Michele Hathaway

Michele Hathaway

WUJS Internship
 
Having returned to my hometown of Seattle with a Bachelor of Music from the University of Southern California with no gigs on the horizon, I feared I would be forced to alter my life pursuits overnight. It seemed that I might have to replace my lofty desire to pursue world-class opera stardom for an accounting job. I felt destined for mediocrity. 
 
Afraid of the working world in a doomed economy I did what any lost college grad with a Jewish parent and a passport should consider: I made sojourn to Israel. I enrolled in the Masa Israel program, WUJS Intern in Tel Aviv, a six-month internship program for college graduates from all over the world. 
 
In Israel, I quickly learned a very important lesson for both a recent college graduate and an artist—flexibility, confidence and persistence yield hidden rewards. 
 
With no family in Israel and little recollection of my Bat Mitzvah Hebrew, sometimes the simplest task proved daunting. But after a few months of bumbling through the city, I was relieved to discover that daily tasks were sometimes even difficult for native Israelis who were always willing to lend a hand. From neighbors to coffee baristas to my co-workers, everyone welcomed me into their homes. 
 
Roaming the Israeli Opera House, where I interned, I stared wide-eyed at the world-renowned opera singers, conductors, and musicians while I completed administrative tasks in an office. Inspired by their presence but unsure how to approach them, I decided to take initiative and asked the assistant music director if I could sing for him. As a result he became my mentor, inviting me to join his choir and eventually allowing opportunities for me to become an adjunct member of the prestigious Tel Aviv Young Artists Program. Suddenly I had access to practice rooms, opera rehearsals, voice lessons, and performances. 
 
In Israel nothing is predictable. One afternoon, in the administrative office, the opera’s head director ran to the photocopier where I sat beneath a daunting stack of scores, and exclaimed the singer playing the role of Queen of the Night was sick and they needed a singer for that night’s performance in Jerusalem. Luckily I knew the part and within two hours, was on stage, dolled up in glitter and costume, singing in German while the other opera singers performed in Hebrew. As a result of this experience, I made invaluable contacts. 
 
The erratic nature of Middle Eastern life—a hotbed for all extremes—became increasingly appealing to me. When Tel Aviv shut down on Shabbat I sauntered to the beach in flip-flops, freshly squeezed guava-banana juice in hand and lay in the sun. I took dips in the gorgeous Mediterranean Sea, snacked on hummus and pita bread (which never got old) and heeded the advice of locals about the best Tel Aviv dance parties. 
 
Israelis live a life of rawness and no-nonsense. Tel Aviv clubs are filled with young men and women who flood into the city after completing their military service and traveling stints. From the classiest restaurants to the frozen yogurt joints, kitchens stay open past 3 AM all week. Moseying down Rothschild Boulevard late at night, I watched people cry hysterically, laugh unabashedly, and fall in love right before my eyes. 
 
While at first the abrasive, in-your-face Israeli behavior was difficult to understand, let alone embrace, later on I found it a relief that I didn't have to pretend to be cheerful all the time. It was wonderful to be able to shed the Western tendency of taking everything personally. When I wasn’t attending art gallery openings, magazine galas and film festivals with my fellow WUJS participants, I felt free to sit by myself in restaurants, travel alone on weekends, or sit on a park bench simply observing the Tel Aviv crowds. 
 
Now back in Seattle, I continue to study with a world-class opera singer and audition for roles, while working at an event management company. The Masa Israel experience broadened my views on society, war, community, religion, and self-value in ways that can’t be taught in classroom. The stories and experiences with which I returned will continue to lead me down a path that is anything but mediocre.

Naomi Siegel

Naomi Siegel

LIFE
A few years after graduating from the University of Wisconsin and working in the non-profit world, I wanted to go back to Israel. During high school I spent a semester in Israel, but because it was the Intifada, I had little opportunity to explore the country. When I found out about Masa Israel's LIFE program, a nine-month service-learning program in Israel and India, I knew it was the perfect fit. I had also been very drawn to traveling to India, but I didn’t know the opportunity would appear so soon in my life. As part of the LIFE program, I would have the opportunity to not only spend time in both countries, but to give back while doing so. There I would be able to pursue community projects with the support of NGOs, working and living alongside the local populations.
 
Backed by an NGO that worked to promote sustainable rural development, I worked with another LIFE participant to develop an art curriculum for Indian schools. Observing elementary schools throughout the state, we were able to create a curriculum that spoke to the needs and interests of the students and teachers. Ultimately, the curriculum called for the use of recycled materials, which not only added an element of environmental awareness to the curriculum, but also made the projects accessible to students from every economical caste. We also created a teacher-training program that encouraged student participation and alternative methods of teaching that utilized art, music and drama. Eight teachers from all different types of schools received this training as well as a CD full of lesson plan ideas.
 
In Israel, I had the opportunity to use my background in alternative medicine to organize an event for the One Family Fund, a support center for victims of terror and their families. In addition to donating my skills as a Reiki Master, I recruited 18 alternative medicine practitioners to offer massage, reflexology, and other healing modalities. I matched individuals to the right practitioners and witnessed beautiful transformations from both givers and receivers.
 
To complement our work in the field, we traveled throughout Israel and India, meeting leaders in non-profits that have significantly impacted the different countries and took part in discussions about social action and cultural sensitivity. With participants from Israel, North America and England, and mentors from India and Israel, we were constantly challenged to look at issues from diverse perspectives, creating an environment of constant learning and growth.
 
Back in the United States, the knowledge I gained through Masa Israel's LIFE program has proven to be invaluable as I take part in creating a center for social activism and sustainable community in Washington. At the center, leaders and activists will learn about social change, leadership and personal wellness. I also continue to practice Reiki healing and network with other practitioners interested in social change. Once again, I am creating something from nothing, and I feel confident in the guidance I gained from LIFE.
 
I encourage more young adults to take on the challenge of LIFE.

Lisa Wilder

Lisa Wilder

Oranim Community Involvement
As a volunteer English teacher in Israel, I recently took a class trip to Caesarea, the picturesque coastal city scattered with Roman ruins. The tour was conducted entirely in Hebrew and I was thrilled that I understood so much of it. Yet, that didn’t stop me from joking and chatting with the students in English throughout the trip. I was amazed that visiting a historical site with 2,000-year-old ruins constitutes an ordinary field trip in Israel. After almost five months in Israel, I've stopped being surprised by things that would be out of the ordinary in other places.
 
I came to Israel for the first time four years ago on Birthright. I loved it and knew I had to return the first chance I had. After graduating from Carleton University with a degree in Public Affairs and Policy Management, I decided to head to Israel through Masa Israel Journey. I am so glad I kept my word.
 
As one of nine volunteers with Oranim’s Community Involvement program, I have spent the last five months living in Ness Ziona, a small community outside of Tel Aviv, and volunteering as an English teacher at a local middle school. One of my favourite activities with the students is interpreting fairy tales and presenting them to the class, which I did with grade 7 students.
 
Before this experience I never realized how much I would enjoy working with students. Even though I do not plan on becoming a teacher, I know that I want to continue working with children from this age group because they are so full of creative energy.
 
Teaching older students is more challenging because it is harder to make an impression on them. However, it is very rewarding when we do manage to impress them, as we did when we assigned them a MadLibs activity and led a debate in English.
 
Aside from becoming part of the Ness Ziona community through my teaching, I have had the opportunity to become close to my mishpacha ma’arahat (host family). Not only have they given me extra support while in Israel, but they have welcomed the other eight Oranim volunteers into their home as well.
 
My host parents’ seven-year-old son, Lotem, is the best Hebrew teacher I have ever had. We only speak in Hebrew and he is not afraid to correct my mistakes. His family has never been to Canada but they told me that a future trip there is inevitable. Hosting them in Canada is the least I can do, considering the amazing trips, meals, and genuine care they have provided me with over the past few months.
 
Living in Israel has brought the kinds of challenges and joys that I could never have experienced on a short trip. Though I will soon leave Israel to begin law school at the University of Toronto, I know that I will always be looking for an excuse to return. With my new family and friends, those excuses won’t be hard to find.

Orli Kessel

Orli Kessel

Career Israel
Program: 
 
Sitting in my air-conditioned office cubicle in Ottawa, eyes closed, it only takes a moment for me to be transported back to the busy crush of Shuk HaCarmel. Elbows extended, I’m making my way carefully along the slick pavement, deftly avoiding camera-laden tourists and impatient Tel Aviv locals gesticulating wildly as they attempt to bargain down the price of whatever produce they are buying. Music of every kind emanates from each apartment window in the square where King George and Allenby intersect and, in the midst of all the chaos and movement, tefilin is being offered enthusiastically to any boy above bar-mitzvah age and within reach. I effortlessly summon the feeling of 30 degree heat with 98% humidity, the smell of Bamba, and the exquisite sound and sensation of the Mediterranean Sea lapping at my feet. Although I have now been back in Canada for nearly a year, the sights, sounds and smells of day-to-day life in Israel have not faded in the slightest. 
 
In February of 2010, I joined Masa Israel’s Career Israel program and spent five months living and working in Tel Aviv. The Career Israel program offers recent university graduates the opportunity to intern in their fields of study with businesses and organizations, primarily in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Having graduated with an honours degree in Fine Arts from Queen’s University, I jumped at the chance to work as a social media coordinator for the organization, Omanoot – Israel Through Art. After meeting Edoe Cohen, Omanoot’s CEO, and interviewing for the position on Skype, I joined the team and began working on the Omanoot website which was designed to make Israeli art and culture available and accessible to the North American audience.
 
I can’t imagine finding an internship that was better suited to my interests, training and passion. Through Omanoot, I was able to meet one-on-one with talented Israeli artists from across the country and talk to them about where their work comes from and what motivates them to create. As an artist myself, I felt a kinship with many of these photographers and painters. Their intense need to communicate visually when words had failed them resonated with me in an unexpected way. 
 
The drive that Israeli artists have to create, to be seen and to be heard is nothing short of amazing and the art borne out of this desire speaks volumes about lives lived in a country characterized by turbulence and uncertainty as well as indomitable hope and perseverance. What each of them said, in highly individual ways, spoke to the fact that, in a country where the only constant is change, self-expression through visual arts, music and film is a unique and powerful way to communicate. The more I learned, the clearer it became to me that their art had the capacity to express more about what living in and loving Israel meant than words ever could.
 
Perhaps this is the most meaningful truth I took away from my time in Israel: that some things run deeper than words can express. Some parts of us can best be understood through the emotional connection we have to them. Although Israel stands as a beacon of democracy and morality in a part of the world characterized by oppression and violence, her importance in my life cannot be fully articulated in the language of politics, geography or history. Beyond words, my connection to Israel runs far deeper – to the root of my identity, Jewish and otherwise.

Lisa Heller

Lisa Heller

WUJS Israel
I’d wanted to return to Israel since my Birthright trip eight years before. When the recession hit in 2009 and I lost my job in technology sales, I suddenly had the perfect opportunity.
 
Through my Birthright NEXT fellowship in Florida, I was able to travel to Israel and tell current Birthright participants about all the ways they could stay involved in Jewish life and return to Israel when their 10 days were over. I decided to take my own advice and began researching the right Masa Israel program for me. Because I’d grown up going to Young Judaea camps, I enrolled in Masa Israel’s WUJS Jerusalem Studies, a post-college program also run by the Hadassah movement.
 
During my six months in Jerusalem, I took courses in Hebrew, and Jewish and Israel studies, which were complemented by weekly trips throughout Israel. I also volunteered at an after-school program for disadvantaged youth in Katamon—the highlight of my experience. The kids were off-the-wall, but I soon realized that they simply wanted attention, which I happily gave them through math and English tutoring. In return, they were sweet and appreciative. When I brought them candy on my last day, they reacted with a level of excitement that I have never before seen from American children.
 
I realized that once Israelis know someone, they can be the warmest people, always concerned with making sure that the person feels at home. I spent one Shabbat on a moshav with my brother’s host family from his Young Judaea Year Course and I felt enormously at ease. They treated me just like a daughter.
 
I loved the fact that in Israel, almost everyone around me was Jewish, and that even with the commonality, we were all so diverse. I was in Israel while my religious brother and his wife were studying in yeshiva settings, and in one day, I was able to enter their world and then return to my own.
 
After my program ended, I stayed in Israel for another week, but my thirst for Israel still wasn’t quenched. Back in the working world, I listen to Hebrew language CDs every morning during my hour-long commute. I also hope to visit again soon. There’s just something about the country that fills me with excitement—maybe being in the center of the world, surrounded by my own people. Whatever it is, I keep wanting to return.
 

Louis Sachs

Louis Sachs

Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies
I have spent the past nine months, living in Jerusalem and absorbed in the history of the Jewish people. Through Masa Israel Journey, I am a student at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies, where I engage in intensive Jewish textual study each day. Sunday through Thursday, I take classes on Chumash, Talmud, Rambam, Modern Jewish Thought, and many other subjects. In these classes we look at the texts in their original language, often Hebrew or Aramaic. While this has been tremendously difficult for me, it has been exponentially rewarding as I have witnessed how much my abilities have progressed throughout this program. What has been even more incredible is realizing how important and relevant these ancient texts are to my modern life.
 
One of the things I have noticed in our tradition is the importance of tikkun olam, or “repairing the world.” The belief that we need to look out for those around us and not think only of ourselves comes up again and again in our people’s vast literature. “If I am only for myself, what am I?” Hillel famously said in Pirke Avot 1:14, Over 2,000 years ago Hillel, one of the greatest rabbis of our tradition, understood the importance of looking out for the needs of others and not only of our own.
 
In his renowned work, the Mishnah Torah, Rambam taught that eight levels of charity exist and that each is above the other. The lowest is giving grudgingly and the highest is helping someone become self sufficient. Rambam lived in Spain over 800 years ago, and not only understood the importance of helping others but saw that there were distinctions in how one helps another. For Rambam, the greatest form of tzedakah was not a temporary fix, but a permanent solution. He understood that tikkun olam went beyond helping those in need, but addressing the problems cause it, as well.
 
In Bereshit 6:9, we are introduced to Noah and the text states that he walked “with” God. Rashi, one of the greatest commentators in our tradition, notices the difference between this verse and Bereshit 17:1 about Abraham, which tells us that our forefather walked “before” God. Rashi explains that Noah required God’s support for his righteousness, while Abraham had this strength within himself. Many other commentators have also wondered why Noah walked with God and Abraham walked in front of God. While they give many interesting explanations I am particular to one we discussed in my class.
 
Noah himself was a good person; the text even describes him with the same word later used for Abraham, “tamim,” often translated as “pure,” “perfect,” or even as, “blameless.” There is however, one important difference between the two: Noah was himself tamim, while Abraham sought to lift up those around him as well.
 
Over and over throughout the story of Abraham, we see him go out of his way to help those around him. When a powerful group of kings comes from the East to wage war against the local kings near Canaan, Abraham gathers the men of the household to help the local kings. After he saves the day, he takes nothing for himself from the loot they collected in the war. Not only did he go out of his way, but he expected nothing as a reward for his actions. Also, when God plans to destroy the city of Sodom, Abraham argues with him until God agrees not to destroy the city for the sake of 10 righteous people living there.
 
As opposed to Noah, Abraham set himself apart by focusing on helping others in any way he could. He walked before God, because he carried God’s message into the world through acts of tikkun olam. Noah may have been a good guy himself, but when the flood came, he did his duties but didn’t go beyond them to help anyone else. This quality explains why Abraham, and not Noah, merited being the father of the Jewish people.
 
At Pardes, I’ve learned that it is our responsibility as Jews to be like Abraham and to go beyond what we are told to do. Whether it is with money, time, or even just treating our fellow human being with dignity, it is our duty to perform acts of tikkun olam, and repair the world, by helping others in any way we can.
 
Next year, Louis will begin rabbinical school at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies.

Joanna Lieberman

Joanna Lieberman

Career Israel
Program: 
 
As a senior in college, I wasn’t yet ready for the work world because I was not exactly sure what I wanted to do. Though enrolled in Cornell’s School of Human Ecology, I had begun to take many more courses in the School of Hotel Administration. I knew it was a path I needed to further explore professionally and I decided to do so in Israel, a country with a large and successful tourism industry.
 
Through Masa Israel’s Career Israel, I was placed in an internship at the Dan Panorama Hotel in Tel Aviv, one of Israel’s premiere hotels. Two weeks into my internship, I was working in reception like any other full-time employee. Though my father is Israeli, I grew up in Los Angeles and speak very little Hebrew. In the hospitality industry, where English is the main language, this did not put me at a disadvantage.
 
Still, the work was definitely challenging. Before Career Israel, I was a pretty shy person but working in hospitality in a foreign country forced me to leave my comfort zone. Working with Israelis and being expected to fulfill the same tasks as full-time employees was not easy but these experiences taught me to persevere. When I made a mistake—and I certainly made a few—I just had to keep going.
 
My participation in Masa Israel’s Building Future Leaders seminar series helped complement my experience. Aside from taking leadership courses, I was able to meet Diaspora Jews from all over the world, such as South America and Russia, and share my Israel experience with them. As a North American Jew with an Israeli father, I never considered the similarities I may have with Jews around the world—and it was wonderful to learn about our shared cultural traditions and discover our new connection to Israel together.
 
So many important outcomes came from my Masa Israel experience. Not only did I realize that the hectic lifestyle of hospitality—though enjoyable for a few months—was ultimately not for me, I did find my professional place in the Jewish world. Returning with a stronger commitment to Israel and a desire to be involved in Jewish life back home, I became the Leadership & Board Services Coordinator at the American Jewish Committee. I also serve as co-chair of the Cornell Hillel young alumni group and am involved with Masa Israel’s New York alumni group.
 
Following my Masa Israel experience, I took part in a WZO-sponsored trip, which followed Herzl’s footsteps. In 10 days, we traveled from Brussels to Vienna to Budapest to Israel. We were delayed in Budapest and created our own Yom Hazikaron ceremony there, which was very moving.
 
Beyond feeling personally impacted by my Masa Israel experience, I am proud that my experience has affected others. Apparently, constantly rehashing memories from those five months in Israel made a mark on one of my good friends, who participated in Masa Israel’s WUJS internship program. I was excited for her to experience Israel and to hear all about it.

Chad Schaeffer

Chad Schaeffer

Oranim Tel Aviv Internship Experience
 
When Orange Coast College student, Chad Schaeffer was considering his study abroad options, he learned that he could intern at an international marketing firm in Tel Aviv, gain professional experience for his merchandising and marketing major, and earn college credit. He jumped at the opportunity and enrolled in Masa Israel’s Oranim Internship Experience.
 
Having previously traveled to Israel with Birthright, Chad says that he is, “getting an experience that no one else can give me right now.” At SKS Innovating People, Chad oversees the US/UK market, finding leads and making sales. 
 
“I adapted quickly to the Israeli work culture because it is similar to California’s; people are laid back, but hard working,” says Chad. “Then again, Israelis are a little more blunt.” 
 
Chad’s co-workers quickly accepted him as a member of the company. “In Israel, a person’s ideas and hard work are valued rather than his experience,” says Chad. In addition to putting Chad in charge of recreating the product catalog, which included reformulating the company’s mission statement, the firm is working with Chad on a joint business venture. When he returns to California, he will become the US-based distributor.
 
“As a person, I’ve grown tremendously from my internship,” says Chad. “I’ve become a lot more confident and a better leader.”
 
Aside from the professional experience Chad gained in Israel, he has been able to get to know Tel Aviv alongside new Jewish friends from Russia, Canada, Norway, and Germany. “I feel like a local here,” says Chad. “I know where everything is, and I also love the fact that everyone’s Jewish. People don’t question others about their religion, and there’s a lot of room for growth.”
 
Although Chad returns to California in a month, he believes his relationship with Israel is only beginning. “Hopefully I’ll be returning to Israel a bunch. It’s a booming market,” he says. 
 
He also looks forward to becoming more involved in Israel-related events in California. “I have a ton of Jewish friends who were always really involved in Israel, while I wasn’t,” says Chad. “But, now here I am—interning in Israel and loving it."

Bella Shapiro

Bella Shapiro

Israel Government Fellows
 
As much as I love the movie Forest Gump, I do not agree that, “Life is like a box of chocolates.” After returning from Masa Israel’s Israel Government Fellows, a 10-month Israeli government internship program, with the decision to pursue a career connected to Israel and the Jewish people, I believe that life is more like a cake in which layers are slowly built and stacked one on top of the other. 
 
My evolution was definitely not predictable. While I grew up in the Bay Area with a certain awareness of my “Jewishness”—my parents told me I had to marry a nice Jewish boy and we celebrated the high holidays in our own way—I never cared or even knew about the politics, history, or depth of my own rich heritage. 
 
Like many Jewish youth, it wasn’t until midway through college that I began getting involved in Jewish life. I attended St. Mary’s College of California, a Catholic liberal arts school, and decided to take the one introductory Judaism course that my school offered. While studying abroad in England, I participated in a rally protesting Holocaust deniers’ speaking engagements at the university. After returning to the States, I became active with UC Berkeley Jewish groups (as none were available at St. Mary’s) and saw the challenges facing Jewish students on college campuses. The more I took part in various activities, the more I realized how much these issues personally resonated with me. 
 
By the time senior year came along, I started thinking about my passions and how I could apply them to a career. Though my liberal arts degree did not provide me with much of a focus, I realized that ultimately I felt strongest about issues relating to Jews and Israel. With that in mind, I decided to test my theory and spend a year in Israel. I literally wanted to do everything – work, travel, learn the language, and immerse myself in the culture, history, and politics. 
 
Through Masa Israel Journey, I found the one program that was exactly what I was looking for – Israel Government Fellows, a unique 10 month internship in the Israeli government, which also included weekly educational seminars, meetings with top governmental officials, tours around the country, ulpan classes, and community service. 
 
My experiences during those 10 months were diverse and incredible. Not only did I have great internships at the Israel Ministry of Tourism and the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), but through my internships, I also had the opportunity to meet accomplished Israeli government officials, such as Shimon Peres, Nir Barkat, and Moshe Yaalon. Still the most important outcome of the year was my own personal growth. 
 
During my time in Israel, I found an independence and individual strength, which I was not aware that I possessed. Living alone in a foreign country and not knowing the language proved to be extremely difficult. Everything from opening a bank account to ordering a cup of coffee was a challenge. In the beginning, I distinctly remember feeling like I would never figure out the city or feel like a ‘Jerusalemite.’ Yet, by the end of the 10 months, I had a pub to call my own, was able to maneuver throughout the city with ease, and knew which vendor to go to for the best avocados in the shuk. Though they may seem like minor accomplishments, these were the things tested my resolve the most. 
 
Aside from adapting to day-to-day life in Israel while on Israel Government Fellows, I also reaffirmed my desire to commit my professional life to the Jewish people and the Jewish State. Israel Government Fellows provided me with unique insights into the workings of the Israeli government, while living in Israel allowed me to gain perspectives, which can only be acquired from first-hand, immersive experiences. As a result of this effective combination, I now have a better understanding of the type of job I would like to be doing and how I need to focus my passions. After taking part in a seven-week Hebrew immersion program at Middlebury College, I enrolled in Brandeis University's dual masters program in Jewish professional leadership and Middle East Studies. 
 
What started out as a vague notion of Jewish identity turned into a genuine love and desire to make a difference. Undoubtedly, living in Israel played a huge role in my personal development and impacted every aspect of my life. Looking back on this whole process, I see all the small steps I took which brought me where I am today. This is precisely why I do not agree with Forest Gump. I know exactly what I’m “going to get” because I have been the one building the layers. Though there is still progress to be made, I look forward to the day when I can finally put the cherry atop my cake.

Avigail Hurvitz-Prinz

Avigail Hurvitz-Prinz

Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies
About a month ago my Talmud class did an exercise where we shared our reasons for studying Gemora. Everyone had their own reasons, and my list came up to a total of 21 reasons as wide ranging as “intellectual challenge” and “to have a sense of the Rabbinic world” or “to find myself a teacher” – but the top of that list was empowerment.
 
As an adult who first seriously encountered this quintessential Jewish book one-on-one only a few months ago, building skills in Jewish text study was one of my major goals when I came to learn at The Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies this fall. I wanted to know how to access sources, make sense of them in relation to each other and answer how it is that the Jewish world we live in came to be the way that it is. Imagine my surprise when, at the beginning of the semester, I was actually learning a few different Hebrews all at once (Tanakhic and Mishnaic Hebrew) decoding a new typeface (Rashi script) and a whole new language, Aramaic! My limited modern Hebrew was only minimally helpful. Thankfully, every day my chevruta (my learning partner) and I get a little practice and I get a little more familiar with where to go for help. And you need lots of help when you’re a beginning Talmud student!
 
First stop, the dictionaries. Is this a technical Talmud? If yes, turn to Frank (The Practical Talmud Dictionary by Rabbi Yitzchak Frank). If not, try the Jastrow (A Dictionary of the Targumim, the Talmud Bavli, Talmud Yerushalmi and Midrashic Literature by Marcus Jastrow). Is the little snippet of what you’re learning right now mentioned? Yes? Well, then, dingdingding! You’ve just found a Jastrow Jackpot and you and your chevruta should high-five across the table. But if you didn’t find your answer in Jastrow, try your neighbors who are in a level above you. The Beit Midrash study hall is a cooperative place, where learning happens not just from teachers but from fellow students – and hopefully they can help to point you in a good direction. Interruptions are part of the fun of learning in the Beit Midrash and the place has a totally different atmosphere than the silent library carrels of my undergraduate days. The Beit Midrash at Pardes is also an incredible place for its uniqueness among the landscape ofyeshivot and midrashot – men and women learn together. There are times when I forget just how radical that is – but the truth of the matter is that women have not had consistent access to these Jewish texts for very long, nor is it commonplace for us to be able to sit with male learning partners. At Pardes that is the norm, and it still strikes me as hugely important to the community’s ethos.
 
The more I learn, the more I realize how much more there is to know. I have spent the last nine months learning only the most basic tools of what is intended as a lifelong endeavor. I’m lucky for the time I have spent finally doing Jewish learning not just from handouts prepped by informal Jewish educators like me, but straight through a chapter of Masechet Megilla and all of the tidbits it contained. Among my gleanings: the answer for why we repeat a verse in the special Torah reading for the new month, sources for why women may or may not read Torah publicly (depending on your interpretation of the sources) and some insights into behaviors Jews in the Mishnaic period considered heretical (round Tefillin or dressing like “separatists” only in white or wearing no shoes!). Many of these gleanings are interesting to me anthropologically, as they describe the history of Jewish practice. But even more important to me than some of the particular facts I’ve learned is the way I am able to simply open the page and make my way through the Talmud, albeit slowly and with lots of support. My work is not done, but my pursuit of Jewish literacy got a huge boost from the time I have spent at Pardes. Learning from my teachers, my peers and from the sources has been an invaluable way to spend my year – and one whose treasures I look forward to discovering as my Jewish journey continues.
 
Avigail Hurvitz-Prinz learned at Masa Israel’s Pardes in 2010-2011. Avigail grew up in San Diego County, the daughter of two Reform rabbis, attended Reed College where she graduated with a degree in Religion and subsequently worked as Senior Assistant Dean of Admission. From January 2008 until her time at Pardes, Avigail worked as a program associate on Hazon’s Food Programs.
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