Smooth Sailing and Community Immersion on Otzma

Smooth Sailing and Community Immersion on Otzma

April 5, 2011

As a Jewish and Middle Eastern Studies major at George Washington University, Detroit-native Emily Schwartz did not have a chance to study abroad so she decided to spend a year in Israel after college.
She had previously been on short-term trips and enrolled in Masa Israel’s Otzma, a 10-month program. “I liked that it was volunteer-based and that it would allow me to experience many different aspects of the country,” said Emily.
 
During her first three months in Israel, Emily and her peers lived in an absorption center in Ashkelon, learning Hebrew in an intensive ulpan and volunteering in the community. Emily brought her guitar to Israel and was able to use her skills as a musician, leading services at a nearby congregation. She also volunteered at an after-school program and at the marina, helping run boating and sailing activities.
 
While living in an absorption center in Nazereth-Illit, Detroit’s sister city, Emily enjoyed that the location was close to Detroit’s partnership office. “The staff adopted us and had us over their homes,” she said. “They were amazing people and really reached out to us.”
 
As a music and English teacher at nearby public schools, Emily enjoyed being immersed in a new community that many tourists do not have a chance to visit. “I loved that we weren’t stuck in an American bubble, but that we were able to interact with Israelis on a daily basis,” Emily said. “It really made the community feel like home for me.”
 
During the weekends, Emily traveled throughout the country, hiking in the Carmel and taking a bus to Jerusalem. She headed south for her last three months in Israel, serving as a volunteer at Kibbutz Lotan. “I knew it would be a different experience than anything I’d ever do in the States,” she said. She milked goats and made yogurt and cheese. “It was really hard work,” she said. “But at the same time, I was living in this relaxed desert environment. It was like a dream world.”
 
Emily also liked the less-dreamy two-week army experience. “I’ll never forget what it was like to put on a uniform and listen to people ordering us around,” she said. “It wasn’t easy but I was proud to be doing it.”
 
After she returned, Emily moved to Chicago and now she works for the Community Foundation for Jewish Education. In addition to being a song leader and teacher, Emily works with Jewish youth groups. “I talk about Israel a lot with my kids. “People who have been to Israel get a certain feeling when they’re there that’s hard for others who haven’t been there to grasp. But hearing about it makes them want to go to Israel and experience it too.”
 
Emily will soon be leading a trip for 7th and 8th graders from Chicago to Israel. She is also in the process of applying to cantorial school.

Israelis Sharing with India

Israelis Sharing with India

Israelis Sharing with India

April 5, 2011

Young Israelis are using their expertise to support Indian development, thanks to a program established by ex-Melburnian Yonatan Glaser (pictured).
Educator Glaser – Melbourne-born, now Jerusalem-based – is the director of B’Tzedek, an Israeli training organisation offering internships for university graduates eager to apply their skills to help the less fortunate, through projects in Israel and India.
 
Glaser, who was one of the founders of Netzer Australia in the late 1970s, outlined the aims of B’Tzedek and its Leadership and International Fellowship Experience (LIFE) program.
 
The three-year-old program – which has the support of the Israeli Government, the Jewish Agency and Masa Israel – currently has seven Jewish interns, aged between 21 and 30, from Israel and the Diaspora, involved in projects in Israel and India. The program begins with a three-week training period in Israel, and then continues with a four-month Indian internship and a similar length internship in Israel.
 
Participants do not take part in direct services, explained Glaser. Rather, they develop professional service provision strategies in their chosen field, such as program development, capacity building, program evaluation and policy.
 
“It is a win-win for those involved in the program, who can go on and apply their experience in other areas, and also, of course, for the millions of recipients,” Glaser told The AJN, on a recent personal trip back to Melbourne.
 
One participant was involved in developing a model to transition three million Indians from unsafe drinking water to a high-quality water supply. The project was designed to overcome resistance created by centuries-old water-gathering practices.
 
For the Israeli component, the participant developed a strategy for the deputy mayor’s office in Jerusalem to liaise with government departments on a sustainability policy for the city.
 
“Perhaps this kind of work is not as immediately gratifying as working directly on the ground with the service recipients. It’s more of a relay-team approach and, like so much in the professional world, you don’t necessarily see the results of your contribution to the project overnight. But in the long run, it’s extremely rewarding,” Glaser said.
 

Sandstorms and Kibbutniks: Israeli Society Shabbaton

<div class="masa-blog-title">Sandstorms and Kibbutniks: Israeli Society Shabbaton</div>

Post courtesy of Tikkun Olam Tel Aviv-Jaffa
 
This past Shabbat, three of our volunteers joined the Masa community for a Shabbaton hosted by Kibbutz Kranim in the Northern Negev. The weekend opened with a tour of two Bedouin villages in the Negev and a discussion of modern Bedouin culture, led by Bustan, a NGO that works for cooperation and social justice with Bedouin and Jewish communities in the Negev.
 

Altruism and Ideology on Otzma

Altruism and Ideology on Otzma

April 5, 2011

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 fellow 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.”

Seeking Diversity and Balance while Volunteering Abroad

Seeking Diversity and Balance while Volunteering Abroad

April 11, 2011

After graduating from Brandeis University, Chicago-native Becky Kupchan knew that she wanted to spend the year volunteering abroad and decided to enroll in the WUJS Peace and Social Justice program.
“I hadn’t yet spent time in Israel on my own,” says Becky. “At Brandeis, I sought out a more diverse community and studied abroad in Argentina. WUJS seemed like it struck a good balance with an independent internship and a group aspect.”
 
While living in Jerusalem, Becky interned at the Israel Association for Ethiopian Jews. There she edited grant proposals, worked on North American donor outreach, and blogged about her experiences. She also had the opportunity to visit Ethiopian absorption centers and attend a Supreme Court case related to the Ethiopian population.
 
“I previously worked with Central American immigrants and I was happy to work with another community that needed help,” says Becky.
 
One of her most memorable experiences was the Sigd holiday celebration, which commemorates the Ethiopians’ return to Jerusalem. “It was a very powerful religious ceremony with the kesim leading prayers and everyone in white with decorated umbrellas,” says Becky. “It was incredible to take part in it alongside tens of thousands of Ethiopian Jews.”
 
Aside from her internship, Becky took part in a Hebrew ulpan and trips throughout Israel, which included travels to Latrun and Hebron. She also roomed with three recent graduates, who became good friends.
 
“I learned about Israel in ways that can’t be taught or read in an article. By living there and going grocery shopping and doing things that one does in daily life, I was able to see how impressive Israeli society is and explore my own connection to Israel,” says Becky.
 
While in Israel for Yom Hazikaron, Becky experienced the country-wide siren in Tel Aviv. “I remember thinking that nothing like this would ever happen in America because there isn’t one thing that everyone would agree to have a moment of silence for,” says Becky. “It was beautiful that for once, Israelis, who are always so opinionated, were able to find common ground.”
 
After returning from Israel, Becky became program coordinator at Camp Ramah Wisconsin, the camp she attended growing up. She now works for Shorashim, a nonprofit organization devoted to building bridges between Jews in Israel and around the world, and helps coordinate its Birthright trips.
 
“My Masa Israel experience helped me prioritize the things that are important to me,” says Becky. “There’s something about Israel that really draws me in and I love being able to send others there.”

Stretching limits and appreciating nature at Hakfar Hayarok

<div class="masa-blog-title">Stretching limits and appreciating nature at Hakfar Hayarok </div>

 
By Adi Raz, Because We Care
 
After graduating from Santa Clara University I was faced with the challenge of figuring out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I had studied psychology, but was a bit wary of the counseling profession and didn’t know if it was for me. I decided that I needed a change of scene to clear my head before I made any life altering decisions.
 

Digging Into the Connection between Food and Land

Digging Into the Connection between Food and Land

Digging Into the Connection between Food and Land

December 28, 2010

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.”

Taking the Time to Experience Israel

Taking the Time to Experience Israel

December 27, 2010

After his Birthright trip to Israel during college, Brookville, Maryland-native, Josh Lichtenstein knew he needed to return to Israel for a longer period of time.
“Everything was so rushed and amazing,” says Josh. “I didn’t have time to take it all in and I knew I’d be back.” Upon graduating from George Washington University, Josh joined WUJS Intern in Tel Aviv.
 
In Tel Aviv, Josh interned at YNet News, where he wrote book reviews and blogged about his experience as an American Jew in Israel. “Unlike internships in the United States, Israeli companies give you a ton of responsibility,” says Josh. “At YNet, I wasn’t just doing busywork; I was actually writing articles that got published.”
 
Aside from wanting the long-term experience abroad he missed in college, Josh says, “I wanted to explore my identity.” Having attended a Reconstructionist synagogue and been active in the campus Hillel during college, Josh was surrounded by a Jewish community for much of his life but his friendships with international Jewish young adults proved to be the highlight of his experience. “I befriended participants from Sweden and Russia and I was amazed to learn that though we were all different, we had a real bond due to our shared religion,” says Josh.
 
Josh also established similar connections to Israelis who lived in his building. “On Fridays, before getting ready for Shabbat, all the guys in the neighborhood played soccer—guys who had been in the army and served at dangerous checkpoints,” says Josh. “Yet, there we all were, playing soccer and having a good time and I realized that, at the end of the day, we were all pretty similar.”
 
Aside from being able to get to know the people of Israel, Josh was able to experience the entire country through trips throughout Israel. “The whole country was beautiful—hiking in the north, sleeping outside, camping in the desert,” says Josh. “And just waking up every day only 30 minutes from Jerusalem, the holiest city in the world.”
 
Back in Washington, DC, Josh believes that Israel will continue to be an important part of his life. “As it’s the Jewish homeland, I’ll always feel a spiritual connection to Israel. I’ll always feel an obligation to keep an eye on it,” he says. “And I definitely want to go back.”

I found my heart in Israel: A Jerusalem Conection

<div class="masa-blog-title">I found my heart in Israel: A Jerusalem Conection </div>

 
Andrew Apt and Becca Pohl
 
What Masa Israel program were you both participating in when you met?
I was in my second year of Graduate School at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and Rebecca was in her first year in Cantorial School at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, which last year had their first years attend the