Seeking Diversity and Balance while Volunteering Abroad

Seeking Diversity and Balance while Volunteering Abroad

April 11, 2011

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

Stretching limits and appreciating nature at Hakfar Hayarok

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

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

Drawing the URJ Connection

<div class="masa-blog-title">Drawing the URJ Connection</div>

 
 
Goldman Union Camp Institute (GUCI) is one of many URJ camps and communities in the United States and was one of the most important parts of my childhood. I started at GUCI when I was 9 years old, eager and ready to experience the joys of camp that I had heard so much about from my older brother and many friends from my Jewish community in Dayton, Ohio.
 

8 crazy nights (or days) out for Hannukah

<div class="masa-blog-title">8 crazy nights (or days) out for Hannukah</div>

 
With eight whole days of celebration, you’re probably looking for ways to make the most out of the festival of lights—Israeli style!
 

Life on Ahaliya Street

<div class="masa-blog-title">Life on Ahaliya Street</div>

By Rachel Zieleniec, Yahel Social Change Program
 
The Yahel program sits on a few guiding principles: humility, collaboration, cross-culture, empowerment and sustainability.
 
Although these might seem like they are just “buzz words” – this program is truly unique in the fact that we are making each one of these principles come to life throughout our work in Gedera.  This program isn’t a typical American-l
 

Otzma’s education day in the Negev

<div class="masa-blog-title">Otzma’s education day in the Negev</div>

 
By Nikki Avershal, OTZMA, Philadelphia, PA
 
OTZMA is more than Americans volunteering in Israel.
 

Masa Israel forges new partnerships with global service organizations

Masa Israel forges new partnerships with global service organizations

Masa Israel forges new partnerships with global service organizations

November 24, 2010

With young adults’ growing interest in international volunteer opportunities, Masa Israel is making Israel a global hub for service programs.
Representatives from leading American service organizations, including Teach for America, Peace Corps, City Year, Repair the World and other organizations traveled to Israel this week to explore volunteering opportunities offered through Masa Israel Journey.
 
A participant on one of the Masa Israel service programs, Yahel Social Change Program, had the opportunity to meet with the delegation:
 
"This past week we had the opportunity to host the Masa Delegation in Gedera and tell them a bit about what Yahel is doing here. The Delegation was made up of Jewish and non-Jewish directors, presidents and founders from some of the top direct service organizations in the world including City Year, Peace Corps, Joint Distribution Committee, American Jewish World Service and Teach for America. Out of about 150 Masa programs, they chose Yahel as one of the five or six programs to come visit. We were honored, excited and nervous all at the same time. A few of us created a presentation that exemplified our experience so far and in what ways we’ve incorporated the words of empowerment, humility, initiative, cross-culture, sustainability and collaboration into our time here. In times of contentment and/or confusion, I look to these words and figure out how or if they connect to the situation.
 
After our presentation, community members made the delegates a traditional Ethiopian meal. During our meal together, we spoke to them about our lives, how we got to where we are and where we hope to be in the future. The feedback that the program and we received was incredibly uplifting."

Learning from a Jewish hero

<div class="masa-blog-title">Learning from a Jewish hero</div>

By Cara Frazin, Masa Israel Campus Intern, University of Illinois at Chicago
 
On September 15, 2010, I had the rare opportunity to meet Natan Sharansky before the annual Jewish Federation Annual Meeting Luncheon where he was the main speaker.
 
As an active participant with the Levine Hillel at the University of Illinois at Chicago and as the Masa Israel intern for my campus, I spend a lot of time educating people about Israel and promoting Israel advocacy. When I was invited by The Hillels o
 

Sharron Topper-Amitai: Bringing Greater Phoenix to Israel and Israel to Greater Phoenix

Sharron Topper-Amitai: Bringing Greater Phoenix to Israel and Israel to Greater Phoenix

April 12, 2011

Now on her second shlichut in Phoenix, Arizona, Sharron Topper-Amitai had her first taste of international Jewish communal work 10 years ago in Manchester, England.
“I was there for two years and I loved every minute of it,” she says. While there, she created Jewish and Israel-related programming for Jewish community members of all ages and started a youth from the northern Jewish communities of the UK.
 
“My husband and I were both born in Israel and it’s been very important for us to work in Jewish communities outside of Israel,” she says. “I love being able to learn about diverse Jewish identities, while sharing my own experiences as an Israeli.”
 
Following her return to Israel, Sharron worked as a JCC director in Israel before setting out on her second shlichut in Phoenix. There, she works to bring Israel into her community’s daily life through concerts, movies, lectures, discussions, and other cultural events.
 
One of Sharron’s main aims has been to introduce college students and young professionals to Israel through Birthright trips and Masa Israel programs, experiences that often follow each other.
 
“When they decide they want to go, we sit together and discuss their options. Then they go and I’m so excited because I know what Israel does to people,” she says.  “They return with sparkles in their eyes and tell me that it was ‘amazing.’ What I love is when they ask me how they can contribute to their local Jewish community and how they can return to Israel.”
 
To keep the momentum going from their Israel experiences, Sharron created an Israel alumni group where Phoenix-based Birthright and Masa Israel alumni meet to take part in Israel-related events. “The work isn’t finished when they enroll in their programs. It’s just as important to keep them connected to the Israel Center when they return,” says Sharron.
 
At a recent Arizona State University graduate fair, where Sharron represented Masa Israel academic programs, Sharron felt especially prideful about her work. “I’ve gone to many recruitment fairs, but I was shocked when I entered a huge hall filled with tons of representatives from universities throughout the United States,” says Sharron. “My first thought was, Israel al-hamapah, which literally means, Israel is on the map. It was incredibly exciting see that Israel had a presence among all those institutions. Lots of people stopped by to show their support and learn about graduate programs in Israel.”
 
Sharron is thankful for the opportunity to be a shlicha today. “We live in an era when Israel and Judaism are changing so quickly. Although it’s a challenge to influence what’s happening, it’s a privilege to be able to try,” says Sharron. “I believe that Masa Israel programs certainly make a huge difference.”
 
Sharron is being honored with Masa Israel’s “Outstanding Achievement in Recruitment” award the this year’s Kenes Shlichim, a conference for Israeli emissaries from across North America.