Josef Newman

Josef Newman

Arava Institute for Environmental Studies
 
In February 2009 I arrived at the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies after five years of working in construction. Ready for a change, I was looking to explore my new interests. Having participated in Young Judaea’s Year Course program after high school, I was enthusiastic about being in a professional environment in a setting that held positive memories for me. The desert landscape that surrounds Kibbutz Ketura was a change from the traffic of southeast Florida and I was excited for a new experience.
 
Greeted by two Jordanian staff members upon my arrival, it was immediately clear that The Arava Institute was a unique place. At other academic settings, I have been accustomed to seeing a large divide between Muslim and Jewish students, but at the Arava Institute, environmentalism is an avenue for building peace and joint projects between Jews and Arabs is the norm.
 
Having grown up in an environment where Israel was a popular topic of conversation, I always assumed that peace was something political, something that was brokered by officials who drape their pens over official documents in big conference rooms. I never considered the possibility that working together on the restoration of the Jordan River would be a way for Israelis, Jordanians and Palestinians to form friendships, bonds and a common identity.
 
I spent six months at the Arava Institute soaking up skills and knowledge related to the environment. Course topics ranged from the Middle Eastern water management policy to environmental politics. The professors came from all over the world with diverse backgrounds, but they all shared the belief that peace is something that happens each and every day by people who want to make a difference. We may not all have the power to sign a declaration on behalf of our country, but we certainly have the power to embrace people who are not as different as we may have first assumed. Before people are Israeli, American, Muslim, or Jewish, they are all human beings living in the same world, a world that requires our help.
 
I sincerely believe my time at the Arava Institute was among the six most meaningful months of my adult life. It has forever changed the way I view Israel, the way I view my friends over the river and those behind the fence. It inspired me to further my education in environmental science, leaving behind five years in the construction industry in pursuit of a new calling. I hope that other young adults will look into similar Masa Israel-sponsored opportunities in Israel.
 
In August 2009 I returned to Southeast Florida to begin my studies at Florida Atlantic University. I enrolled in the biology department and began the track I knew I was meant to take, but also began a new track as an environmental activist. Having taken home the message that it is we as individuals who create change, I quickly found FAU’s local student activist group, the Mission Green Student Association. Together with other likeminded students, we continue to push the message through education and action. Whether through small activities like beach cleanups and nature preserve maintenance to larger activities like planning speakers and dedicating a day on campus to new green initiatives, the message remains.
 
The Arava Institute opened a new chapter in my life. Recognizing the consequences not only of my actions, but also of my inactions, has made me more aware of the need to act in daily life. With a new perspective not only on Israel but also on myself, I look forward to a future where I can share with others that which I was so blessed to receive, and I will continue to work on behalf of the earth and all its citizens.


Scott Berger

Scott Berger

Hebrew University of Jerusalem
 
Growing up in Atlanta, Scott Berger first became involved in Judaism as a teenager through Bnai Brith Youth Organization. But, it was not until he was a freshman at Tulane University that he first traveled to Israel with Birthright.
 
“I had no idea what to expect and it was thrilling for me to be in a country filled with other people like me,” says Scott. “I knew I wanted to spend more time there.”
 
During his fourth year at Tulane, Scott decided to study in Israel. But, as an architecture student at a university that discouraged study abroad in Israel, the process was not simple. “My study abroad advisor encouraged me to take a semester off and look into university programs where other Tulane students had studied,” says Scott. “I decided to take a semester off from architecture and focus on Jewish studies at Hebrew University.”
 
At Hebrew University, Scott enrolled in an intensive Hebrew Ulpan, as well as courses that covered the Israeli-Arab conflict, Israeli art, and archeology in Jerusalem. “More often than not, the reading for my Jewish Studies courses at Tulane is written by Hebrew University professors,” says Scott. “It was an incredible opportunity to study with the best in the field.” 
 
Scott also enjoyed sharing a dorm with international students from Germany, Switzerland, Spain, and Canada. “It was a beautiful thing to meet other Jews from all over the world, who had each decided to study in Israel,” says Scott.
 
While in Israel, Scott had the opportunity to explore diverse Israeli communities. For the high holidays, Scott split his time between an Orthodox community in the Old City of Jerusalem and the secular suburbs of Tel Aviv. “I spent Rosh Hashanah experiencing the hospitality of families who were much more religious than me, and then on Yom Kippur, I watched movies all day while fasting,” says Scott. “I can’t say I enjoyed one experience more than the other, but I did love seeing the dichotomy of Israeli culture.”
 
When Scott’s parents and Catholic best friend came to visit towards the end of his time in Israel, he knew the country well enough to show them around. “It was wonderful to watch their preconceptions of Israel shatter,” says Scott. “They were definitely impressed and told me that if I ever lived in Israel in the future, they would love to return.”
 
Since returning to campus to finish up his Masters in architecture, Scott has participated in URBANbuild, a program in which students design and build homes to help in the Katrina relief effort. He also attends Israel-advocacy events on campus and reads English-language Israeli newspapers every day. In a few years, he hopes to return to Israel for another extended period of time to work or volunteer. 
 
“I feel a real sense of comfort in Israel,” says Scott. “In Israel, everyone seems to know each other, or at least each other’s cousins. It makes for a real warm environment, one where I feel like I belong.”

Emily Passer

Emily Passer

Hebrew University of Jerusalem
While growing up in the Jewish community in Kansas City, I had the opportunity to visit Israel a few times. But it was not until I visited Israel with my family after my freshman year at the Joint Program with the Jewish Theological Seminary and Columbia University that Jerusalem—a frequent stop on past trips—really began to appeal to me. I knew I needed to return for a longer period of time and with majors in International Relations and Bible Studies, the city was the perfect backdrop to my academic focus.
 
In the second semester of my junior year, I left Manhattan and studied abroad at the Masa Israel-accredited Rothberg International School’s Hebrew University of Jerusalem. At the university, which is located in the heart of Israel, I enrolled in courses that directly related to my major and placed me in the thick of their historical settings. These courses also allowed me to explore my majors from new angles; for example, my Ancient Mesopotamia class combined biblical, mythical and religious studies, and archeology.
 
While my courses took me back in history, my day-to-day life was immersed in modern-day Israel. On afternoons, I would go to Ben Yehuda Street or the shuk and practice my Hebrew with Israelis. On day trips, I was able to travel all around Israel.
 
One memorable trip was the three-day-long Sea-to-Sea trek in which 50 other students and I hiked the well-known trail from the Mediterranean Sea to the Kinneret. Passing long and arduous days hiking through the tall grass with the hot sun beaming on our heads was thrilling. Despite the intense heat and my sore muscles, I enjoyed being able to experience an Israeli youth rite of passage. Along the way, we passed several groups of Israeli Scouts and exchanged the thumbs-up sign, making us feel like we were really part of the larger Israeli community. 
 
When we reached our resting point, we built a bonfire and roasted marshmallows, while a fellow classmate played the bagpipes. Relaxing in this open area in nature and listening to the music echo off the trees, my peers and I smiled sleepily and felt the impact of the day sink into our bodies. When we finally reached the Kinneret at the end of the third day, we ran into the water, relieved to have completed the hike but sad that we were closer to the end of our Masa program when we would leave Israel.
 
In contrast to my previous trips to Israel, this study abroad experience allowed me to see the real Israel and become a part of it. Israel was no longer just a series of tourist attractions and I was not only a short-term visitor, racing to buy souvenirs wherever I went. Rather, Israel became my home during that semester, and I felt a connection to Jews everywhere who consider Israel their homeland. During that winter and spring, I began thinking in Hebrew, took part in holiday celebrations with my Israeli peers and experienced the ebb and flow of daily life. I felt a sense of comfort and belonging in Israel.
 
I returned to campus not only with a more grounded understanding of my studies, but with a new and more authentic love for Israel. I recommend that other Jewish young adults study abroad in Israel and experience.

Elisheva Layman

Elisheva Layman

Hebrew University of Jerusalem
 
Having grown up in a Conservative Jewish community in Maryland, Elisheva Layman had been to Israel several times before she was 20, and was ready for a non-tourist experience. “I wanted to be based in one place for once and I knew that studying abroad in Israel was the best way to do that,” she says.
 
A University of Maryland student majoring in Special Education, Elisheva decided to enroll in the Masa Israel-accredited Hebrew University and fulfill her elective requirements. In addition to taking courses in the History of Israel, Holocaust Studies and Halacha, Elisheva worked on her Hebrew both inside and outside of the classroom.
 
Twenty minutes from campus, Elisheva found a school for autistic children. In her limited Hebrew, she explained her background in working with children with special needs and asked to volunteer there. The staff readily accepted and made Elisheva a math tutor. “I was also an extra set of hands,” says Elisheva. “Which really helped me improve my Hebrew.” 
 
With previous experience in working with the special needs population, it was interesting for Elisheva to learn about teaching methods in a new environment. “At first, I was shocked to find that 18 and 19-year-old women completing their national service basically ran the school,” says Elisheva. “It’s the type of thing that would never happen in the U.S., but they were excellent at their jobs and really knew what they were doing.”
 
On weekends, Elisheva took advantage of her central location in Israel and visited friends and family all over the country, traveling to Beit Shemesh, Chashmonaim, and Herzliya. “Living in Jerusalem, I really felt like I could go anywhere—even during the week,” says Elisheva. “My apartment was a 10-minute bus ride from Ben Yehuda Street and Old City, and in 45 minutes, I could be on the beach in Tel Aviv.” 
 
The experience in Israel made Elisheva a lot more independent. “I had to learn how to live in my own apartment, buy my own food and take buses everywhere—all in a new country,” says Elisheva. “But I learned my way around, got comfortable and Israel became a second home to me.”
 
Back at the University of Maryland, Elisheva was the president of the Jewish social action committee, and planned community service events on campus—including a big sibling program for local youth and a day when students made 5,000 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the homeless in Washington, DC. 
 
In her free time, Elisheva searches for return trips to Israel. “My study abroad experience in Israel made me love the country so much more,” she says. “I just wish it weren’t so far away.”
 

Jessica Louise

Jessica Louise

Kibbutz Ulpan
Program: 
 
I grew up always being the lone Jewish girl. I would be the one who always missed school in September for the High Holidays, who would always be asked to explain “my peoples’ special holiday” to the class, and of course, the one who was always asked “so really, why did you guys kill Jesus?” I suppose it didn’t help that I spent my high school years attending an all girls Catholic school south of Boston where my lack of Irish step dancing and red hair made me stand out like a sore thumb. It was always this wanting for a Jewish community that motivated me to someday find one; I just didn’t know where to search. Additionally, freshman year had been a rough year for me and I felt myself slowly sinking. I didn’t know where I fit in at my university where everyone was super motivated and being a type-A personality wasn’t a nuisance, but a necessity. All I knew was that I needed to get away and slow life down before I would suddenly find myself cherishing my last few days of freedom before my senior year of university. That is when I decided to go back to my roots and head for the Holy Land. Thus, in the first semester of my sophomore year at university, I did something so shocking and unbelievable to all my fellow students at my university- I decided to take a leave of absence and live on a kibbutz in Israel.
 
I found out about Masa Israel’s Kibbutz Ulpan experience on a late night Google search and made the impulsive decision to sign up. All I knew was that I would spend four hours a day learning Hebrew and another four doing menial labor. Fast forward to four months later and I am peeling my sweaty shirt off of the bus seat as I was dropped off in what I described to as my mother as, “the middle of nowhere, Israel”. I had somehow landed at Kibbutz Maag’an Michael in northern Israel with not a word of Hebrew to guide me, and a suitcase the size of an adolescent child. I had no idea whatsoever what living on a kibbutz entailed and as the rest of the 130 ulpanists from over a 100 different countries drifted on to the kibbutz, I realized that this experience would be like none I had ever had in my life.
 
Life on the kibbutz reminded you how sweet life could be. The most stressful decisions of the day were whether to go to the pool or the beach. Our days alternated between four hours of work and four hours of learning Hebrew. I got lucky and was assigned to work in the laundry where I was privy to all the gossip of the kibbutz and I quickly learned that nothing is too private, and if you have a secret lover, someone will inevitably find out and spread it like wildfire. It was here that I found out how the kibbutz used to offer condoms in a small bowl where the soldiers would come to pick up their laundry. They stopped doing this when one year the kids of the kibbutz decided it would be funny to poke holes into every one and nine months later the kibbutz experienced a baby boom of its own.
 
It would be impossible for me to pinpoint any one moment that truly defined my five month experience. As is the case with most significant life moments, it is sometimes the simplest ones that mean the most. For me, I truly realized how far I had come when our entire ulpan went to spend our last weekend together in the Bedouin camps in the Negev. We had come so far together; we had laughed, cried, celebrated and mourned together and this last night would be a culmination of all those experiences. The next day we would literally be dispersing across the globe and hugging each other tearful goodbyes. That night was particularly memorable as news had just broken out about tensions on the border and some close friends had already been deployed to Gaza. As we leaned on each other for support, we all felt an especially deep bond as we knew, finally, what it felt like to be Israeli. It meant taking the good with the bad, the painful with the sweet. It meant that we had to muster up our energy and spirit and light the Hanukah candles. So as we sat there, in the middle of the Negev desert, with nothing but the Hanukiah illuminating our faces, I never felt so much at peace.
 
The path that led me here was not the most traditional, but it was the best path for me. Deciding to take a semester off and fly across the world to spend five months living on a kibbutz turned out to be the best decision that I ever made. It shaped me into the person I am today and forged relationships that continue on to this day. Most importantly, those five months on the kibbutz planted a seed for me in Israel that has now grown into a beautiful tree. I have returned to Israel twice since I left that kibbutz in December, first to spend a semester studying at Tel Aviv University and most recently, to volunteer with African refugees in Tel Aviv. Perhaps my most significant journey back to the Holy Land will be when I will descend off of the plane as an olah hadasha and continue my life that began three years ago on a kibbutz in the middle of nowhere, Israel.

Joel Portman

Joel Portman

Ben Gurion University
In 2005 I traveled to Poland and Israel with United Synagogue Youth (USY). The five weeks I spent in Israel were some of the best of my life. But it wasn't enough. I wanted more and I knew I would have to return.
 
I spent five months studying at Masa Israel’s Ben-Gurion University of the Negev from the end of July to the end of December 2008. I attend the University of Denver where approximately 70% of the undergraduate students study abroad – so I knew I would be spending part of junior year in another country. What country that would be was an easy choice. I knew that I had to be in Israel. The question was which school. My options were pretty limited because of the University of Denver’s quarter schedule. Nevertheless, I knew that there were ways to get around this.
 
I was trying to decide between Hebrew University in Jerusalem or Ben-Gurion University in Be’er Sheva. I wanted to have the opportunity to explore Judaism while experiencing the “real” Israel. I wanted to learn Hebrew and I knew that English was pervasive in Jerusalem. Much to the surprise of almost everyone I knew, I chose Ben-Gurion. It ended up being a phenomenal choice.
 
I loved every minute of classes at Ben-Gurion. Be’er Sheva is an amazing city, regardless of what anyone says. The people are amazing. Our first night there, about 30 lost Americans stood on the street corner trying to figure out where we were and how we could find someplace close by to eat. A student came up and offered to make us pancakes. We got to know him well over the next several months. This was only one of the very meaningful things that happened to me in Beer Sheva.
 
At home now in St. Louis, Missouri for the summer, I have been experiencing an extremely hot and humid few months. The heat is familiar from Be’er Sheva, but not the humidity. St. Louis is missing the sand though--which really gives the city some character. The other day I was working in a building looking out at the sun and blue skies. Someone mentioned spending time at the pool over the weekend and I flashed back to the days of , when we would spend the afternoons at the pool, across from Mayonot Gimel. We would swim, tan, or play volleyball and matkot (Israeli paddleball) with the Israeli students. We were always welcomed and we began to feel part of the Israeli society.
 
Back in Denver, I began to get involved in Israel advocacy and programming with student groups and formed relationships with StandWithUs and other organizations. I took classes on the Israeli-Arab conflict and wrote my honors thesis on Israeli communities rising from discrimination to power. As part of a liberal international studies program, I often found myself defending Israel, but I was always happy to do it. I had immediately been a part of the controversy mix, returning to the United States just before my Israeli dorms were evacuated after being hit by a rocket from Gaza. (Thankfully, there were no injuries.)
 
I knew that I would not be able to see everything that I had wanted to see during my five months. I knew I would want to go back. What was surprising though was how much of Be’er Sheva I did not experience. Sure, I traveled and explored, but I always figured, “Be’er Sheva only has 200,000 people. How much can there be here to do?” Apparently, a lot. I always said I would return to visit those small museums, but never did. Hard as I knew it would be, I wanted to get up early on a Thursday morning to go to the animal auction at the Bedouin Market. I missed it. That is my only regret.
 
My Masa Israel experience was amazing. I would never have given it up for anything. Now, I know that I need to return. I hope to do so this December (when I can once again eat way too many sufganiyot! – jelly donuts). Until then, I will think of Israel often.

Amy Oppenheimer

Amy Oppenheimer

University of Haifa
Program: 
As a Jewish day school graduate, Israel always felt like a second home to me. When I created the documentary, Faces of Israel: A Discussion about Marriage, State and Religion in the Jewish Homeland during my Masa Israel semester abroad at the University of Haifa, I was able to explore the complicated way Israelis relate to their home. 
 
Before my semester in Israel, I saw Israel as the setting of the Torah, the place where I could track my people’s ancient history. Then, at Johns Hopkins, where I became involved with the interfaith group on campus, I began to realize that Israel was much more multifaceted than I could ever imagine. As I studied International Relations, Jewish Studies, and Arabic, I armed myself with the tools to dig deeper and uncover other sides of Israel. 
 
At the University of Haifa, where Muslims, Jews, Christians, Druze, Arabs and Israelis coexist together in peace, I developed close friendships with Israeli Jews and Arabs. In our conversations, we continuously returned to the meaning of democracy within a Jewish state. It was a tense topic, and increasingly so when compacted with the issue of love. I learned that it is during the marriage process, through interaction with the State rabbinate, that most Israelis first personally confront the issues that a Jewish democracy poses. 
 
Exploring this topic with different people, I witnessed an endless passion for discussing the complicated nature of the State. Though not a cinematographer, I knew that the only way to highlight the intensity of this emphatic debate was through film. I had never before taken a film class, but decided to set out for the Haifa mall to purchase film equipment and began asking people about their views on democracy in a Jewish state – on camera. 
 
These diverse interviews—which featured Israeli Jews with different backgrounds and beliefs—evolved into the seeds of a documentary, Faces of Israel. Praised and endorsed by a wide spectrum of Jewish leaders, including Rabbi Basil Herring from the Rabbinical Council of America, Rabbi Gordon Tucker from the Masorti movement, Rabbi David Ellenson from Hebrew Union College and Blu Greenberg from the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, the film was released in 2009 in Riverdale. Now, it is being screened nationwide. 
 
Classically, college exposes young adults to new and complicated viewpoints that are difficult to synthesize. By spending a semester abroad with Masa Israel at the University of Haifa, I was able to find ground for my new ideas to flourish. Since then, my understanding of Israel and my connection to Israel have deepened and matured. 

Andrew Apt

Andrew Apt

Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Andrew Apt first traveled to Israel with his Jewish Day School’s eighth grade class but didn’t think about returning until his Birthright trip during college. “The trip went by so fast and I suddenly realized how many questions I still had,” says Andrew. “I knew the only way to solve this was to go back for a longer period of time.”
 
As a junior at Kean University in Union, New Jersey, Andrew decided to study abroad at Hebrew University. “I’m a huge history buff so I knew I had to be in Jerusalem,” says Andrew. “Just walking up and down the streets, I felt how much history there was to uncover.” His university didn’t make it easy for him, though. It was during the Second Lebanon War and Andrew had to take a leave of absence in order to spend his junior year in Israel and then enroll again when he returned. But, it didn’t stop Andrew, who says, “I felt like there was something pushing me to go. The idea of not going didn’t make sense.”
 
In Israel, Andrew enrolled in an intensive Hebrew ulpan, and as many experiential history courses as possible, including one focused on archeology and another on the second temple period which had field trips throughout the country, “I definitely didn’t just want to just be sitting in a classroom while learning about everything that was around me,” he says.
 
Immersing himself in the country taught him a lot about the real Israel—including how falsely it is portrayed in the American media. “When I first landed, I remember going to this falafel place on French Hill and watching Al Manar news alongside Arabs and Jews. The memory stands out for me because not only were Israelis and Palestinians watching “the enemy’s” media in the capital of the Jewish state, but they were doing so peacefully,” says Andrew. “Then I saw the American news and it seemed like the world was about to end.”
 
His time in Israel also led him to adopt some Israeli behavior. “At first I experienced a bit of culture shock when I came into contact with pushy Israelis,” he says. On his first bus ride from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, Andrew didn’t make it into the bus and his friends had to wait for him to arrive half an hour later. “I realized that I couldn’t allow that to happen again and that I, too, had to start pushing my way through.”
 
Upon returning to Kean University, Andrew set out to apply to graduate schools in Jewish education. He was accepted to Hebrew University once again and realized he had no reason not to return. 
 
Arriving with a one-way ticket, Andrew enrolled in courses in pedagogy, educational philosophy, and pluralism in Jewish education. Outside of the classroom he continued his learning by talking to tourists, Birthright participants and Americans living in Israel about their Israel experiences. 
 
During his second year in Israel, Andrew met his current girlfriend, Rebecca Pohl, who was studying at the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem, another Masa Israel-accredited program. Now back in the United States, they are still able to see each other often. His girlfriend is a student at the Jewish Theological Seminary’s Cantorial School in New York and Andrew works at the United Jewish Communities of Metro West, New Jersey.
 
Having earned a Master’s in Jewish Education, Andrew serves as the Masa Israel Recruitment Coordinator for the Metro West-area and the Coordinator for the Diller Teen Fellows. Focused on Israel, Jewish identity, community service, and leadership, the program helps Jewish teens create their own service projects and then takes them on a three-week immersion trip to Israel. 
 
For Andrew, who spent three of the last four years in Israel, these goals are easy to feel passionate about. “My experiences in Israel were life-changing—they made me who I am today,” says Andrew. “I want to help other people find their Jewish connections and going to Israel is one of the best ways to do that.”

Laura Marder

Laura Marder

University of Haifa
Program: 
 
You know you had an unbelievable study abroad experience when it’s time to leave and you’re in a state of shock because your year flew by, exceeding every single one of your expectations. Sounds too good to be true? Well, this was exactly how I felt at the end of my year at Masa Israel’s University of Haifa program.
 
After my first two years in college, I was ready for a refreshing adventure abroad. I’d just received my associates degree in education as well as my cosmetology license, and soon planned to move on to Rutgers. At that point, I was worried that I’d have to choose a career focused on only one of my passions—cosmetology or Jewish Studies, and wanted to find a way to combine both in my future career. The perfect opportunity came along when the University of Haifa helped me create an internship for college credit where I could use my cosmetology skills at a nearby shelter for battered women.
 
On my first day, I came in quiet and excited with little notion of what lay ahead, and on my last day, I walked out in laughter and tears, with the most beautiful letters and keepsakesfrom the residents in hand. My days there were unlike anything I had ever experienced before. With whatever supplies I had, I gave the women weekly manicures and pedicures, as well as hair treatments, facials, and hand massages for relaxation. I also spent time with their kids, tutoring them in English and practicing my Hebrew.
 
I felt so many different emotions over the course of my internship at the shelter. Sometimes I was furious that the women and children had experienced such harshness, while at other times, I was elated that these women and children had been lucky enough to get second chances in life. During those months, I learned the true meaning of cosmetology—the act of giving another human being a sense of self-worth. With a simple splash of color, a caring touch, and a listening ear, I helped teach women how to respect and love themselves.
 
It was a wonderful day when I walked into the shelter and saw colorful new murals, recently painted by the mothers and their children, covering the outside fences. As I stood admiring how the work made the whole place seem happier, one of the children gave me a hug and told me that I was the inspiration for the mural. Just as I had done, she too hoped to bring color and joy to the shelter. At that moment, I realized that this wasn’t just a college internship. This would give me direction for the rest of my life.
 
I’d traveled to Israel once more since Birthright, but while studying abroad, I finally stopped feeling like a tourist and started feeling like I really belonged. Going to the open-air produce market in Hadar, sharing Shabbat meals with amazingly welcoming families, visiting my own family, wandering ancient streets, and bumping into old friends all made Israel feel like my home.
 
Everyday, I learned both inside and outside of the classroom. In a modern Israeli literature course, I read Blue Mountain and then looked out my window to see the land described in the book. I practiced Hebrew in my Hebrew ulpan course, and then it came alive in daily Hebrew conversations with roommates, counselors and cab drivers.
 
Holidays also brought me closer to the country. On Yom HaZikaron, Israel’s memorial day, I stood by the Western Wall as the siren sounded throughout Israel and listened to families speak of loved ones who died while serving the Jewish homeland. As we sang Hatikvah, Israel’s national anthem, I felt like we were all bound together, as a people, as a country, as a religion, and as a family—all mourning each other’s losses and honoring the soldiers’ immense sacrifices.
 
Following this tearful day came Yom Haazmaut, Israel’s Independence Day—a day when it seemed like everyone was suddenly out on the streets rejoicing with Israeli flags draped from the windows and tied around people’s backs. Parties boomed on every corner and the country was alive and vibrant—so different than the day before. It was then that I was able to understand that Israelis can deal with their national hardship because of their great love and belief in their land, and their mindset of taking one day at a time and always being in the moment.
 
The following weekend, I took part in a Masa Israel-sponsored conference where I was able to share my feelings with other young adults, who felt the exact same way.
 
Back in New Jersey, I finished my degree in Jewish Studies. I also work as a Hebrew school teacher, which allows me to share my passion for Israel and Judaism with others. One day I hope to create a wellness program for young adults in Israel.
 
My Masa Israel journey did not end when I returned to the United States. In fact, the knowledge and passion I gained while in Israel only just got me started.

Alisha Deluty

Alisha Deluty

Ben Gurion University of the Negev
 
While helping female Bedouin teenagers prepare for English college entrance exams at Masa Israel’s Ben Gurion University (BGU) in the Negev in August 2008, I met Nesma. In the coming weeks, I tutored Nesma in English by using Hebrew and Arabic to explain English vocabulary or grammatical constructions. Despite our religious, cultural, and national differences, Nesma and I developed a friendship. As we spoke Hebrew, Arabic, and English, Nesma and I soon learned about each other’s lives and families, mine in New York City and hers in a small Bedouin village near Be’er Sheva.
 
Nesma and I engaged in the type of dialogue that I have strived to cultivate for my entire life. Growing up, my parents instilled in me a conviction in fostering tolerance and respect amongst peoples. As a granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, the stories of my grandparents’ hardships in Nazi Europe have always resonated with me. In college at Columbia University in the joint program with the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS), I studied different cultures in my major of Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures, while taking an array of courses in the Hebrew Bible, Talmud, and Jewish history.
 
When I began thinking about studying abroad in Israel during my sophomore year, I knew that I wanted to be immersed in Israeli culture and society. I decided to go to Ben-Gurion University with the assistance of a Masa Israel Journey grant. At BGU, I lived in the university dorms with Israeli students and participated in student activities on campus. I explored Be’er Sheva and was mesmerized by the unique qualities of the city. One day, my friends and I decided to go to the Bedouin livestock market, where live sheep and goats are sold. The livestock market, which takes place before sunrise, was not the destination of choice for most tourists, or for any Israeli Jews for that matter. As soon as we got there, I could not believe what I saw. Standing around a small bonfire, there were Bedouin men and young boys getting ready to trade their animals. There was not a single woman or non-Bedouin in sight. Although I felt out of place, it was an incredible event that could only have occurred in Be’er Sheva.
 
I left Be’er Sheva just as the war in Gaza was beginning. While packing, I heard helicopters overhead as injured soldiers were being transported from Gaza to Soroka Hospital, which was next to my dorm. At that moment, I had not yet realized that war had broken out. Two days after I came home, I learned that the neighborhood in Be’er Sheva where I spent Rosh Hashana had been bombed, and a few days later the fence of my dormitory was also hit. The university was closed for more than a week, and my friends who were still in Be’er Sheva had to spend several nights in bomb shelters. It was difficult to separate myself from everything that was going on in Be’er Sheva once I was back in New York. I still felt like Be’er Sheva was my home since I had lived there for five months, and I continued to feel a deep connection with the community there.
 
I do not believe that I would be where I am today without the semester that I spent at Ben-Gurion University. During my very first week in the Negev, I learned about trust as I took part in a night hike, trekking through the vast desert with the moon as my only guiding light. But more than anything, I learned about myself. I asked a Bedouin man at the Bedouin shuk how much a tapestry cost in Arabic and gave directions to an Israeli woman on the street in Hebrew. I studied the history of the Negev with students from all over America, Mexico, and Europe. After dancing in the streets of the Old City of Jerusalem on Simchat Torah, I sat on a rooftop and heard the Muslim call to prayer while listening to the bells from a nearby church.
 
After I graduated from Columbia/JTS, I am now interning at OneVoice Movement. OneVoice looks to the future and facilitates dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians to envision a two-state solution. I have no doubt that my experiences at BGU will continue to guide me as I embark on the next stage of my life.
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