Yonatan Rosen
2009-2010
Seth Norman
Noah Bernstein
Beth Canter
Eco-Israel, 2008-2009
Bella Shapiro
Arielle Miller
2007-2008

Amy Nisman

Amy Nisman

Career Israel
Program: 
January 2008. I’m sitting in a cubicle on the 23rd floor of the World Financial Center with 17 Excel spreadsheets on my laptop, absurdly ecstatic by the discovery of 54 cent refills now being offered at the Starbucks downstairs. No, this is not a post from mylife.com, but a glimpse into what my life was like nearly two years ago. At 24 years old, I knew something had to change, and fast.
 
Although I made annual visits from Cleveland to Israel to see family since childhood, I had always wanted a more immersive experience there. After graduating from Emory with a degree in business administration, working in public accounting for two years, and earning my CPA license, the time was finally right. After searching the web for long-term programs, I found the perfect fit: Masa Israel’s Career Israel.
 
I was attracted to the opportunity for many reasons. Not only did it include a five-month internship in my field of choice, but I would also take part in a six-week intensive Hebrew ulpan, educational seminars, trips throughout the country, and would receive housing in Tel Aviv alongside other recent college graduates. While most of the participants chose to work in their field, I saw this as the perfect opportunity to take a break from my career in accounting and volunteer in a social justice capacity.
 
Shortly after notifying my employer and moving out of my Manhattan apartment, I arrived in Israel and began volunteering at Kadima, an integrated after-school center for disadvantaged children in Jaffa. Though the work was challenging, I missed the fast-paced environment of my previous work.
 
Soon after I began volunteering at the school, I received a job offer at a waste energy start-up that had technology to convert landfill waste into renewable fuel for sale all over the world. There, I was able to use my knowledge in the up-and-coming field of renewable energy and help the start-up’s international clients develop business plans. After working for such a large company in New York, I thrived in the flexible start-up environment, which gave me more responsibility and the opportunity to get involved in areas outside of my job title.
 
Fast forward one year. Despite having made all the arrangements to return to New York after the program ended – furniture stored in a rented space, a lucrative job waiting, and plans to move in with my best friend – I am still here. I took the job at the start- up which became a long-term position as their VP of Finance. That opportunity, coupled with my love of Israel and the incredible experience of living in Tel Aviv, led me to stay.
 
Today I work as an assistant controller for a financial services outsourcing firm in Ra’anana and continue to enjoy living in Tel Aviv. Had it not been for Masa’s program, there’s a good chance I’d still be stuck in the concrete jungle addicted to venti Starbucks iced coffees. I encourage more young adults take advantage of these wonderful opportunities in Israel.

Roselle Feldman

Roselle Feldman

Dance Journey
Program: 
Right before the economy collapsed, I was scheduled to teach over thirty dance classes at dance studios in the South Shore Massachusetts area. Then, one of the studios suddenly closed and my formerly packed schedule was depleted.
 
I was quite disappointed and unsure what to do next with my life. I’d recently returned from a Birthright trip to Israel and knew I wanted to return. Growing up, my family had been observant but since high school, I’d drifted from the religion. Israel reawakened me to Judaism. I started to look for opportunities to be in Israel and continue my passion for dance.
 
At the last minute I discovered Masa Israel’s Dance Journey, a five-month dance program for international dancers between the ages of 18 to 30 located in Israel’s Dance Village in the Western Galilee. In just one week, I was on a plane to Israel.
 
I have been dancing my entire life but I have never found a place that rivals the Dance Village. Based in Kibbutz Ga’aton, the Dance Village was like a natural oasis filled with dancers. This meant that community members were not only engaged in the same art form, but they were constantly thinking similar thoughts and experiencing similar things. If I ever wanted help with a dance move, I only needed to turn to my neighbor. Support, encouragement and compassion were never hard to come by. Massages to ease throbbing muscles were always easy to obtain. Music continuously flowed through the kibbutz
 
Aside from being surrounded by a community of dancers, the Dance Journey participants were fortunate to receive the mentorship of the Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company (KCDC). Not only did they teach our classes, but we also had the opportunity to perform at their Gala, as well as for the President of Israel, Shimon Perez. At the end of Dance Journey, participants were able to audition for a possible spot with KCDC, or given other opportunities to dance on the kibbutz.
 
Our days were packed with dancing from morning to night with classes in ballet, Graham technique, jazz, modern and repertoire, and we also toured the country, while learning a bit of Hebrew. Once a week, I volunteered at a center for physically disabled individuals, while others worked with at-risk youth.
 
With individuals from 12 countries, including Slovakia, Russia, Uruguay and Mexico, the Dance Journey participants not only grew together as dancers, but we discovered Israel together. While preparing dinner together on many nights, we had long discussions about our cultures and traditions, each with his/her own perspective.
 
We ended the program with a big performance featuring the KCDC repertoire and our own choreography. Our friends and family in Israel came to see it, as well as other Masa Israel participants and staff.
 
Back in Massachusetts, I am teaching dance and applying to programs for continuing my education. I have started to become involved with my local Jewish community and I hope to incorporate both my loves of dance and Judaism in my future.
 
Dance Journey gave me the most productive reprieve I could ever imagine. Hit by the economic crisis, it enabled me to stay engaged in my art while becoming closer to Israel. I am so thankful for the opportunity. 

Liza Schwartz

Liza Schwartz

Career Israel
Program: 
Israel, you had me at “menorah.”
 
Allow me to explain. After two years working at a publishing company in New York editing mostly romance novels, I joined the Masa Israel-sponsored Career Israel internship program looking for something else to do with my English major. A few days after arriving in Tel Aviv, my roommates and I went shopping for desk lamps. Not seeing any displayed, I said to the salesperson in my best Hebrew, “We want light,” pointing to the light bulb in the ceiling, “but on a table.” Amazingly, he understood what I meant and answered in Hebrew, “Oh, you want a menorah.” I missed the name of the other store he suggested because I was stuck on the word menorah. Suddenly, it represented not only a ritual object that sits on display for most of the year, but also the everyday appliance known as a lamp.
 
During my five months in Israel I encountered a number of Hebrew words removed from their stale religious contexts and infused with life. I was among the offended when, during a panel discussion at the American Jewish Committee’s 2006 meeting, A. B. Yehoshua dismissed Diaspora Judaism and implied that Israelis were the only real Jews. During a subsequent speech at the Manhattan JCC he expanded on that blunt statement, and I accepted, at least academically, his argument that only Israelis experience Judaism in its entirety—as a nation and religion. It was only in this Tel Aviv appliance store that I fully understood what he meant and maybe even started to agree.
 
During the first week of my internship at the English-language website of Haaretz, I was surprised to hear everyone constantly talking about the Mishna. How was Torah commentary relevant to the news? It turned out that mishna simply means “secondary,” and in the newsroom it refers to the additional headline that expands on the main one. The mishna of Haaretz connected me to the Mishna of Rashi in a way Hebrew School never did. And the content of those mishnayot—crime, politics, corruption, and war—was no less relevant than their name. Living the totality of Jewish life as in biblical times means experiencing the celebrations of a shared heritage alongside the problems of modern nationhood.
 
Down the street from my apartment, I once heard a homeless man moaning in Hebrew, “Am yisrael, help me.” In America, I only heard that phrase, people of Israel, when it was time to break out the Israeli folk songs at weddings and bar mitzvahs. Another time, a beggar came into a restaurant and addressed my friend as adonai, my lord, when asking him for money. Even a term for God so holy it’s only pronounced in prayer has its street-level equivalent in Israel. In America, Jews have the luxury of isolating themselves based on differences in religious observance and lifestyle. There is a network of charities and cultural centers that connect the Jewish community, but one must choose to get involved. In Tel Aviv, I exited my building each morning into an uncensored Jewish world.
 
Since I came back to New York, I have been working at a Jewish non-profit and writing freelance. Why? Because, among other reasons, even though we don't have a Knesset to bind us into a nation of "complete Jews," as A. B. Yehoshua might say, our betai knesset offer a complete range of religious options that is rare in Israel. I grew up on Long Island attending a Conservative synagogue. When I moved to the city after graduating from Binghamton University, I found a number of young, egalitarian minyanim to choose from. In Tel Aviv I had to search for these kinds of congregations, and the attendees were mostly American expats my parents' age. Luckily, I was only trying to attend services, not get married or adopt a child outside the boundaries of the religious monopoly that exists in Israel.
 
Neither America nor Israel offers the complete Jewish experience, but my ear is now trained to hear what's missing in New York and fill in the blanks. Last year during Kol Nidre, for example, one word of the (admittedly Aramaic) prayer highlighted how Hebrew straddles Israel’s frustrating and alluring mix of the religious and mundane. At Haaretz I spent hours clicking mevutal, cancel, to delete inappropriate reader comments posted to the website. That same word is used in Kol Nidre when God is asked to annul all vows made during the previous year, joining the loftiest prayer with the lowest newsroom duty. An only-in-Israel moment brought to New York, thanks to five months off the tour bus and into the vibrant claustrophobia that inspires so many of us to call Israel home.

Josh Laurence

Josh Laurence

Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies
While working as a youth director at Temple Beth Sholom in Florida, Miami Beach-native Josh Laurence decided to spend a year studying at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies. "After first traveling to Israel with Birthright, I definitely wanted to return," says Josh. "Then the opportunity presented itself in the form of Pardes's year program—my mentor, Rabbi Robert Davis encouraged me to do it, my friend Miriam Farber registered, and the financial support from Masa Israel made it possible." 
 
Living in Jerusalem, Josh spent his days taking courses in Talmud, Torah, Social Action, Rambam, and Jewish Law. "I'd never taken part in such intense text study and the experience was invaluable," says Josh. "I became a lot more knowledgeable and confident in my abilities to teach others." 
 
When one of his teachers, Rabbi Levi Cooper, invited Josh to his house for Shabbat, Josh was given the opportunity to chant Haftarah at one of the neighborhood synagogues. "It was something I'd done many times at my Reform synagogue back home but it was a completely different experience," says Josh. "While usually there are a handful of people who also know the trop, in the Israeli congregation, people understood exactly what I was saying." 
 
When not in class, Josh had the opportunity to volunteer with PeacePlayers International, and facilitated basketball games for Arab and Israeli youth. On weekends, Josh traveled throughout Israel with friends. During a trip to a few settlements, one of Josh's teachers, Rabbi David Levin-Kruss, at Pardes called to make sure the group was safe. "A professor in an American university would never make such a call," says Josh. "But the faculty at Pardes was like that—always welcoming us to their homes for Shabbat and looking out for us." 
 
As the Youth Activities Director at Temple Beth Am in Pinecrest, Florida, Josh feels a lot more equipped for his work. "I can pull so much more meaning when unpacking Jewish texts and that makes me a much better teacher," says Josh. He continues to have weekly Skype study sessions with friends who have continued their studies at Pardes. 
 
Later that year, Josh returned to Israel to travel the country and visit friends. "I think it says a lot about my connection to Israel that I'm willing to drop $1200 on a ticket to return to the place where I just spent a year," says Josh. "After Pardes, I made a commitment to visit the country at least once or twice a year—whether for personal vacation or professional travel." Josh is currently applying to graduate school in education administration and hopes to continue working as an educator in the Reform movement. 
 
"But before continuing on that path, I may head back to Israel for another year or two to study or volunteer," says Josh. "There's nothing like being able to pick up the phone and tell an Israeli friend, I'm going to catch the 405 bus. Meet me on the beach in Tel Aviv.'"
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