-boys' religious school called Ironi Het in the Tel Aviv neighborhood of Yad Eliyahu. I had just finished introducing myself when the questions started to pour in.
 
“Do you like the Boston Celtics?” (Of course.)
 
“Is it cold in Boston?” (Yes, very cold and very snowy.)
 
“Have you been to Israel before?” (Yes, I was here this summer on Taglit-Birthright.)
 
“Do you like Israel?” (Very much so. That’s why I decided to come back to volunteer.)
 
“Are you going to make Aliyah?” (Uh.. that’s a more serious conversation for another time..)
 
“Do you live above the convenience store?”
 
This last question made me laugh out loud. One of the apartments that houses volunteers happens to be above a convenience store. Apparently, it has become known as the “American apartment” in Kiryat Shalom, an otherwise small, mostly Orthodox, neighborhood in southern Tel Aviv. Many of the students I work with at Ironi Het live in Kiryat Shalom as well. 
 
Although I volunteer at three other places, my experience at Ironi Het has been the most interesting thus far. The best way I can describe the school is with the Hebrew word, “balagan,” meaning, chaotic. It is noisy, with kids running around everywhere, and no one listening to anyone else. While the teachers do not seem fazed by any of this, it seems impossible to get anything done. Luckily, as an English tutor, I usually take a few students to a quieter room, where we can work without distractions.
 
Because I'm not religious, I had to acclimate to the school's religious environment. Having only worn a kippah twice in my life—once at my friend's bar mitzvah way back when and again when I visited the Western Wall over the summer—I initially felt uncomfortable wearing one every day. But here I am now, with a nice little kippah I bought at the market for a mere ten shekels. Some of the boys have asked me if I’ve been to synagogue since I came to Israel. I haven’t. I wonder if they would have asked me this if I did not have to wear the kippah. 
 
One of my broad goals for the year is to “make a difference,” which is a goal I share with the other volunteers. But, we have learned that the impact of our work probably will not be readily apparent to us. Though we all like to see results, this knowledge has helped us keep things in perspective. Then again, one of the students who previously showed no interest in English recently asked to work with me. I was glad to hear this and look forward to helping him improve his English over the next few months, while he helps me improve my Hebrew.
 
Josh Dickinson grew up in Natick, MA, received his undergraduate degree from Boston University and his law degree from Northeastern University School of Law.

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.
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