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. 

Igor Zaytsev

Igor Zaytsev

Career Israel
Program: 
Born in Kiev, Ukraine in 1985, I immigrated to Brooklyn, NY in 1991 and grew up in a typical Russian Jewish home with close family relationships, a great emphasis on education and hard work, and minimal discussion about Judaism and Israel. I always knew that my family was Jewish and that was enough as my parents worked tirelessly towards achieving the American Dream.
 
I was the first person in my family to go to Israel when I went on Birthright as a sophomore in Baruch College. After 10 days, I returned with a special connection that seemed inexplicable except that I knew I felt “better” in Israel than I did in New York.
 
Senior year was a very difficult time of my life as I took classes and planned for my future. Even without a moment of peace, I could not stop thinking about my Birthright trip and it suddenly hit me that I needed to return to Israel. I missed being in the land of our people, a place where everything felt natural. After graduating from Baruch College with a degree in Metropolitan Real Estate Development in 2008, I took part in a trip to Israel with RAJE (Russian American Jewish Experience). After an amazing month of traveling, studying in the Old City of Jerusalem, and connecting to my Jewish roots, I promised myself I would soon return for a much longer period of time so that I could really live and experience all of Israel.
 
I had no idea how this could happen until I discovered Masa Israel’s Career Israel while managing an architecture office in Brooklyn. The program enabled me to have my most unique experience yet with people I would otherwise never have met in the place I love most in the world. Our group consisted of 140 people from 15 different countries, providing a great way to learn how to say Happy Birthday in several languages, though we all preferred Yom Huledet Sameach. 
 
There was no better way to start Career Israel than living in the heart of Tel Aviv in walking distance from the beach, great shopping, and the always-energetic nightlife. My internship at Tel Aviv University’s Hillel teamed me with a diverse and passionate staff, which included individuals dedicated to improving the Jewish State, although only one was born in Israel. We instantly became family; in our weekly staff meetings, we openly discussed the personal stories and family histories that brought us to Israel and we inspired each other to grow and become more active in pursuing Tikkun Olam, making the world a better place. It was amazing to be able to use my love of Judaism and Israel to create social and educational programs for overseas students in order to increase their passion and connection to Israel.
 
As though the internships weren’t enough, my peers and I also took part in a Hebrew ulpan, educational seminars, tours, and monthly group trips to some of the most majestic places around the country. We met soldiers, settlers, and modern day heroes who inspired us with their tremendous devotion and love of the country even while acknowledging its faults.
 
At first it was shocking to live in an environment of such warm and affectionate people, where strangers constantly invite you for Shabbat, welcome you into their lives, and allow you to really know them and see the truth through their eyes. Israelis live by the phrase “make yourself at home” and they practically get offended if you don’t open their refrigerator and take something to eat.
 
The experience connected me much more with Israelis and olim (immigrants) who have made aliya from countries around the world, allowing me to understand the difficulties and sacrifices in living in Israel. 
 
Now back in New York, I am working in a real estate company. My experience has made me become more active in the Jewish community. I have chosen to take responsibility for what happens to us as a people. Now I also understand why I feel so at ease in Israel. It is the result of an energy that comes from Jewish minds, bodies, and souls coming together from around the world to create and build a country for our people’s future. As a people we thrive when we are together and this could not be more evident than in seeing what Israel has accomplished in all its years of existence.
 
Both personally and professionally, I have been able to grow and mature in ways I could never have imagined and I feel very fortunate to have taken part in the Masa Israel experience.

Miriam Rubin

Miriam Rubin

WUJS Israel
Though New York-native Miriam Rubin had always taken an active role in Jewish life, serving on the BBYO regional board during high school and joining Jewish clubs at the University of Maryland, she did not travel to Israel until her senior year. “I always wanted to go, but things kept getting in the way,” she says. “If I got an internship during trip dates, I figured I’d just do it another time.”
 
When Miriam finally visited Israel with Birthright a semester before graduation, she knew she had to return. “Birthright was a great introduction but I knew there was a lot more to learn and experience,” says Miriam.
 
After graduating from college with a degree in communications and public relations, Miriam decided to participate in Masa Israel’s WUJS Jerusalem Studies. “I didn’t want to do what all of my friends were doing right after college, moving into the city and getting PR jobs,” says Miriam. “I thought that it was important for me to spend more time in Israel first.”
 
WUJS Jerusalem Studies gave Miriam a comprehensive Israel experience, and included a Hebrew ulpan, courses in Zionism, Arab-Israeli conflict, Kabbalah and Talmud, and trips throughout the country. Miriam especially appreciated that her peers came from diverse Jewish backgrounds. “Some had been involved in Judaism since forever, some were recent converts, and others had been to synagogue once in their lives. It was interesting to see how everyone had different interpretations and views to add to each discussion,” says Miriam.
 
In Zionism class, the teacher brought Jerusalem alive through tours throughout the city. In the Arab-Israel conflict class, Miriam developed a thorough understanding of Israeli history and obstacles to peace.
 
“It’s incredible how alive the history is in Israel. Everywhere you look, there are places mentioned in the bible and just walking around, you can see proof that it’s our land,” says Miriam. “I realized how important it is to defend Israel and keep it alive.”
 
One experience that stands out to Miriam takes place on the first night of Chanukah in Burger’s Bar in Jerusalem. “Everyone was ordering food and all of a sudden, the guy behind the counter puts a Chanukiah on the garbage and everyone starts singing the prayers,” remembers Miriam. “It was so natural and wonderful, and it wasn’t because everyone was getting new iPods. The holiday itself was magical and people had real respect for the candle lighting.”
 
Miriam returned to New York much more knowledgeable about Israel. “I’m kind of like a rep for Israel to my friends and I’m proud to be the person who can clear up myths people hear in the media,” says Miriam.
 
Her Israel experience also helped in her professional development. Now working in digital advertising, Miriam says that her six months in WUJS Jerusalem Studies made her stand out as a job candidate. “My boss realized I wasn’t some run-of-the-mill girl from the Northeast, but that I had the drive to pursue education abroad for my own personal growth,” she says. 
 
Living in New York, Miriam recently took a Hebrew course at the 92nd Street Y and just returned from a friend’s wedding in Israel. Miriam hopes to return as soon as she replenishes her vacation days. “My mom is always telling me that my friends and I should travel the world and see different places,” says Miriam. “But the truth is, it’s just not important to me right now. I just want to go to Israel.” 

Talya Oberfield

Talya Oberfield

Eco-Israel
Program: 
After four years of grassroots education and community work following her graduation from Brown University, Talya Oberfield decided to head to Israel. “Israel was one of the places I wanted to spend time after college so even while working, it was in the back of my mind,” she says.
 
She enrolled in Eco-Israel, a five-month ecological program located on a farm in Modiin. “Having grown up in a home with a garden and compost pile, as well as working with an urban gardener and farmer through my job in Boston, I wanted to explore my own connection to food and the land,” says Talya. “I was also interested in learning about these issues in Israel.”
 
During those five months, Talya lived in a geodesic dome, took courses in permaculture, herbal medicine, mud building, and food growing, as well as Israeli history, and took part in communal living with Israeli, North American, and Australian peers. “It was great to live outside alongside a group of 10 other people and cook together and celebrate holidays together,” says Talya. “I also appreciated experiencing the Israeli calendar cycle and actually seeing that Sukkot was harvest time and that the almond trees blossomed on Tu B’Shevat.”
 
On group trips, Talya visited other agricultural communities around Israel and attended the country's first Food for Thought conference. “I realized that we weren’t just doing isolated work on a farm,” says Talya. “We were connected to a much larger movement.”
 
Also during her time in Israel, Talya started dating a long time friend—now fiancé—who was studying at the Jewish Theological Seminary’s Machon Schechter, another Masa Israel-accredited program. 
 
Talya decided to stay in Israel after Eco-Israel ended to help the farm develop its community supported agriculture (CSA) initiative and work with other organizations that she learned about through Eco-Israel. 
 
“Initially, I thought that my experiences would play a role in shaping my career and perhaps it will, but ultimately the impact was more holistic,” says Talya. “I’ve learned how to incorporate the things I gained into my daily life.”
 
Now in New York, Talya is working at iMentor, a creative mentoring organization based in New York City high schools and youth organizations throughout the country. She continues to remain environmentally engaged, growing tomatoes and other plants on the fire escape of her Manhattan apartment and taking part in the Hazon bike ride, with the help of Masa Israel funding. In addition to biking 130 miles in two days alongside her fiancé and sister, Talya learned how to make pickles and reunited with other Eco-Israel alumni. 
 
“My time in Israel definitely strengthened and complicated my relationship with the country. I was able to get to know my surroundings and develop a connection to the environment,” says Talya. “I was also able to spend a lot of time with my Israeli friends and family, and I’m looking forward to seeing many of them soon at my wedding.”
 

Mike Harvey

Mike Harvey

WUJS Israel
 
Growing up in Charlotte, I, like many other American Reform Jews, had a rather superficial view of Israel. Having visited the tourist attractions as an adolescent and taken several Jewish courses while an undergraduate student at Boston University, I automatically defended Israel’s politics and praised it as simply the most beautiful place in the world. But my immersion in Israel while on the Masa Israel Journey program, WUJS Jerusalem Learning made the country real to me and made my views on it more nuanced. As I look forward to becoming a Reform rabbi, I now feel able to bring a new level of insight and Jewish commitment to my community.
 
One of the requirements for Hebrew Union College’s Rabbinical School program is two-years of college level Hebrew. Not wanting to postpone graduate school, I opted to spend six months studying Hebrew in an immersive Ulpan in Israel. While living in Jerusalem during WUJS Jerusalem Learning, I not only had the opportunity to study Hebrew every day, but also to take courses in Torah, Kaballah, Talmud, Zionism, and the Arab-Israeli conflict ina pluralistic environment. These courses included weekly interactive field trips throughout Israel, one which led us to a beautiful tucked away café outside of Jerusalem where our lesson was to order our food and drinks completely in Hebrew.
 
The secret jewels on the WUJS program are the teachers: an incredible mix of young and old educators, some with decades of experience to share. Incorporating their Israel-related professional and personal histories, and expertise into the lessons, they helped students understand new concepts and grasp intangible ideas. While the instructor of the Arab-Israeli conflict course spoke of his experiences as a former IDF intelligence officer, the rabbis could spout out any Torah or Talmudic verse in Hebrew and in English.
 
The teachers were not only mentors, but also friends. On long bus rides, I sat and spoke with my instructors about their lives and their journeys, and they answered and then asked about mine. The teachers at WUJS inspired me to become a better educator, to learn from their teaching styles and to grow in my appreciation for the State of Israel.
 
Without my experience on WUJS Jerusalem Learning, Rabbinical school could not be a consideration. Not only did my time in Israel provide me with a proficiency in and comfort with Hebrew, but I returned to the States feeling inspired and ready to lead a committed Jewish life. I purchased Kiddush cups, candles and challah covers and started wearing a kippah to display my pride in my Jewish identity. On Shabbat, I now host gatherings for my friends to discuss their week and unwind. Back in Charlotte, I am involved in Jewish young adult activities and synagogue programs in my area, and I currently teach religious school, advise a Jewish youth group and serve as a rabbinic intern. 
 
My experience on WUJS Jerusalem Learning has helped shape me into the Jewish young adult I am becoming and envision the rabbi I hope to become. 
Masa Israel on Twitter