Leila Hesselson

Leila Hesselson

Career Israel
Program: 
 
Name: Leila Hesselson
Hometown: Battleford, Saskatchewan, Canada
Employer: SickKids Hospital
Program: Career Israel
 
What was the highlight of your internship?
I worked in a genetics lab at Tel Aviv University. I enjoyed working closely with a PhD student on her thesis project as well as spending time learning from other students in the lab. People in my lab were willing to teach and mentor me throughout my time in the lab. I am very thankful for all the time they dedicated to me. I still keep in e-mail contact with people in my lab.
 
What skills/lessons/etc did you take away from your internship that you still use today?
I am applying the skills and techniques that I learned in the lab to my research position now.
 
Is there a story or anecdote that you can share that reflects your experience in Israel?
When I went to Israel I did not know Hebrew, I only knew enough to get me through my Bat mitzvah portion. As you can imagine, there were not a lot of Hebrew schools in Battleford, Saskatchewan. For my 3-week ulpan I was placed in Aleph echat. After I completed my ulpan I signed up to do private Hebrew classes with a teacher. After my private lessons I always had homework to do, specifically I had to work on my oral pronunciation. One afternoon I was sitting in the lab reciting my new Hebrew words for the week and one of the masters students in my lab was sitting dissecting a mouse ear beside me. As he was working away he was listening to me recite my Hebrew sentences paying particular attention to my pronunciation as he was taking the time to correct me along the way.  Talk about multitasking!
 
What are you up to now?
Since returning to Canada, I have been working at SickKids hospital in Toronto, doing medical research with a neuro-oncologist. This fall I will begin medical school. In addition, I have started a book compilation project with Canadian Hadassah-WIZO. I am looking for stories in two categories, from either people who have travelled to remote and distant locations and connected with local Jewish populations, or Jewish travellers who have shared a unique experience with other Jewish travellers in remote pockets of the world while, for example, backpacking in South America or trekking in Nepal. I aim to publish a book with 50 such illuminating stories celebrating Jewish life from a Canadian perspective. The deadline has passed, however, I am still accepting submissions.
 
Has your time in Israel impacted your career/future plans?
Before going to Israel I knew that I wanted to apply to medical school. I thought that Israel would give me the opportunity to gain work experience as well as enjoy the opportunity to live in a new environment with local Israelis as well as other interns from around the world. I developed my book compilation project shortly after returning from Israel. Growing up in a remote location in Canada and meeting Jewish people from around the world sparked my interest in learning more about how Jewish people celebrate Jewish life in distant pockets of the world. All the proceeds from my book will go to Canadian Hadassah-WIZO whose mandate is to support a multitude of programs and projects for Children, Healthcare and Women in Israel and Canada.
 
If you could meet any Israeli from any point in history, who would it be and why?
I would say Yitzhak Rabin. He won the Nobel Peace Prize and came the closest to making peace.  I would like to find out what motivated him and gave him such a hopeful outlook. He would definitely be someone I would enjoy chatting with over a coffee at Aroma.

Jacob Kieval

Jacob Kieval

WUJS Tel Aviv Internship
Name: Jacob Kieval
Hometown: Sharon, MA
Employer: Mark Burnett Productions
University: Washington University in St. Louis
Major: Film and Media Studies
 
How did you decide that going to Israel was the right option for you?
I hadn’t been in several years, and I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do after college at the time, so I started looking into programs.
 
What Masa Israel program did you participate in?
 
Why did you decide to participate in WUJS Intern Tel Aviv?
I wanted to do something productive while in Israel, not just tour around.  I wanted to do something relevant to my career path, and feel like a real working Israeli.
 
What did you do while on WUJS Intern Tel Aviv?
I was an assistant technician at Meirav Productions in Ramat Gan. I also made a weekly video update about the other WUJS participants’ internships.
 
What was the highlight of your internship?
In my internship with WUJS, it was getting to read/hear the feedback from my videos each week as I put them up.
 
What skills/lessons did you take away from your internship that you still use today?
During my internship at Meirav Productions, I learned a lot about technical editing and post-production equipment, that are all very relevant to what I do now since it’s mostly the same stuff.
 
Is there a story or anecdote that you can share that reflects your experience in Israel?
Most of my group went to an American bar to watch the Superbowl with other Americans.  It was great, because after five months in Israel, absorbing their culture, we suddenly had a night where all the Americans came out of the woodwork to join in a true cultural event for US.  It was also great because the game started at 1 AM and went until 5.
 
What are you up to now?
Now I’m living in Los Angeles, working as a Post Production Coordinator at Mark Burnett Productions.  I’m new to the city and adjusting to life here.
 
Has your time in Israel impacted your future/career plans?
Pretty directly, for two reasons: 1) I met the guy who hired me through a friend of Mike Mitchell, director of WUJS, and 2) I was hired for this position partly on the basis of what I did at Meirav Productions in Israel.
 
If you could meet any Israeli from any point in history, who would it be and why?
Eliezer Ben Yehuda.  I’m not sure if he counts as an Israeli, but he did reinvent the Hebrew language, so I’m kind of awed by him.

Hannah Schafer

Hannah Schafer

Arava Institute for Environmental Studies
While growing up in the United States, Hannah Schafer learned of the struggles that Israelis faced each day during the Second Intifada and wished she could help.  After focusing on environmental studies in college, Hannah decided to spend a year studying at the Arava Institute in Israel.  Her studies at Arava, which included projects to improve the environment and conflict-resolution activities with Jordanian, Palestinian, Israeli, and North American students were instrumental in making Hannah feel like she could make a difference in Israel—both as an environmentalist and as a Jew.  "All of a sudden, I could participate in solving Israel’s problems in a way that was personal," Hannah says.  
 
One of Hannah’s most meaningful experiences at the Arava Institute occurred during the end of her environmental law course. For their final project in the course, Hannah and her fellow students researched the effect of Eilat fish-growing cages on coral reefs.  While some students were assigned to prosecute the fish-cage companies, others were assigned to defend them;  assigned to the companies’ defense, Hannah traveled to Eilat to meet with one case company’s managers and workers in order to gain a wider perspective on the issue.  “It just so happened that several kibbutzim owned the company I was assigned to, and many of the kibbutzniks consider themselves to be big environmentalists,” Hannah says, explaining the complexity of the situation.  The project culminated in a mock trial and made Hannah realize that there was an abundance of environmental work to pursue in Israel.
 
A few years after completing her studies at the Arava Institute, Hannah returned to Israel and began working for Zalul, an environmentally-focused non-profit that works to protect and maintain clean water in Israel.  As a result of her studies at Arava, Hannah arrived in Israel fully prepared to help Zalul in its work to protect coral reefs.
 
Hannah believes that environmental work can bring about significant change in Israel.  "Here, the environmental situation is 10 to 15 years behind that of the United States,” Hannah says.  “In Israel, I can do more with my knowledge and skills than I could in America."
 
Arava also made Hannah realize that environmental work in Israel is a conduit for peace in the Middle East. "Everyone has a common goal when it comes to the environment," Hannah says.  "Nature has no borders. A contaminated river that flows in Israel not only pollutes Israel, but it also flows through the West Bank and disrupts the Arabs’ lives. We all live in one world, physically undivided by political lines."

Shana Dorfman

Shana Dorfman

Otzma
Age: 23 
Hometown: Santa Rosa, California, USA
Program: OTZMA
Hobbies: Writing & running
 
How did you get to OTZMA?
I was on Birthright in January of that year, 2006, and I was in Haifa with my aunt, and she was an adoptive mother for a participant, and she introduced me to her and she told me about the program, so that's how I found out.
 
How much family do you have here?
My dad's whole family lives here, they all made Aliyah in the 60s and 70s.  All his cousins and aunts and uncles.
 
Had you been to Israel before Birthright?
Well, as a baby, but that doesn’t count.
 
And you liked your Birthright experience?
Yeah, I loved it. It was so much fun.
 
Do you remember your first impressions of living here when you were on OTZMA?
I thought Israel was absolutely ridiculous, it's kind of like America but backwards, kind of, I guess. I don’t know, I loved it and I loved that people would invite us over for dinner all the time, that always happens, and I liked the cultural differences, like the food and the bus experience and it's just different. I don’t remember what it's like now because it's so natural to me because I've been here so long.
 
What are the main differences between living here and your experience on Birthright?
I mean, we actually saw Israelis on OTZMA. On birthright you're surrounded by Americans and you see them everywhere. And then when you come back and your actual self-conception is changed from a tourist to actually living here, it's different because you see Americans on the street and you don’t feel like you have something in common anymore, because they're a tourist but you live here, so that's different. On birthright we'd always see other Americans and we'd be like "ooh, where are you from?" and when you're on OTZMA and you see other Americans you just pretend that you're not like them, because it's so different. I don’t know, you take your time more with experiencing Israel because you know you're going to be here a while, it's just different.
 
Do you remember any big moments of culture shock?
Yeah, my cousin took me to a wedding. I knew that Israeli weddings were supposed to be orthodox, so I was expecting like an orthodox synagogue and a service. And it was a DJ running the whole thing and there were fireworks and confetti and a dance floor and alcohol all over the place. The whole thing was absolutely nuts and I was obsessed with Israeli weddings after that, I want to have one.
 
What do you think you did right at the beginning of your program?
I focused on ulpan. I pretty much skipped volunteering just to really work on my Hebrew, and that helped me a lot for the rest of the year. Like, being in Kiryat Shmonah and being able to communicate with people at stores was just really, really helpful for me because I didn’t know any Hebrew when I got here.  So I'm glad that I came here and actually took my Hebrew lessons seriously.
 
Can you think of anything that you would do differently?
Looking back, I wish I had taken more initiative from the very beginning, just to make a difference. Because, you're in OTZMA, and you're there to do community service and to really try to help people and to use your skills to your advantage, and it's so easy to get caught up in enjoying Israel and enjoying the people around you, that you sometimes forget why you originally came here. And I feel like I came here with a lot of experiences in other jobs that I could have applied to being here.
 
Like when I was in college I helped teach this Toastmasters public speaking class and I could have used that to help other kids with public speaking, and we eventually did a speech competion in Kiryat Shmonah, but it could have been something that we worked on the entire time, instead of just pulling it together the last few weeks that we were there.  I like writing and I could have actually worked with newsletters from home or something and gotten my writing out there but I didn’t, just that kind of thing. It's hard to think of that when you're caught up with everything else. I wish I had done that.
 
How would you describe the relationship our friends and fellow program participants have had with Israel?
I don't want to get political. One thing I’ve noticed with American Jews is we're taught to love Israel and be Zionists and to love it unconditionally, and you get here and you see all the great things and you sometimes ignore the negative sides of Israel. Maybe you'll see that certain groups are prejudiced against in this country and you make excuses for it, or ignore it, or talk about the wars and the way certain people are treated and you try not to think about it because you want to love Israel, and I think what a lot of Diaspora Jews miss out on is the fact that it's important to be critical of Israel but at the same time love it, and a lot of people just completely miss that and I'm kind of fascinated by how that works and how Zionism is going to change in the coming years to reflect that.
 
As far as relating to Israelis, I think that it's kind of hard for Jews in America to come here and meet Israelis who are Jewish and don't act the way that we consider to be Jewish. Like I have a friend who I worked with who is from a kibbutz and he was telling me that on Yom Kippur he makes it a point to eat pork. And it's such a Jewish thing to do here because that's certain people's way of standing up against religion but still being Jewish at the same time. And if I were to go back and do that in the States, that would be so not Jewish at all, like there's no way to make that a Jewish act. So it's kind of funny to see the differences between our cultures and trying to talk to Israelis about that sort of thing.
 
How would you describe your Jewish background?
I was raised going to a Reconstructionist synagogue, and that's where I had my Bat Mitzvah, and then my parents went to Reform after that, but only on Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashana. We didn't go, ever. We would go through phases where we did Shabbat for a few months at a time and then we'd forget about it. I mean, everyone in my family is atheist, everyone is not into tradition. I never really had any Jewish friends until college.  I didn’t have a strong Jewish background at all. I went to camp though – Camp Tawonga, it's in California. It's like a hippie, outdoorsy camp, so I got that. It's a Jewish camp. I always knew I was Jewish and I identified with it and I was pretty active in Hillel in college, but not the religious side of it. I'm more of a cultural Jew.
 
How did being in Israel affect your Jewish identity?
I always knew that there's more than one way to be Jewish and you don’t have to be religiously Jewish, and you can be culturally also, but I think being here just reinforced it just because you see so many people who are completely secular and yet they still are very, very Jewish, and you can tell they are in the way they act.  It's just making me think about how I want to practice Judaism when I get home, and I'm realizing that I don’t have to be religious or go to synagogue or anything, like I don’t even know if I'm going to go to high holy days this year, but there are other ways of being Jewish. I kind of like the Israeli way of it more.
 
Do you have staple traditions or observances that you do in order to maintain your Jewish identity? Is it easier for you to be Jewish in Israel?
Yeah, for sure, because when you're in America and Yom Kippur rolls around, if you don’t go to services, that's such a non-Jewish act in itself because all the Jews are going to be in services, why aren't you? But if you're here, there are Jews who go and there are Jews who don't. Just because you don't go that doesn’t mean you're not Jewish, it just means you're a different kind of Jew. It's harder to have different kinds of Judaism in the States, I think, than it is here.
 
What are the main things you’ve learned from this experience?
I don’t know, the whole year is just one big learning experience, like I didn’t really know that much about Israel before I got here, like I had read a couple books about it and I have so much family here, but I still didn’t know really about it, and I wouldn’t be able to tell you what daily life is like. And now I've experienced it and I can put together a map of Israel, I know where everything is because I've been there. You’re always learning here.
 
Do you consider yourself to be a different person?
Yeah, for sure. It's impossible to be here for a year without growing in some way. It'll be interesting when I get back to see how my friends react.  I feel like I've gotten more Israeli, and more blunt. I feel like, my uncle always said that it was really annoying when he would meet me or my brother because we were taught to be very diplomatic about everything, and when you're here you don’t beat around the bush, you just get right to the point. I feel like I've learned to be more like that just from being here. And I think I'm more independent – I mean I was independent when I got here because I had already been through 4 years of college, but not to the point of being in a foreign country and being able to navigate my way around it without really knowing the language.
 
What are your plans for when you back?
I'm going to study for the GRE and apply to graduate school and hopefully not look for work, because I don’t really want to get a job yet.
 
How do you plan to stay involved with Jewish issues and Israel?
Indirectly, like I'm not going to go back and work for a federation or for Hillel, but through writing or anthropology research I think I want to stay involved just because I find it really interesting. The Jerusalem Post asked me to do a blog for them, which should be interesting. Whatever I do, I want it to relate to Israel in some way, for example, if I'm writing or doing research, because I'm really interested specifically in the relationship between Israeli Jews and Diaspora Jews.  But I'm trying not to think about the future yet.
 
Was the interest there before you came here?
I came here to figure out what I want to do with my life, I didn’t know anything, I thought I wanted to go to graduate school in sociology. So it's kind of related, I knew I wanted to study some kind of group of people but I didn't really know what. I didn’t think I'd get that involved, I thought I'd find some fascination with poverty, or something normal that people do research on. But I just think Israelis are really cool

Charlotte van der Mark

Charlotte van der Mark

WUJS Institute in Arad
Age: 23
Home country: Netherlands
Profession: Student
Hobbies or interests: Travel
Masa program: WUJS Institute in Arad
 
Although she is Jewish, Charlotte "had no Jewish upbringing whatsoever." After graduating from college, she decided that there was no better place to discover her Jewish heritage than in Israel.
 
"This program made me think about the possibility of building a future for myself in Israel. The program is giving me a lot, but mostly a sense of home. The WUJS Institute staff stands behind me and the Arad community is very welcoming. I acquired a lot of knowledge due to the wonderful teachers of the Institute, which is very important to me."

Rachel Present

Rachel Present

Otzma
Age: 23
Hometown: Rochester, NY (USA)
Profession: Student, activist
Hobbies/interests: American politics, cooking
Masa program: Otzma 
Future plans: Work on Capital Hill in Washington DC
 
Rachel came to Israel after the war with Lebanon as a volunteer to help with Israel's recovery. As an Otzma participant, Rachel worked with Druze, Arab-Israeli, Palestinian, Christian and Jewish children in the pediatric oncology ward at Haifa's Rambam hospital. 

Sarah Fried

Sarah Fried

Career Israel
Program: 
 
Age: 23
Hometown: Los Angeles, CA (USA)
Profession: Writer
Hobbies or interests: Art, writing, meeting new people
Masa program: Career Israel
 
"Before I got here I told everyone back home that I would go anywhere a job took me.  Now I think I'll stay in Israel regardless and see what happens. I have to say that the best experience so far has been spending time with other participants on the program.  It's so amazing that a group of 37 people from 15 different countries have been able to not only communicate with one another but actually become a family."
 
Sara interned at the Jerusalem Report, the highly-acclaimed news magazine covering Israel and the Middle East.  

Cleveland Native Forges Connections in Israel

<div class="masa-blog-title">Cleveland Native Forges Connections in Israel</div>

 
After graduating from Lehigh University with a degree in political science and mass communications, Alex Kadis knew he wanted to spend the year volunteering before entering the work world.
 
“Even though I’ve never been that involved in the Jewish community, I’ve always believed that Judaism is about community activism,” says Alex.
 

Annie Lasco

Annie Lasco

Otzma
 
After graduating from Washington University in St. Louis where she majored in Women’s Studies and Italian, Annie Lascoe knew she wanted to spend the year volunteering in Israel.
 
"I’ve spent a lot of time in European countries and have really enjoyed myself, but when it’s time to leave, I’ve always felt ready," says Annie. "Between trips to Israel, I’ve only felt those aches to return, like there was something missing in me."
 
Having previously traveled to Israel with her family, Birthright and Young Judaea summer programs, Annie wanted a longer and more immersive experience, so she enrolled in Otzma, a year-long service-focused program. "I believe in Israel and think that Jews should spend time there and feel like they have a personal stake in the land,” says Annie. "My goal for the year was to take part in contributing to Israel in significant ways."
 
During the first three months, Annie lived in an absorption center in Ashkelon, learning Hebrew, and volunteering in a foster center and a nursery school at the local Conservative synagogue. Within those first few months, Annie started to feel at home.
 
"I loved speaking Hebrew everyday and I loved having the time to develop my political opinions regarding Israel and Zionism," says Annie. "But my favorite thing was just seeing the guy selling vegetables on the corner of the street, knowing that the cucumbers and the irrigation tools used to grow them were both created in Israel. Each week, he’d wish me a Shabbat Shalom and it was a clear indication that all my experiences in Israel served the purpose of cultivating my Jewish identity."
 
In January, along with fellw Otzmaniks from New York and Los Angeles, Annie moved to Rehovot and volunteered at an after-school center for students with special needs, Naamat, a women’s organization, a high school where she taught English, and an Ethiopian community center. There, she also had the opportunity to perform in a Hebrew play alongside Ethiopian teenagers. The only non-Israeli in the play, Annie found it challenging but was thrilled when her friends filled up two rows of the theater.
 
"To have friends in a foreign country loving you and supporting you and believing in what you’re doing is really unique to Otzma,” says Annie. “The choice to contribute to a country for 10 months is a result of altruism and ideology."
 
In the United States, Annie had worked with nonprofits organizations as well, but often felt like she could not support their whole mission. “So many of them totally vilify Israel though their causes have nothing to do with Israel,” she says. "It was nice to finally be able to work in organizations that I believed in, while being an open Zionist."
 
A strong feminist, Annie spent her last three months in Israel interning for Galia Albin, a well-known Israeli businesswoman. Annie helped organize her annual Live Hatikva project, which unites people around the world to sing Hatikva on Israel’s Independence Day. Annie appreciated all the advice she received from her accomplished boss. When Galia told her that no matter what she decides to do, Annie should work with people, Annie listened.
 
Though she previously assumed she’d go into business, Annie realized that in order to do the kind of work she hoped to do—be it in a woman’s organization or in a nonprofit that seeks to end human trafficking—she needed a graduate degree in social work. Now living in Manhattan, Annie will begin her studies at Columbia’s School of Social Work in January.
 
"I was sitting with one of my best friends in a bar in Tel Aviv and talking about the things that were most important to me—women’s studies and my personal relationships," Annie says. "I’d spent the past several months helping people and I knew that’s what I wanted to continue to do. I’m so thankful Otzma helped me realize that."

Getting ahead, and giving back

<div class="masa-blog-title">Getting ahead, and giving back</div>

 
By 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.