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. 

Rachel Zieleniec

Rachel Zieleniec

Yahel Social Change Program
Program: 
After graduating from Ohio University, I knew I wanted to spend a year volunteering in Israel. While in college, I started Bobcats for Israel, the pro-Israel group on campus, and volunteered at Ethiopian absorption centers during an alternative spring break trip to Israel. This sparked my passion for the Ethiopian community and compelled me to enroll in Masa Israel’s Yahel Social Change, a five-month service program among the Ethiopian community in Gedera.
 
Though that was my fifth time in Israel, I saw a side of Israel that is completely new to me. Every week, I took part in Homework at Home, a home-based tutoring project meant to empower families to create positive learning environments for their children.
On my first day of tutoring, I entered one of my student’s homes to find it covered in trash. It was impossible to differentiate between the furniture and the floor, and there was no place to work. At my other student’s home, the situation was only slightly better—amid the blaring TV and screaming babies, at least we could find a surface to work on.
 
Things did not immediately improve, but I consistently showed up with pencils and paper so that we could get to work. Now, three months later, my student’s mother turns on the light when it’s tutoring time. She lowers the volume on the television and tells the babies to quiet down. A few weeks ago, the whole family joined the tutoring session, and watched their child answer question after question correctly in English. I will never forget the mother’s smile when I wrote 100 on her child’s paper.
 
These kids have a ton of potential, but need a safe space to grow. In weekly hangouts at the community trailer, we set up food and games, and gave them a place to blow off steam. With Chaverim b’Teva, a nonprofit that seeks to empower the Ethiopian Israeli community, we tried to empower the kids and their families to feel pride in their background.
 
Aside from feeling lucky that I was able to see small improvements in the children and families around me, I also felt fortunate that I was able to immerse myself in such a rich culture. Seeing another community express their Judaism in a way that is different from my own has made my Judaism so much broader. Historically, Ethiopian Jews do not celebrate Chanukah because they did not have access to the holiday’s roots, but on the last night of Chanukah, we led a celebratory camping trip for them.
 
In the middle of the forest, a counselor, who had set up a DJ booth, announced that it was time to light candles. Instead of saying the prayers in the quiet way that I am accustomed to, the counselor turned on a techno/reggae version of the blessings and the kids started singing them from the top of their lungs. I had never experienced such a display of Jewish pride, and it was amazing to see them not only celebrate a holiday that their ancestors never even knew about, but to see them make it their own.
 
In just a few months, it’s been incredible to become immersed in this community—to experience its frustrations and celebrate its successes. For a person coming right out of college, I cannot imagine a more inspiring opportunity.

Rebecca Karp

Rebecca Karp

Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies
 
Following her graduation from the University of Pennsylvania, Rebecca Karp was not ready to plunge into the world of graphic design, her main academic focus. Instead, she chose to further pursue her extracurricular interests from the past four years, which centered around Penn’s Hillel, through study at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies, a pluralistic co-ed yeshiva in Jerusalem. 
 
Though Rebecca attended Reform and Conservative synagogues throughout her youth and was active in USY, Rebecca still craved a formal Jewish education. At Pardes, Rebecca found the tools she needed to explore her Jewish identity which, while always strong, had never been fully articulated.
 
Surrounded by individuals from all Jewish affiliations, at Pardes Rebecca could study in an environment that actively encouraged constant questioning and reflection. The synthesis of textual study and discussion helped Rebecca shape not only her personal Jewish identity, but her outlook on life, as well. “The critical thinking and story-telling, the opportunity to learn why we do the things we do and where laws come from—it affected my everyday sensibilities,” Rebecca says of her learning experience at Pardes. “I don’t have separate ethical and Jewish values. I live my life according to Jewish values.” 
 
During her time in Jerusalem, Rebecca discovered at Pardes an open and engaged community that extended well beyond the classroom. Instead of serving as mere springboards for each other’s ideas and beliefs, students provided one another with support and mutual understanding. During Thanksgiving, a time of homesickness for many American students, Rebecca prepared a meal for 16 religiously diverse female students in her apartment’s kosher kitchen. “There were women in short skirts, long skirts, pants, and shorts,” Rebecca recalled. “And we had all come to Israel with a common goal: to learn.” 
 
Upon her return to the United States, Rebecca began looking for jobs in graphic design, but her heart yearned for something more. When she landed the job as assistant director of the American Jewish Committee’s Philadelphia/Southern New Jersey chapter, she was thrilled. The opportunity, which includes working with different ethnic groups in the United States to promote mutual cultural education, allows Rebecca to instill the values of understanding and openness, so central to her Pardes experience, in her own community back home.
 
Upon her return from Israel, Rebecca also sought to create a Jewish community similar to that which existed at Pardes. She began a Moishe House in Philadelphia, where she lived with several other Jewish post-college individuals who create Jewish-themed events for young adults in the area. Jews from all backgrounds and denominations attend the events, which have included Shabbat dinners and a documentary followed by a discussion about the Falash Mura Ethiopian population in Israel.
 
Looking back, Rebecca believes that her work in the Jewish community was inevitable. “But without Pardes, I couldn’t have gotten there,” she says. 

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.
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