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eJewish Philanthropy: Fostering Long-Term Engagement with Israel is Simpler Than You Might Think

eJewish Philanthropy: Fostering Long-Term Engagement with Israel is Simpler Than You Might Think

eJewish Philanthropy: Fostering Long-Term Engagement with Israel is Simpler Than You Might Think

September 11, 2016

By Liran Avisar, CEO of Masa Israel Journey  

 

For all the Jewish day schools, summer camps, trips to Israel, anti-BDS conferences, and campus advocacy trainings, the American Jewish community continues to grapple with how to successfully foster long-term Israel engagement among the next generation of Jewish leaders. In recent years, countless resources from all corners of the community have been devoted to helping form or reinforce lasting bonds between young Jews and the State of Israel. And yet, from a political, spiritual, cultural and public relations perspective, most communal stakeholders remain mystified as to how to make Israel matter for millennials in the long run.

At the risk of stating the obvious, there is one proven solution to creating a solid foundation for a lifetime of engagement: spending months living, studying and working in Israel.

 

Over the course of 12 years leading the field of top immersive international experiences in Israel, we have learned some important lessons. Namely, that the firsthand encounter with day-to-day life in Israel, which can only be attained by being on the ground for a sustained, continuous amount of time, makes all the difference to our 120,000 alumni around the world.

 

When we look at what distinguishes loosely affiliated American Jews who understand what’s at stake when it comes to Israel’s future from their similarly affiliated peers, we consistently return to the fact that those “in the know” have spent a substantive amount of time experiencing Israel.

 

Our participants immerse themselves in their local communities in Israel, and as a result, spend time getting to know Israelis and end up caring more about the well-being of the State of Israel. Masa Israel Journey’s “off the bus” experiences empower individuals to embark on unique journeys that enrich their personal and professional growth, and create durable connections to Israel.

 

Israel is made up of a diverse mixture of communities: religious and secular, native-born and immigrant, Jewish and Arab, urban start-up and rural agriculture. Working with and among these populations for a significant time; learning and living Israel’s complex landscape, both past and present; and developing one’s own narrative belonging to this place and its people – one’s own People – is more valuable than any single injection of information or dose of emotion meant to immunize against Jewish and Israel apathy.

 

The courage to be “from somewhere” and to stand for something is no longer a given on Western campuses and beyond. This confidence is gained by participants learning, firsthand, that the whole Israel story is as multidimensional as the passengers on a Tel Aviv bus. It is gained by giving participants the understanding that they can navigate uncertainty, because they’ve now seen a whole society do so and thrive.

 

A recent study conducted by the Midgam Institute, an independent Israeli research and consulting firm, found that engaging in Israel through a Masa Israel experience fosters a level of depth which has concrete results. In surveying 1,480 Masa participants and alumni, it found that 91 percent of participants agree that the most effective way to strengthen the relationship between Israel and Diaspora Jews is by spending a significant period of time living in Israel. Additionally, 82% said they think Israel’s reality is far more positive than its media image abroad, 79% said they are likely to visit Israel again, and 87% said they intend to take action to improve Israel’s image in their home country by being more active on campus, on social media, at demonstrations, and through donations.

 

Those who have participated in Masa Israel programs are more likely to take an interest in news regarding Israeli current events, to listen to Israeli music and podcasts about Israel, and to read Israeli books. The data suggests that young people need to develop a connection to Israel and Israelis in order to make their love for the country last, and that only happens when they get the chance to have their own unique journey there.

 

A major part of the reason we are able to successfully create the kinds of immersive experiences that lead to these lasting relationships with Israel, is because Israelis are an integral part of the story. Sustained exposure to long-term program participants gives Israelis the chance to interact with them in a wide range of contexts, and, of course, the reverse is also true – participants get to know Israelis in an authentic way. Our experiences bring Israelis and participants face to face while working together in the office, shopping in the supermarket on Friday afternoon, relaxing on the beach on weekends, and using public transit on a daily basis.

 

As a result, the same Midgam survey mentioned above found that out of 503 Israelis interviewed, two thirds said Masa experiences reflect the reality of daily life in Israel. Additionally, 94% agreed that “strengthening the connection with Diaspora Jewry is vital for Israel’s strength.”

 

The truth is, there is no single political viewpoint or cultural lens that can motivate young people to care about Israel. There’s no single approach or narrative for making it matter to everyone, and that is the intrinsic beauty in the situation: individuals find their way to connect to Israel by finding out here what matters to them, and where they can matter to Israel.

 

Giving young Jews the extended opportunity to experience and discover Israel for themselves is the best way to ensure the next generation will be invested in Israel’s future, with individual passion for a collective purpose.

 

Liran Avisar is the CEO of Masa Israel Journey, the leader of immersive international experiences in Israel, including gap year programs, study abroad, service-learning and career development opportunities. Masa Israel Journey is a joint project of the Government of Israel and The Jewish Agency.

 

Originally published in eJewish Philanthropy

Jewish Journal: College Scholarships and Aid Money are Out there, if You Know Where to Look

Jewish Journal: College Scholarships and Aid Money are Out there, if You Know Where to Look

Jewish Journal: College Scholarships and Aid Money are Out there, if You Know Where to Look

September 8, 2016

By Lakshna Mehta

 

College is expensive, whether you go to school five minutes from home or 500 miles away.

"Masa Israel (masaisrael.org/grants) provides grants or need-based scholarships for study abroad programs to Israel. Different amounts are available for participants from different countries. Study abroad participants from North America can receive up to $4,500, depending on the length and cost of their program, and need-based scholarships go up to $3,000. Gap year participants between the ages of 18 and 21 can receive $500."

 

Read the full story in the Jewish Journal

The Jerusalem Post: IDF Hero Yanush Ben_Gal remembered by Limmud FSU

The Jerusalem Post: IDF Hero Yanush Ben_Gal remembered by Limmud FSU

September 9, 2016

By Sarah Levi

 

Weekend event boosts Jewish identity in Tatarstan. 

 

"The event benefited from the help and past efforts from Taglit Birthright, the Jewish Agency, [Masa] and Chabad to reconnect Russian Jews to their roots that were severed during communism."


Read the full story in The Jerusalem Post
 

Q&A with Sage Paquette-Cohen, Tikkun Olam Alumna

<div class="masa-blog-title">Q&A with Sage Paquette-Cohen, Tikkun Olam Alumna</div>

 

Sage Paquette-Cohen has always wanted to make a difference. Inspired by the mission of Masa Israel, Sage traveled to Tel Aviv for 10 months after graduating from Emerson College. Through Tikkun Olam Tel Aviv-Yafo, she interned at a pre-school for children with disabilities that focused on serving Arab and Jewish Israeli students equally from a young age. Working with her students fueled Sage’s passion to end social inequities. After coming home to the U.S., Sage joined the 2016 Teach For America Greater New Orleans corps as a high school special education teacher. Because of her experiences leading and teaching in Israel, Sage came into the classroom ready to lead with confidence.

 

Q&A: 

Q: I’d love to hear more about your path to Teach For America. How did you decide to join Masa Israel? And what was your path to Teach For America?
A:  I wasn’t super religious, so going to Israel didn’t immediately occur to me. However, TIkkun Olam is one of Masa’s more liberal and politically motivated organizations, which aligned with what I wanted to do. I started applying to TFA during my time in Israel. I had friends going to grad school, but I couldn’t go back to studying or sitting in a library after doing this work for communities in need. I was working in an incredible classroom that served the students so profoundly, and I wanted to continue that impact in an underserved American school.

 

Q: How have your personal life experiences shaped your career path?
A: I started out wanting to work in healthcare. In college, I worked in a Speech and Hearing Clinic on campus with three and four-year-olds. Through that experience, my love for working with children with special needs blossomed. I was able to build relationships and assure families that their kids could have a future they had never imagined.

 

Q: How did you grow personally and professionally through your service with Masa Israel?
A: I had just graduated from college and moved to a country on my own. My only choice was to grow up quickly. I learned about global issues that had never occurred to me living in Maine or Boston. The experience forced me to think a lot about the race, class, and equity issues that exist in the U.S. 

 

Q: How did your service with Masa Israel prepare you to be a leader with Teach For America?
A: Being in Israel forced me out of my comfort zone and set me up to be prepared for that in the future. I was often the only white person and English speaker in a room.  I don’t think I would have been as prepared to enter a classroom before my experience in Israel.

 

Q: What has been your biggest inspiration to continue in the fight to end educational inequity?
A: I taught two four-year old Arab boys in Israel who had severe disabilities. They made a lot of progress in the 10 months I worked with them. They were both from very poor backgrounds, and because of their minority status in Israel, would not have received those services from such a young age if they lived in a lot of communities that TFA serves. It dawned on me quickly that the need in the U.S. is so severe. Those boys were able to shine, but it was because they were given a chance.

 

Are you ready to change the world? Apply now for various volunteer programs in Israel.
 

 

San Diego Jewish Journal: Inspired to Give Back

San Diego Jewish Journal: Inspired to Give Back

San Diego Jewish Journal: Inspired to Give Back

August 29, 2016

By Caline Chitayat

 

Jamie Gold, a San Fernando Valley native, was 25 years old when she went on Birthright.

“I actually had no desire to [go to Israel], but I was in a job that I couldn’t stand and I wanted to go on vacation,” Gold recalls. A couple of her friends convinced her to join them on the trip to Israel. “I was the naïve person who thought there would be camels everywhere. I really had no concept of Israel; it just wasn’t on my radar.”

 

When Gold arrived, she says she immediately fell in love with the country.

 

“The community, the culture, everything just hit me, and I realized I wanted that in my life.”

 

During her trip, Gold bumped into a girl on another Birthright trip who told her about Masa Israel, a public-service organization that offers unique study, service and career development experiences to young Jewish adults from around the globe. Gold learned of the Masa Israel Teaching Fellows program, which combined what she wanted to do with where she wanted to be, and was very affordable option for a life change. Gold applied to the program and was accepted when she landed back in the U.S. She quit her job and moved to Israel five months later.

 

“Everything in my life has changed as a result of the program – personally and professionally.”

 

Find out how Masa Israel Teaching Fellows can help you change careers.

 

Masa’s Israel Teaching Fellows program is a 10-month program for college graduates between the ages of 21 and 30. The program allows these graduates to teach English to Israeli students and to immerse themselves in Israeli society. Masa coordinates trips to various destinations around Israel throughout the 10 months. The organization also provides participants with an apartment. Gold lived with five other girls.

 

“I was in Rishon LeZion. My necklace has the coordinates, so it’s always near my heart,” she says. “In the first month or two, we did ulpan and then [Masa] gave us 100 hours of teaching preparation, in order to make us feel comfortable in the classroom. There was no requirement for going on the program – you didn’t have to have any teaching background at all – so they wanted to make sure all of us were comfortable.”

 

After the High Holidays, the Teaching Fellows arrived in their classrooms. Most were assigned to elementary school, but Gold landed in a middle school. Her experience was probably different because of that, she says. Gold would take out groups of between eight and 10 students, typically a mix of very advanced English learners and some intermediate ones. The goal was to have the advanced learners motivate the intermediate students.

 

Although it was a very exciting time, Gold says she thought she was going to quit on the first day.

 

“The school environment in general is so different. It’s crazy to me because some of the smartest, most innovative people in the world come out of that country.”

 

She remembers kids running around, throwing things and talking to each other incessantly. It was very different from the way she grew up in California. Gold does note that the students completely respected her. Even though they seemed to look at her as more of a peer, she says she could tell they truly wanted to learn from her.

 

“It was really cool because they looked at me like I was a gift. If they got chosen to go with me, it was special because not everyone was able to. It was also cool that I didn’t speak a lot of Hebrew because if they wanted to talk to me, then they really had to force themselves to speak English. I found that naturally, they were doing better in their English classes because they wanted to converse.”

 

Gold was participating in the program during Operation Pillar of Defense through the fall of 2012.

 

“That was really hard for me. But it was amazing because I got to go and talk to these students and they were having conversations about these really deep, meaningful things. They made me feel better. I was teaching them English, but they were also teaching me.”

 

At the end of the school year, Gold watched her students go through graduation. The program came to a close, and it was time for her to head back to the States. As exciting as it was to see her family and friends, Gold says it took her many months to adjust back to life on the American West Coast.

 

“I just feel so much more connected to Israel than to America. I can’t even compare the two,” she says. “Even when I went on Birthright, it felt more like home. I know everybody says that, but it’s true. It’s a feeling that I didn’t have in America.”

 

In the five months between Birthright and the Teaching Fellows program, Gold sought to find a community like the one she had in Israel.

 

“I didn’t have a community prior, and I wasn’t involved in a Jewish community by any means. I had a friend who went on Birthright with me and told me we should go to a Moishe House event. I had never heard of [the organization], but I ended up going and it was great because I really connected with the people who lived in the house. I think that’s really important,” she says.

 

Moishe House is a nonprofit organization that provides a vibrant Jewish community for young adults in their 20s and facilitates a wide range of experiences, so that they have the leadership, knowledge and community to enrich their Jewish journeys.

 

“I ended up going to all of their events during those few months, and naturally I became friends with them.”

 

Eventually, Gold heard about an opening at the West L.A. Moishe House, so she moved in and lived there for the next two and a half years. Gold did a teaching program called DeLeT at Hebrew Union College and was able to earn her teaching credential. It was the perfect transition from Masa, where she went from teaching in an informal setting to formally teaching. However, after working in a Jewish day school, Gold realized that while she loved the social and emotional aspects of teaching, she wasn’t set on academics for 40 hours each week.

 

“While I was in the teaching program realizing I didn’t want to be a teacher, I had all this responsibility as a Moishe House resident. I was planning seven events each month for the community and doing a lot of outreach. I really, really cared about it, and my roommate asked me, ‘What are you not doing this for a job?’ I started thinking about it, and was really passionate about working in the Jewish community.”

 

Moishe House approached Gold while she was still a resident and informed her of a job opening. After three months, she moved from L.A. to San Diego for the job and has been with them for nine months now.

 

As Director of Alumni Engagement, Gold is able to reflect on her own experiences as a resident and what she wants from the program as an alumni.

 

“I love developing and cultivating deep and meaningful relationships. We have 820 alumni at the moment, and we’ll have more alumni than residents soon, so my job is really just to connect with people who have lived in the house and find out what they want to see.”

 

Gold notes that she feels so lucky because she has the resources now and can bring her own creativity to the job.

 

“It’s not like a large corporation where if you want to do something, you have to wait. At Moishe House, if they hire you, they trust you and give you that creative freedom. I feel that there is such an untapped market right now that I have so much potential to create so many great things.”

 

When asked if Gold would ever consider moving back to Israel, she says that if she would go back, she would definitely want to have a purpose for being there.

 

“The first time it was Masa, but now I’m in a different place in my life, and I would want to have a job lined up there. But yes, I would definitely consider moving back – at least for a short amount of time. Israel will always be my second home, and my kids will be raised with it. It will always be a place that I am constantly thinking about and visiting when I can.”

 

Originally published in the San Diego Jewish Journal.

 

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Haaretz: Letters to the Editor: Responses to Arab English Teachers in Jewish Schools

Haaretz: Letters to the Editor: Responses to Arab English Teachers in Jewish Schools

Haaretz: Letters to the Editor: Responses to Arab English Teachers in Jewish Schools

August 18, 2016

By Tamar Zilbershatz, Director of Service and Gap Programs at Masa Israel Journey

 

Another resource to address English teacher shortage

 

In response to “With Qualified English Teachers in Short Supply, Israel’s Jewish Schools Start Courting Arabs” (Haaretz.com, August 9).

Judy Maltz addresses the shrinking number of English teachers available to work in Israel’s schools. As the article shows, this is a critical issue — especially in the country’s periphery — and the Education Ministry has taken notice.

 

The influx of recently graduated Arab-Israeli teachers hired to work in Jewish schools is a welcome development that should be fully supported.

 

But there’s an additional resource, created through a partnership between the Education Ministry and Masa Israel, that could also help fill the void. Schools in Israel searching for extra bandwidth for English education should consider bringing in native English speakers living abroad who are eager to spend a year serving Israeli communities and gaining professional experience.

 

More and more, young people are seeing Israel as a prime destination for teaching English after college — right up there with Spain, China and South Korea. Through Masa Israel Teaching Fellows, we’ve brought hundreds of participants to more than a dozen Israeli communities from Netanya to Rahat, where they have a real impact tutoring in small groups and through one on one instruction. These are college graduates who come to Israel year after year to bolster their personal and professional growth, form lasting bonds with the country and make a positive difference in the lives of Israeli children.

 

So, as schools continue to identify solutions for the shortage of English teachers readily accessible, it’s worth highlighting the potential of this newly tapped resource.

 

Originally Published in Haaretz.

Washington Jewish Week: Opposites Attract

Washington Jewish Week: Opposites Attract

Washington Jewish Week: Opposites Attract

August 17, 2016

By Daniel Schere

 

Theirs is a story worthy of the holiday of love.

Finding a soulmate wasn’t the first thing on Blake Yospa and Rachel Leeds’ minds in 2014 as they began a year with the Masa Israel Teaching Fellows program in Rishon LeZion, Israel. But as the spring of 2015 rolled around and the program was wrapping up, a romance began to blossom when Yospa asked Leeds for some much-needed practical advice.

 

“I needed to get some alone time with her to tell how I felt, so I asked for some help picking out some gifts for my sister and my mom,” he said last week. “And I told her how I felt, and she smiled and told me how she felt, and we’ve been dating ever since.”

 

Tu B’Av, the 15th day of the month of Av, is Friday this year.

 

Yospa and Leeds had spent the year together as aides in a classroom of third through fifth graders who were learning English. In the beginning they worked on projects together in a friendly, collegial setting, but that’s all it was.

 

“As time went on I slowly developed feelings for her,” recalled Yospa, 28.

 

He didn’t want to mess up the work relationship and would drop subtle hints like, “If you’re going to the beach, I’ll come,” but she never understood, he said.

 

“He would just text me these funny different things, and I wouldn’t respond,” Leeds said. “I was just not interested. Like, altogether it was like a work relationship.”

 

Leeds, 26, said when she first met Yospa, she thought he was “loud and obnoxious,” but in a fun way.

“He was very different in terms of being way more outgoing than I am,” she said. “I’m more in the background. So I was like, ‘he’s just trying to be all funny.’”

 

It was Yospa’s gift shopping trip at the end of the program that convinced Leeds to stop ignoring the aroma of romance after nine months of working together.

 

Shortly after that, they talked about their plans back in the States. She was set to begin teaching fourth grade at KIPP DC Promise Academy, a charter school. He was headed back to his native Baltimore to look for a job; two weeks after arriving he landed a position as an operations assistant with the Washington Redskins. They have been dating ever since.

 

To celebrate the one-year anniversary of their relationship, Yospa and Leeds had dinner at Union Market on July 24.

 

“We’re foodies and not big drinkers,” Yospa said. “She’s a wine drinker and I like classic cocktails. So we like to treat ourselves to a nice dinner now and again.”

 

They also printed a map of Israel and marked the coordinates of the spot where they first met.

 

Perhaps it was by chance that Leeds, an early childhood education major at Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio, met Yospa, a sports management major at Towson University. But a love for public service and a desire to connect with the Jewish state brought them together.

 

Originally published in Washington Jewish Week.

JTA: For 'Jewish Valentine's Day,' Meet 5 Couples who Found Love on Israel Trips

JTA: For 'Jewish Valentine's Day,' Meet 5 Couples who Found Love on Israel Trips

JTA: For 'Jewish Valentine's Day,' Meet 5 Couples who Found Love on Israel Trips

August 14, 2016

By Gabe Friedman

 

In the two-part finale of the third season of “Broad City,” the show’s main characters, Abbi and Ilana, embark on a “Birthmark” trip — a thinly veiled allusion to the famed Birthright Israel trip that sends Jews aged 18 to 26 on free 10-day trips to Israel.

Upon boarding the “El Ol” plane, the best friends are assigned seats next to guys based on their “match potential.”

 

It’s hilarious — partially because it hits so close to home.

 

Programs such as Birthright and Masa Israel Journey, which offers study abroad and volunteer and internship opportunities in the Jewish state, are known — anecdotally, at least — for their high matchmaking rates. Even the receptionist for Birthright’s alumni community network who fielded this reporter’s phone call met her husband on a trip (read on for her story).

 

Thursday night marks the beginning of Tu b’Av, a minor holiday known as the “Jewish Day of Love.” A matchmaking day for unmarried women in the Second Temple period, before the fall of Jerusalem in 70 C.E., Tu b’Av is now a popular romantically themed day in Israel similar to Valentine’s Day in the United States.

 

In honor of the holiday, enjoy the stories of these five adorable couples who met in Israel.

 

Alissa Platcow and Zeeva Berman, both 24

 

Zeva and Alissa

Zeeva Berman, left, and Alissa Platcow (Courtesy of Platcow)

 

Alissa and Zeeva met at the airport in 2013 on the way to the same Masa program, Jerusalem Sounds, which offered music and other classes at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. But they quickly realized that they must have crossed paths multiple times, having grown up about 10 minutes apart from each other in the Boston area and attending the same small Hebrew school for years. They even participated in the same gymnastics program in middle school.

 

 

During their semester abroad, they attended an acrobatics convention together — the only non-dancers there. The women acknowledged perhaps taking the program too seriously, as the dancers considered it vacation time, Alissa and Zeeva both told JTA.

 

Near the end of the convention, Alissa woke up dehydrated — and Zeeva went into “mama bear mode.” With no hospital around, Zeeva forced the convention administrators to call an ambulance. The ambulance workers didn’t put the IV needle in Alissa’s arm correctly — it hurt, so Alissa started talking to the workers to distract herself.

 

“I was like, ‘Let them do their job!’” Zeeva said.

 

By the end of what they jokingly call the “near death experience,” the couple knew they were meant for each other.

 

“It definitely cemented our relationship,” Alissa said.

 

Now they live together in Manhattan, where Alissa is the membership assistant at Temple Israel and occasionally leads services at the Bay Ridge Jewish Center. Zeeva teaches music at the Brooklyn Heights Synagogue and other temples. (Oh, and she liked acrobatics so much that she now teaches it, too.)

 

Blake Yospa,28 and Rachel Leeds, 25

 

Blake Yospa and Rachel Leeds

Blake Yospa and Rachel Leeds in Annapolis, Md. (Courtesy of Yospa and Leeds)

 

Blake and Rachel both spent the better part of a year working as teaching assistants at a school in Rishon LeZion. Blake liked Rachel, but felt he couldn’t make a move for, you know, professional reasons.

 

But with two weeks left in their Masa Israel program, he had to say something. To get her alone, Blake asked her to help him pick out gifts for his family members.

 

“I said, ‘Rachel, I kind of have a thing for you.’ She says ‘no, you’re lying.’ But she was smiling, so I could tell that she maybe felt something for me too,” Blake said.

 

He said he never would have crossed paths with Rachel if they hadn’t met in Israel — after all, she was living in Cleveland and he was in suburban Baltimore. Blake described it as luck that she was dissatisfied with the Cleveland school she was working at — it inspired her to go to Israel — and that the first school she worked at in Israel had a host of logistical difficulties, forcing her to transfer to Blake’s school.

 

The couple now live together in Washington, D.C., where Rachel is an elementary school teacher and Blake is an operations assistant for the Washington Redskins.

 

Arielle Mogil, 30, and Max Mogil, 29

 

Arielle and Max

Arielle and Max Mogil at their costume engagement party. (Courtesy of Arielle Mogil)

 

Arielle and Max met during the first ice breaker on their Birthright trip.

 

Everyone was given a card with a fun fact about someone in the group; the goal was to find the person it applied to. But by the time she sat back down in the group circle, Arielle was disappointed that she couldn’t find the person who played an instrument.

 

She happened to sit next to Max, who immediately told her he played piano.

 

“We joke that that’s his pickup line: ‘I’m a classical pianist,’” Arielle said.

 

Love grew from there and, to commemorate the day they met — which happened to be Purim — they had a costume engagement party. When the couple married in January, 14 people from their Birthright trip attended the wedding.

 

Now Arielle works on the staff at the Birthright Alumni Network. In addition to answering the phone — when she excitedly shared her story — she occasionally staffs Israel trips.

 

And when she does, she always makes sure to play that same ice breaker.

 

“I tell them that’s how I met my husband,” she said.

 

 

Ellie Rudee and Chris Goldenbaum, both 24

 

Chris and Ellie

Ellie Rudee and Chris Goldenbaum at Passover 2016. (Courtesy of Rudee)

 

They met in Jerusalem on Valentine’s Day a few years ago, but it took Chris a long time to win over Ellie. Chris, a native Brazilian, was interning at an organization promoting arts and culture. Ellie was interning at a private counterterrorism firm — and was also dating someone.

 

Months later their first date, a picnic at Jerusalem’s Montefiore Windmill, didn’t start exactly as planned — Chris forgot silverware and cups. Still, they had a great time.

 

“We were walking back and stopped in this restaurant to get drinks,” Ellie said. “We waited and waited, but nothing came. Eventually we were like, ‘Should we just go?’ So we just bolted and ended up laughing really hard.”

 

Their similar attitudes may have sealed the deal — but Ellie says it doesn’t hurt that he can do spot-on impressions of people they used to have Shabbat dinner with during their Masa program.

 

“We met a lot of people who said really crazy things,” Ellie said.

 

Both are journalists and now live in Jerusalem, although Chris is currently in Brazil working on film projects related to the Olympics.

 

Daniel Behrman, 32, and Jenna Kruger, 31

 

picture

Daniel Behrman and Jenna Kruger (Courtesy of Behrman and Kruger)

 

Daniel and Jenna met at a weekend conference in Jerusalem through their Masa internship programs. When they saw each other at the same lectures, they thought it was just coincidence. But they didn’t stay “just friends” for long — soon they were frequently traveling back and forth between Tel Aviv, where Daniel was interning at a marketing firm, and Jerusalem, where Jenna was interning at Hadassah.

 

“We joke that Jerusalem is a ‘city of love’ even though it isn’t [known as] that,” Jenna said. “I think it’s just a less stressful environment when you go out and you don’t have to worry about the religious aspect because everyone is Jewish.”

 

When they were both back in the States, Daniel immediately flew her out to see him in Seattle, where he worked.

 

“Before I went over, my mom told me not to fall in love with an Israeli,” Jenna said. “Moving to Seattle wasn’t quite what she had in mind either.”

 

The couple will marry in September.

 

Originally Published on JTA.org.