Arielle Brenner
Shoshana Wineburg
Yahel Social Change, 2010-2011

I Found Love

<div class="masa-blog-title">I Found Love</div>

 
By Shoshana Wineburg, Yahel Social Change Program
 
Several weeks ago, I walked leisurely down Shapira Street, taking in the neighborhood that I had spent a year volunteering with—the neighborhood that in three weeks I would leave.
 
Lisa Wilder
Lauren Plunka
2008-2009
Drew Fidler
Yahel Social Change, 2010-2011
Arielle Gottlieb

Tali Sachs

Tali Sachs

OTZMA
I first traveled to Israel with Ramah Israel Seminar the summer I turned seventeen, after attending Camp Ramah Darom since its opening in 1997. Back then, I never anticipated returning for another year, let alone choosing to live there.
 
While studying English with a focus on mythopoetics geared towards language-of-conflict, I became involved in dialogue facilitation and conflict resolution at Clark University as the result of an internship with the U.S. State Department. As one who has always been involved in Israel and its affairs I became increasingly interested in the Arab/Israel Conflict, which often entered the conversation at my politically and socially conscious university. This conflict spurred friction between students and became a serious campus-wide issue. I co-founded a dialogue group to enable open discussions surrounding the conflict but understood that the only way to understand the matter more fully was to immerse myself in the conflict’s location.
 
In the autumn following my college graduation, I enrolled in Masa Israel’s OTZMA, a post-college service program. During my first few months in Ashkelon, I immediately connected with the Israeli people. They were direct and honest. I understood their, dry dark humor. I liked how people said what they meant and didn’t just pay lip service. When I was told to “make myself at home,” I found myself elbow deep in peeled vegetables and chores, and as much a part of the family as anyone.
 
I felt a strong sense of community everywhere I went—on a paratrooper base near Rehovot where I folded parachutes alongside soldiers. I also felt it in Yokneam, a small city south of Haifa where I taught English and math at an elementary school, gave guitar lessons at a youth center, and volunteered at an old age day-care center.
 
I even felt this sense of community in my internship with Righteous Pictures, an American documentary film company, which enabled met o travel around the country, interviewing people from many socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds about their everyday lives, personal histories, and interconnectedness with each other.
 
In my life, I have spent time in many places and made friends the world over—in Georgia, Massachusetts, Luxembourg, Italy, the U.K., and Germany. I have grown used to the idea that no matter where I am, I will always miss someone. In Israel, though, there were just too many people to miss. I can’t live anywhere else.
 
The feeling that I might want to stay was there from the beginning, but it was while talking to a friend from Pennsylvania, that the feeling solidified. Living five minutes from the shuk in Tel Aviv, I told him about the delicious tomatoes that sold for one shekel per kilo. He laughs and said he’d just bought two disgusting tomatoes for seven dollars. My decision to stay was made.
 
Now in the process of making Aliyah, I plan to enroll in a Masters program in Conflict Resolution and to complete the remainder of my interviews for Righteous Pictures, which I intend on publishing in book form. In addition to the interviews I have already conducted with Jews, I have lined up interviews with Israeli-Arabs, Palestinians, Thai and Nepalese foreign workers, and African refugees for when I return.
 
I am very happy that I chose to participate in Masa Israel’s OTZMA. Through the educational seminars and trips, I was able to gain a greater understanding of Israeli society, see it in action, and become a part of it through my immersion. I was truly able to integrate into the Israeli community and I can’t wait to reenter it upon my return.

Arielle Gottlieb

Arielle Gottlieb

Tikkun Olam in Tel Aviv-Jaffa
 
Graduating from Northwestern University in the midst of the economic crisis, a good job seemed unobtainable. So with a suitcase, JUF SKIP funds, and a Masa Israel scholarship, I escaped the U.S. economy altogether and went to volunteer in Israel. Hoping to learn more about the country while working in a meaningful field, I enrolled in the Community Service track of Masa Israel’s Tikkun Olam in Tel Aviv – Jaffa program. Its focus on working with the immigrant and refugee communities of Tel Aviv attracted me initially, while the program’s intensive Hebrew lessons, classes about Jewish identity, and trips around the country promised to round out the experience.
 
My volunteering took me to parts of Tel Aviv that one doesn’t see as a tourist—from a prison in Ramle where I mentored minors who came into Israel without parents or guardians, to a local public school where I taught the children of refugee and migrant workers, to a therapeutic horse riding center for children with special needs, to a refugee shelter which was little more than a dingy apartment building in the rough part of town. 
 
I became particularly involved with the children at the refugee shelter. While most of our time together was spent laughing and playing, there were certain moments when I was overwhelmed by their personal stories. My first day there I met a bright and smiley eight-year- old girl from Sudan who giggled as she talked about school and friends. Another volunteer later told me how that happy girl had seen two of her older brothers shot and killed right in front of her. That same day, I was playing with her little sister who, between spinning in circles and tickle fights, wanted to know where I was from. “America,” I told her, and asked where she was from. “A bad place,” she responded solemnly in Hebrew. Even with my elementary level of Hebrew, there was no mistaking the meaning behind those words. 
 
Trips all over Israel further shaped my understanding of the country. As a group, we visited places such as Sderot, where we met people for whom rockets and bomb shelters had become a way of life, and recognized and unrecognized Bedouin villages, where we talked about the particular challenges facing them and other minority populations.
 
Aside from the people I worked with on a daily basis and met during our travels, I also learned a lot from the Israeli soldiers who were part of our weekly classes. They did similar volunteer work to ours as part of their army service and their participation in our discussions was invaluable as it provided an Israeli perspective to what we saw and understood only as visiting volunteers.
 
Overall, I came to see Tel Aviv with new eyes. What was once all glitzy beaches and cosmopolitan glamour proved to be much more complicated and interesting. Being confronted with Israel’s problems on a daily basis challenged the rosy, idealistic view of Israel that I had always been taught to believe. How, for example, could a country founded by refugees for refugees be so hesitant, even negligent, towards the growing number of African refugees who are looking for a safe haven? Does being a Jewish state mean turning its back on non-Jews? As an American, I didn’t feel it was my place to provide the answers to these impossible questions, but rather to observe, learn, and help in whatever small way I could.
 
I don’t know what comes next now that my five months with Tikkun Olam in Tel Aviv - Jaffa have ended. It’s difficult to predict how managing a class of toddlers in a roach-infested preschool or talking about Barack Obama with teenage boys living in prison will impact my professional or personal life. There were lessons learned and skills acquired to be sure, but it’s a little too soon to be wrapping up this story with a moral and a bow. Suffice it to say that my Israeli interlude was a valuable and meaningful experience, and I wish that every college graduate could say the same for their first few months in the real world.

Rachel Kesner

Rachel Kesner

Otzma
 
After earning my Bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Indiana, I wasn’t really sure what to do next. Everyone kept asking me, “What are you going to do with an English degree? Teach English?” I always had an interest in education, but I wasn’t quite sure whether I would enjoy the classroom atmosphere or informal education better. I decided to take part in Masa Israel’s Otzma, a service-focused program for college graduates to help me decide what I wanted to do.
 
Having spent a few summers volunteering at an English-speaking camp in Chicago’s partnership city, Kiryat Gat, I’ve always had a deep connection with Israel and was hoping to return to the close-knit community. When I found out that Otzma included the opportunity to teach English in an elementary school and high school, and spend another three months volunteering in my P2K community, I knew that Otzma was the right program for me.
 
This time around, my experience in Kiryat Gat was certainly unique. There is such an incredible amount of compelling volunteer work to be done and one of my favorite places to volunteer was in the community garden. Out in the sun with my hands in the dirt, I spent my days making things grow. Week-by-week, it was amazing to see how much the garden changed: whether something new grew, weeds were taken out, or Tzion decided to add a farm to the mix. Tzion ran the garden and really made us feel a part of it. The people in Kiryat Gat also really made the experience there so special for me. They made me feel like a member of the community; people recognized me around the town and would often yell out ‘Rachel,’ or ‘Chicago.’ Whether they knew me personally or not, it was clear that they appreciated the partnership between our cities. This compelled me to return after Otzma ended and work as the assistant director at Camp Kefiada.
 
Another rewarding experience was my internship at StandWithUs, an Israel advocacy organization. Working there at the time when the Mavi Mara attempted to reach Gaza, I was involved in very important work. I felt like I was breathing articles and YouTube videos because every moment was crucial. It was incredible to see an organization immediately respond, publishing flotilla facts in 15 different languages. It was an interesting time to be in Israel and my experience with StandWithUs trained me to respond to anti-Semitic attacks and gave me the tools to stand up for Israel.Now back in Chicago, I am working for the Jewish Agency for Israel as an Aliyah Coordinator. I absolutely would not be where I am now if not for Otzma. The program gave me an amazing Israel experience, enabled me to build my resume, and most importantly, helped me realize the importance of working in the Jewish community back home. It’s made my return a lot easier. I love spending my days talking about Israel and helping others get there too.