6 weekend adventures for fall in Israel

<div class="masa-blog-title">6 weekend adventures for fall in Israel</div>

 
Now that the chagim are over, you’ve finally started a regular schedule, whether it’s studying, interning, or volunteering (or a combination of those). But that doesn’t mean you can’t take advantage of your weekends and explore Israel!
 
Supplement your program’s siyyurim with your own—as any Israeli will tell you, there is no better way to get to know the country than to go out and explore it yourself.
 

Living the sweet life and feeling Israeli

<div class="masa-blog-title">Living the sweet life and feeling Israeli</div>

 
By Jessica Louise, Boston, Kibbutz Ulpan
 
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.
 
Now, as I am sitting here typing this, I am cherishing my last few days of freedom before I begin my senior year of university. 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, this summer to volunteer with African refugees in Tel Aviv.
 
Perhaps my most significant journey back to the Holy Land will be next January 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.
 

The Business of Israel

The Business of Israel

September 29, 2010

The University of Maryland plans to open yet another satellite school, but the commute could be daunting. The new branch happens to be in Israel.
By Richard Greenberg
 
The University of Maryland plans to open yet another satellite school, but the commute could be daunting.
 
The new branch happens to be in Israel.
 
The latest addition to U.Md. overseas learning complement is the Smith School of Business, which is slated to launch an ambitious study-abroad operation at the University of Haifa by this spring.
 
The University of Haifa is already the site of Maryland-in-Haifa, a semester-long spring program that opened last year. It features a mandatory core course that promotes conflict resolution and examines cultural diversity.
 
Smith was one of eight American universities (or university departments) that recently were selected to form partnerships with Israeli schools in an effort to increase the number of American students who study in Israel — non-Jews as well as Jews.
 
Participating American schools will each receive a $50,000 seed grant allocated over three years — to help them develop and promote study programs in conjunction with their partner institutions.
 
The grants are being provided by Masa Israel, an Israel-based project that was established in 2004 to enable Jews ages 18-30 to participate in long-term programs in the Jewish state.
 
“We’re just super excited about this great program,” said Lisa Bernard, associate director of the U.Md. Center for Global Business Education. The initiative, she added, has already generated a “good amount” of interest.
 
Would-be applicant Eran Friedman, a junior at Smith and a frequent visitor to Israel (so frequent that he has dual citizenship), said he is interested in the program because it would give him a first-time opportunity to view Israel through a business lens and learn more about the country’s distinctive workplace culture.
 
That culture, said the 20-year-old from Potomac, combines tenacity, efficiency and inventiveness with “more laid-back work habits.” He added: “It’s a dichotomy, but they sometimes have more important things to worry about than work, like the security situation.”
 
Overseas study initiatives in Israel have generally lagged behind those in other developed nations for several reasons, including security concerns on the part of American students and universities, according to Masa representatives and others.
 
The new initiative, Bernard said, is in part an indication that “there’s a little more optimism” regarding the geopolitical situation in Israel.
 
Another reason Israel has not been an especially coveted destination for overseas students is that existing academic programs offered there have been limited in scope due to financial concerns.
 
“These institutions are cash-strapped; they’re kind of in survival mode,” said Avi Rubel, North American director of Masa Israel, a joint project of the Israeli government, the Jewish Agency for Israel and the Jewish Federations of North America.
 
With the help of the cash infusion from Masa Israel, students attending the Smith outpost in Haifa will have the opportunity to study business and high-tech marketing in Israel and participate in internships at Israeli companies. (They will also be required to take the Maryland-in-Haifa core course focusing on conflict resolution and cultural diversity.)
 
The Smith program, which will accommodate some 25 participants, is open to both U.Md. and non-U.Md. students, primarily those who are at least sophomores. Those who complete the program will earn 12 academic credits that are immediately transferable to U.Md. and other American universities.
 

Exploring peace and reconciliation through studying abroad in Jerusalem

<div class="masa-blog-title">Exploring peace and reconciliation through studying abroad in Jerusalem </div>

 
By Marla Davis, Hebrew University, Columbus, OH
 
Throughout my life, my family concluded our Passover Seder in Youngstown, Ohio with the traditional words “Next year in Jerusalem!”  It took me twenty years, but finally I found my way to Jerusalem and studied at Hebrew University’s Rothberg International School.
 
After taking the course Culture and Contemporary
 

Join the Masa Israel “Desert Queen” team!

<div class="masa-blog-title">Join the Masa Israel “Desert Queen” team! </div>

 
Interested in a unique opportunity to explore Israel through an extreme jeep challenge in the desert? We are looking for four women to make up the Masa Israel team. Desert Queen takes place in some of the most exotic and challenging landscapes in the world.
 

Celebrate like a local: festivals during Sukkot

<div class="masa-blog-title">Celebrate like a local: festivals during Sukkot </div>

 
Growing up, you might have celebrated Sukkot by going to your family, friends’, or synagogue’s sukkah, shaking the lulav and etrog, and eating outside under the stars. But if you are spending this Sukkot in Israel, there’s no reason to stay confined to your backyard—use the whole country as your sukkah!
 

8 U.S. Colleges Join in Promoting Israel for Study Abroad

8 U.S. Colleges Join in Promoting Israel for Study Abroad

September 13, 2010

As part of an effort to raise Israel’s profile as a study-abroad destination, eight American universities are starting or expanding programs to send students there.
The projects, which start in 2011 and 2012, were spurred by $400,000 in grants from Masa Israel Journey, a New York nonprofit financially supported by the Israeli government and the Jewish Agency for Israel.
 
In the past decade, the Palestinian uprising and two wars have created security concerns that helped lead to a drop in the number of American students choosing to study in Israel.
 
Israel is 22nd out of the top 25 study-abroad destinations for students from the United States, according to the Institute of International Education, which advised Masa on the programs.
 
A total of 2,322 American students participated in study abroad in Israel in 2007-8, the most recent year for which data are available, and 2,226 the previous year. By contrast, more than 30,000 went to Britain, the top destination, in 2007-8.
 
Avi Rubel, director of Masa’s North American operations, said that it was too early to know how many students would participate in the new programs, but that he hoped to propel Israel into the top 15 study-abroad destinations in the coming years.
 
Students wanted to study in Israel, he said, but not all were attracted by the academic programs traditionally offered to them, which have focused on Middle Eastern studies, Hebrew, and religious studies.
 
“In business, Israel is one of the centers of entrepreneurship in the world. You can have an amazing academic experience and an internship on par with London or anywhere else—it just hasn’t been available until now,” he said.
 
“In the research we did with students, they told us that they would go to Israel if those things were available,” Mr. Rubel said. “We think students have Israel on their radar screen as a place they would like to go but are actually choosing other destinations because the course work and those experiences haven’t been available.”
 
The institutions receiving money from Masa are Arizona State University, Barnard College, Case Western Reserve University, Michigan State University, the New Jersey state-university system, the University of Florida, and the business schools of the University of Maryland and of Washington University in St. Louis.
 
Some of these efforts are building on existing programs.
 
Michigan State, for example, has partnerships with four Israeli universities and has sent 101 students to Israel since 2005, 30 of them in the past two months.
 
“What we hope is that students will choose to study abroad for academic reasons and have an experience that they can’t have here on the East Lansing campus,” said Cindy Felbeck Chalou, associate director of the university’s study-abroad office. “We hope that students will gain from a cross-cultural experience, not only learning about the host country and their people but gaining a perspective of the U.S. that they couldn’t gain unless they went abroad and were looking through another set of lenses.”
 
PROGRAM DETAILS
  • Arizona State University’s partnership with Ben Gurion University of the Negev: Named Sustainable Development and Environmental Justice in Israel, this program will leverage each institution’s highly regarded experience in environmental manipulation and the use of limited natural resources.
  • Barnard College of Columbia University’s partnership with Hebrew University: Barnard alumni living in Israel will serve as mentors to Barnard students and provide them with internship placements in their Israel-based companies.
  • Case Western Reserve University’s partnership with the Hebrew University: This multidisciplinary program targets students with diverse backgrounds, offering courses in health and medicine, brain science and human development, and the natural sciences.
  • Michigan State University’s partnership with Hebrew University: Students may take courses in political science, public affairs, journalism, and international business, and participate in related internships.
  • New Jersey State College System’s partnership with Ben Gurion University: Students will take part in in-depth research, analyzing David Ben Gurion’s personal documents alongside graduate students.
  • University of Florida’s partnership with the University of Haifa: A Hebrew and Arabic immersion program, this program allows students to enroll in Peace & Conflict Studies courses.
  • Smith School of Business of the University of Maryland’s partnership with the University of Haifa:
    This program offers courses including Business in Israel and Hi-Tech Marketing, as well as internship opportunities at Israeli companies, such as the MATAM High-Tech Park in Haifa.
  • Olin School of Business at Washington University in St. Louis’ partnership with IDC Herzliya: Students studying business administration participate in internships and conduct original research.
 
Originally published in the Chronicle of Higher Education

A Prized Possession

<div class="masa-blog-title">A Prized Possession</div>

 
By Vicky Tobianah, Rothberg International School of Hebrew University
 
When I made my decision to study abroad at the Rothberg International School of Hebrew University, my home university, McGill, required me to attend a pre-departure lecture. At this lecture, they informed us of the basic protocol to arrange a study abroad program.
 

7 unique ways to spend the chagim in Israel

<div class="masa-blog-title">7 unique ways to spend the chagim in Israel</div>

 
Every time we ask alumni of Masa Israel program what the best part of their semester or year was in Israel, the same things are repeated over and over: freedom to explore Israel on their own, Yom Ha’atzmaut (Independence Day) and the other national holidays in the spring, and the chagim—the High Holidays.
 
It’s no wonder. To experience the chagim in Israel, the only Jewish state in the world, is like no other holiday experience. Whether you plan on participating in the religious aspects of the holidays, taking it all in as an observer, or stepping outside your comfort zone and experimenting with a new way of observance, there is nothing like being in Israel for the high holiday season.
 
Here are seven ways Masa Israel participants celebrate the chagim in Israel:
 
  1. Shul-hopping Celebrating the holidays at home usually means a synagogue membership, tickets, and sometimes even assigned seats. Not so in Israel—try out erev Rosh Hashana in one shul, and head across town for Kol Nidre. Each synagogue has a unique atmosphere, and with so many close together in Israel you don’t need to settle for just one.
  2. Get placed with a host family Programs can usually set you up with a hosts family for one of the holidays. That way, you can celebrate the holidays in Israel with them, and they can help you navigate new traditions and show you a uniquely Israeli high holiday experience
  3. Participate in Kaparot Performed right before Yom Kippur, the ritual of Kaparot involves taking a chicken and swinging it over your head while saying several blessings, thereby imparting all of your sins upon it. Head to your closest shuk to take part in this tradition.
  4. Go on a Selichot tour Selichot are prayers of repentance that occur before the onset of the Jewish New Year.  These prayers are said at night usually between 11pm and dawn, and Jews of different backgrounds have different practices. Some programs offer tours around neighborhoods of Jerusalem the night before Yom Kippur to see different traditions in action.
  5. Walk on an empty highway on Yom Kippur In Israel, nobody drives on Yom Kippur—not even secular Israelis. Walking around your city or town on Yom Kippur is an experience like none other, an probably the only time you will ever be able to sit in the middle of a major highway (see picture below). You can also take advantage of the lack of traffic by joining in with the local teenagers who will be out on their bikes.
  6. Head to the Kotel for Birkat Kohanim Being in Israel for the chagim gives you the opportunity to go to what is considered the holiest site for the Jewish people on the holiest days of the year. During Sukkot, kohanim (descendants of the priests of Israel) come together to bless the Jewish people. Many Masa Israel participants have described it as an extremely moving experience.
  7. Festivals With all the time off, you have ample opportunity to check out some of the music and cultural festivals that take place around Sukkot. They are a great way to explore the country and get a taste of Israel culture.
 
The holidays are one of the bests times to be in Israel, and this list barely scratches the surface of what it is like to spend the season in Israel. But don’t take our word for it—try it for yourself!
 
[image credit: RonAlmog]
 

USY to BGU: Staying connected to Israel by studying abroad

<div class="masa-blog-title">USY to BGU: Staying connected to Israel by studying abroad</div>

 
By Joel Portman, St. Louis, MO, Ben Gurion University of the Negev Year Program
 
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 the experience I’d had wasn’t enough:  I wanted more, and I knew I would have to return.