Since my mom passed away from cancer my senior year of high school 13 years ago, I have been on a spiritual journey with many obstacles. I am searching for knowledge, wisdom, healing and strength. I have a feeling that a magical energy has brought me back to Israel through a Masa Israel Journey internship program.
I am turning 30 this month, and find myself trying to accept that my life may not be what my friends’ lives look like or what society may expect.
In 2013, I was gifted with the opportunity to travel to Israel on a 10-day Birthright trip, giving me the chance to experience the country and learn more about the history of our ancestors. It opened my eyes to a land and culture where I felt welcomed.
Judaism— A Choice
There are parts of my identity and spirituality that I feel that I neglected for most of my youth.
I was fortunate to get close to my grandfather, Abraham, before he passed away two years ago. He and my grandma, Rose, my dad’s parents, were survivors of the Holocaust. I now know there is so much history and culture that I have yet to understand and discover about their journey, fight for liberation, and their resilience.
Growing up, I was never forced to practice Judaism and only attended synagogue on holidays with my family a couple times a year. For me, Judaism was a choice. I find myself on this quest to find out more because I want to learn the story, and share how one can overcome the most dark moments to live a full life with compassion and purpose.
In January, I decided to return to Israel for some self-discovery and reflection. I now feel I have a greater understanding of myself, my Jewish identity, and my family’s history. I have extended relatives in Israel and developed a better relationship with them, which is important to me. I don’t think I could have fully prepared emotionally or spiritually for what was about to unfold.
I learned about adaptive leadership at the Masa Global Leadership Summer in March. The best leaders can work with a team and also step back to figure out how to navigate/solve the tasks at hand. Knowing when to be a leader and how to lead, but also to listen to the environment around you are skills that I picked up at the summit. I will connect with some local Jewish communities and see if I can build some relationships to continue my education of the Jewish culture. My experience with Masa encourages me to live a more traditional Jewish life rather than the more secular one I’ve been living for my whole life.
Roller Coaster Of Emotions
Through Masa Israel Journey’s Career Israel program, for the past five months, I have lived, worked, and immersed myself in Israel. I interned in the marketing and communications department of Puzzle Israel, an amazing start-up that brings all aspects of Israel together—culinary experiences, cycling adventures, yoga retreats and history—to give travelers a real customized Israel journey. Puzzle Israel allowed me to combine my passions for fitness, travel, and marketing with a desire to connect the larger world to the amazing country of Israel with all its diversity and history.
Being accepted to attend a Holocaust educational trip to Poland as part of the Masa Israel’s leadership program created a roller coaster of emotions for me, but also allowed me to process my own family’s story. We experienced the death and the life in Poland; pre-Shoah, during the war, and life after the darkness. We traveled to Kraków and Warsaw, visited concentration camps, death camps, the ghettos, Jewish community centers, museums, and spoke with old and young Polish Jews.
At Auschwitz-Birkenau, I saw the place where millions of Jews and non-Jews were murdered. It was overwhelming to visit this place and hear about how many humans lost their lives. I am grateful for my grandma’s ability and luck to have survived. I feel very sad for all the people that perished. I wanted to know what happened, so I can share my family’s story. We can never forget what happened, but at the same time, I thought about whether my grandparents, if they were alive, would have even wanted me to visit these places where they lost their loved ones.
I reflect and think about what is the purpose of people visiting these places. It shows there is a need to see the evidence, a wanting to learn more, and an urge to remember. This was a very special and life-changing experience for me. It is hard to even put into words. I am very grateful I had this opportunity.
I have experienced many losses in my life including both of my parents before I was 17 years old, and three of my four grandparents as of last year. Despite these traumatic experiences, I’ve learned to feel the sadness, but not to allow it to become my whole life. It is easy to fall into the pit of darkness and depression. But we must never forget, must keep discovering, and lead with love. I give gratitude to my nana, aunts, uncles, cousins, brother, sister and close friends that continue to support me on my journey.
Dawn Kassirer, graduated from the University at Albany-SUNY in 2009 with a communications and business degree. She was an assistant manager at VENT Fitness in Clifton Park and a coach for its nutritional systems. She will stay in this area, she reports, at least until the fall or winter. “After living in Tel Aviv, I really enjoy the beach/outdoors culture. I may look into San Diego for work and move at the end of the year,” she said. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally published in The Jewish World.