Written by Alicia Schneider, Current Masa Israel Teaching Fellow from Canada
After a whirlwind summer of traveling solo through Asia followed almost immediately by the jam-packed schedule of Taglit-Birthright, it was a relief to finally lay my backpack down in a place I could call home for a little while. Rishon Lezion, literally: the first to Zion, is the fourth biggest city in Israel and holds its own against the flash and flare of Tel Aviv. Rishon is home base for the year as I endeavour to teach English to Israeli elementary students, improve my Hebrew, and attempt to find Israel’s single best plate of hummus.
Now that I’m a few weeks into my Masa Israel Teaching Fellows, and I’m knee-deep in Ulpan homework, lesson-planning, and shakshuka-making, I thought it would be a good opportunity to take a step back and reflect on the beginning of this new journey.
Our program opened with a weekend retreat on Kibbutz Almog, where I and over 40 fellows from both Rishon Lezion and Petach Tikvah got to bond over ice-breaker games and time spent by the pool. The one thing that stood out to me immediately in this big group of people who would surely become like family to me over the coming year was that I was the only Canadian in a sea of red, white, and blue. That’s right; I’m basically Robin from How I Met Your Mother. No matter, though, I came here to immerse myself in new cultures, right?
After a couple of days on the kibbutz, we got sorted into our groups of six roommates and dropped off at our apartments in the city. I have never lived with that many roommates before, and being the oldest one among the six of us and the only Canadian in the bunch, I was a bit worried about how we would all get along living together. Luckily, one of my roomies is British, and the other four turned out to be pretty alright for Americans. On our first night in our apartment, we had our own ice-breakers (an intense game of Never Have I Ever featuring Israeli wine), and it was then that I realized that the roomie situation was not something I would need to worry about this year. Since day one, my roomies and I cook dinner together, we do Shabbat together, go to the beach together, we take wacky trips to Ikea together (seriously Ikea here is like an amusement park for Israelis). When we get home, we laugh at the silly things kids in our respective classes said, and we help each other out with Hebrew when it comes to the important things like ordering take-out sushi. It’s only been three weeks, but it already feels like we’re a real mishpacha.
Like Birthright, my schedule with MITF so far has been packed to the brim with activities during these first few weeks. We visited Caesarea and Zichron Ya’akov in the north to sample some wine and learned about the original Israeli pioneers, we had seminars and meetings to learn more about the Israeli school system, a scavenger hunt across Rishon Lezion to get us more acquainted with the city, welcome meetings with the mayor, and seemingly never-ending Hebrew lessons to help us integrate into Israeli society.
During our second week, we began observing classes at our assigned schools. This year, I will be teaching at David Remez elementary school where there are over 500 students. My first few days in school I spent observing the teachers during their English lessons. At my school, students learn English from grades 3 to 6, so I get to work with kids of different ages and levels. My co-fellow and I take out smaller groups of 3 to 10 students from class and work with them on a more individualized level. We go over class material, read short sentences in English, and play vocabulary-based games with them in class (never underestimate Hangman). After our first couple of days in school, my co-teacher and I became local celebrities. The students shout our names in the halls and enthusiastically wave, they bombard us with questions about Canada and the US and ask us how are day is in broken English. Nicole and I were even fortunate enough to receive marriage proposals from a handsome fourth-grade student. I have learned that there is a children’s TV show in Israel in which the main character’s name is ‘Alicia,’ so now I also have my own personal theme song every time I walk into a classroom. Safe to say that it’s hard not to smile when walking through my school.
Before starting school, we kept hearing from teachers and previous MITF members that the Israeli classroom is nothing like we’re used to back home, and I now that I’ve lived it I understand what they mean. The best way I could possibly describe an Israeli classroom is ‘organized chaos.’ The kids are loud, they speak out of turn, they talk back, and they scream so loudly during recesses that at the end of each day my ears ring as if I’ve just walked out of an AC/DC concert. However, they’re also full of personality, bold, completely honest, and their faces light up at the prospect of learning English and leaving their classrooms with the Canuck and Yank celebs.
I’m really looking forward to the next few weeks in school as I get to know the kids and their learning styles better. I’m also excited to spend the holidays in Israel with the family who I haven’t seen in a long time. It has only been three weeks since I started MITF, I have learned more than thought, I’m exhausted in the best way possible, and I absolutely cannot wait for all the amazing experiences that are still to come over this next year.
Alicia Schneider is from Montreal, Canada and currently lives in Rishon Lezion, Israel, where she is a participant in the 2016-2017 Masa Israel Teaching Fellows. She earned her degree in English Literature & Creative Writing from Concordia University in Montreal. Her passions include travel, reading, Nutella, and cats. She hates writing about herself in the third person.
Originally published on September 21, 2016 on AliciasTravelBlog.Wordpress.Com
By Ally Cohen, Masa Israel Teaching Fellow in Ashdod
We spent our third day of the program touring the two cities we are stationed in: Ashdod and Ramle (also know as Ramla). We started with a tour of Ramle. We had an adorable tour guide named Kostas who is an Arab Christian. He told us all about the history of Ramle. As we walked out of the museum, a woman asked which of the fellows were stationed in Ramle. She is one of the neighbors and always “adopts” one or two fellows, having them over for dinner and celebrating holidays with them. This kind of interaction has not been uncommon. Everywhere we go people have been so nice to us, especially when they find out we are the teaching fellows. People want us to be here and go out of their way to make us feel at home. Almost everyone we meet has offered us their phone number and told us to call them if we need anything.
On our tour of Ramla we visited the museum, my favorite thing there was a wall that had pictures of every fallen soldier from the city dating back to the 1940’s. The families of the soldiers had all made them scrapbooks, filled with family photos and mementos. It was moving to see that these were real people who died defending their country, that they were more than just a name and a statistic.
As a bit of a history nerd being in Israel is an incredible experience. So much has happened here, and the evidence of that is everywhere you go. Walking through the shuk in Ramle we saw an old mailbox from the British Mandate period.
We also visited a 700-year-old tower. We all made it to the top, and after climbing all the stairs, we were feeling the burn. Kostas told us a story about how the neighboring city of Lot once tried to steal the tower; they obviously did not succeed.
We also went on a rowboat ride underground in the Pool of Arches…
The boats were pretty large for the small space, so we kept bumping into things. Eventually my boat decided to embrace this and try to start attacking people, unfortunately for us we had a lot of trouble navigating and were unable to catch anyone. However, we did get some good snapchats, so all was not lost.
After we had eaten lunch an Israeli tour group on a scavenger hunt asked us to dance the hora with them, they were a bit surprised that we knew what that was. It was a reminder of how cool it is that people from all over the world reside in Israel, and we all share many cultural things; it’s a lot like reuniting with your long lost cousins.
By the time we made it back to Ashdod we were all exhausted from the combination of Jet lag and running around all day in the hot sun. I feel very bad for our next tour guide because we were not the best group for him. It was like he was giving a tour to the walking dead. We did a large part of the tour from the bus because Ashdod is a lot larger than Ramle, the fifth largest city in Israel to be exact. Luckily I will have a lot more time to explore Ashdod in the upcoming months. Tomorrow I will attempt to open an Israeli bank account, so stay tuned.
Originally published on AllyTakesIsrael.Wordpress.com.
5 Things to Know Before Teaching English in Israel">5 Things to Know Before Teaching English in Israel
1. Prepare to Pursue your Passions Speaking of passions, MITF is your chance to pursue (or even find) them! Yes, you’ll be teaching during the week, and you’ll be busy at school. But the day only spans from 8 am-2 pm in most cases. This means every day you can do something to fill your time outside of the classroom. Do you! Make some extra shekels by tutoring your neighbors in English, train for the Tel Aviv marathon, study Ulpan, start a blog, venture out of your city, or find a volunteer opportunity. I worked in one of Petah Tikva’s community gardens and joined the municipality’s Department of Environmental Education team. If you’re coming from University or a rigorous work environment, this ITF year is the biggest blessing you can give yourself… the time to focus on the things that effortlessly make you happy and what drives your passion.
2. Be Aggressive Moving to a new country is hard. It’s not only the verbal language that’s foreign; it’s the nonverbal—hand gestures and sounds are just as much a part of the Hebrew language as words. Miscommunications are inevitable, and the Israeli school system is guaranteed to be unlike anything you’ve ever experienced. Stereotypes are dangerous, and there’s always an exception to the rule, but for the most part, Israelis want things done their way. They tend to raise their voices, but it’s not because they’re yelling at you. They’re just excited and genuinely want to help you. When English isn’t the most efficient medium of communication (with teachers or students), you need to assume a different kind of leadership and find your voice in a creative way. Play the game Israeli style. Assert yourself and don’t be afraid to fight for what you want with persistence and by standing your ground, in the nicest way possible of course, and you’ll earn the respect you deserve.
3. בלגן: Balagan When translated, the word “balagan” comes to mean: mess, disorder, confusion, problems, difficulties. Mesh all of those together and you get the true meaning. Cut and paste this concept into an Israeli school and we’ve got a picture of utter chaos compared to what you’re probably used to. There are no lines when walking from class to class, sometimes not even a cafeteria, no hands are raised (just fingers), schedules are often meaningless, and all the teachers are called “the teacher” or by their first name. Discipline is not in these children’s vocabulary yet. And magically enough, the system works. However, it is your job to stay sane and adapt your teaching style to this new environment you’re in—step outside your comfort zone and create an English game, teach through pop culture, etc. Oh, and you’re about to become your school’s newest celebrity. Expect to be followed by mobs of screaming children, dying to ask if you’re friends with Justin Bieber or if you live in New York City or how much your Pandora bracelet costs. These kids will probably give you headaches, but they’ll also give you hugs and worship the ground you walk on.
4. Hebrew is on You! Okay, so you’re moving to Israel for a whole ten months and will be fully integrating into Israeli culture. You’re obviously going to come home fluent, right? Wrong. Your job is to be an English teacher, which means, no Hebrew in the classroom. You’ll have some Ulpan (Hebrew classes) to brush up your skills no matter what level you’re on, but it’s your job to maintain it. 99.9% of your Hebrew education is outside of Ulpan. Force yourself to communicate in Hebrew as much as possible—learn your vocabulary at the shuk, the mall, the bars, pretty much anywhere. Find a nice Israeli who wants to be your friend and practice your Hebrew on them and they’ll practice their English on you. There’s no osmosis that will magically make you fluent. Seek out opportunities and commit to the language if learning Hebrew is something you’re passionate about!
5. You’ll Fall in Love and Never Want to Leave Not only is this country going to be your new home, but you’re also going to have new friends, new family, a new community, and a new outlook on life. Even if you’re not coming from an educational background as a teacher, you’ll fall in love with your job and the energy was emanating from your students. Staff will be fighting over you to spend a Shabbat with their families, you’ll even get used to the Nescafé in the teacher’s room (which Israelis think replaces a real cup of coffee…it doesn’t). You’ll fall in love with your MITF cohort because they’ll have just been through this whole journey with you and will be the only ones who truly understand how you’re feeling.
Granted there are bound to be ups and downs, good days when you’ve successfully managed a conversation in Hebrew, and you feel like you can conquer the world, bad days when your bus is 20 minutes late, sad days when you’re missing home and the luxuries of dryers, peaceful days when you’re sitting on the beach watching the sunset with your year-long tan, and exciting days when you wake up and one in every 10 days is a holiday… The list goes on and on, but the most important thing you need to know before you become a Masa Israel Teaching Fellow is that the experience is what you choose to make of it, and the possibilities are all at your fingertips. You just need the chutzpah to grab them.
Written by Allison Paisner, Masa Israel Teaching Fellow Alumna
By Katie Spector, Masa Israel Teaching Fellow in Beit She’an
I’ve now been in Israel 6 days and let me tell you how fantastic it is! We went to the Golan Heights for a seminar and spent time with the other Masa Tlalim members from Be’er Sheva and Netyana. It was great getting to know other people from our trip and spend time as a whole group instead of our little foursome.
I’ve been loving the activities we’ve been doing including hiking, swimming in a spring, going to Mt. Hermon (when it’s supposed to be closed), and did I mention hiking?
In the last three days, I hiked about 6 miles and loved it! Of course, it’s hot, but I’m getting used to it already.
As a small group those of us from Beit She’an continue to grow close. I’m loving the growing family atmosphere that I think we are starting to have. We can each make fun of each other and joke around without upsetting the other because we know that if we seclude ourselves, it will just make it that much more lonely.
Yesterday we went for a 3-mile walk on the El Al trail. It was beautiful seeing small streams and then the beautiful spring. Overall it was a great hike. After that, we went to Mt. Hermon which so far has been my favorite, despite the slightly terrifying ski lift ride, once at the top, the view was gorgeous.
I couldn’t get over the beautiful view and the beauty of being up so high. It put a lot into perspective for me. Being up there showed me part of the reason that I decided to come to Israel in the first place.
All in all, this was a great first weekend in Israel. I can’t wait to keep having adventures and to see as much as I can in the year that I’m here!
Bye for now!
Originally published on Talk2theHamsa.Wordpress.com.
By Tami Greenberg, Masa Israel Teaching Fellow in Migdal Ha’emek
A lot has happened since my week in Jerusalem. On Thursday, the English woman I met at the hostel and I took the hostel shuttle to Tel Aviv. We spent a wonderful day on the beach, swimming in the Mediterranean Sea, before heading to Dr. Shakshuka for dinner. We went to bed early that night, as she had a 6 am flight home Friday morning.
Friday was the day that two of the three other people in Migdal Ha’emek arrived in Israel. After a morning of reading, I met Suzanne, from Australia, for coffee. We talked all afternoon about where we are from, and what we are looking forward to during the upcoming year. Then, Nathan, from Chicago, arrived, and all three of us met up for dinner to start getting to know each other. For dinner, we ended up choosing the first restaurant we saw that was open, since it was a Friday night, and many places had already closed for Shabbat.
Luckily, the restaurant happened to be directly across the street from a dog park, so we bonded over our mutual love for dogs, and then decided we need to adopt a dog for the year! So, maybe it was a good thing my parents wouldn’t let me get the doggie webcam for back home, so Savannah won’t have to see!
The next morning, everyone else moved to a hostel provided by the program for a night. Since I already had booked a hostel for myself, I stayed where I was. Being Saturday (Shabbat) no buses ran, so I walked half an hour to hang out with Suzanne, Nathan, and Jaime, who arrived that morning. We all went to lunch and then took a short walk down the beach until I headed back to my hostel for the afternoon. Once the buses started running again, I took a bus down to the hostel to get dinner with everyone and play Cards Against Humanity to truly start bonding! Because everyone else was still pretty jet-lagged, so we ended the night early, and I returned to my hostel for the night.
Sunday morning, we all met up again to officially start our year together as Bina Masa Israel Teaching Fellows! We have begun our day at Bina’s main campus in Tel Aviv, where we met the fellows from Nazareth and from Rahat, a small Bedouin city outside of Be’er Sheva (One of the Rahat fellows’ name is Tami!!!). We went over typical first-day orientation things and then shared lunch with the Bina Tikkun Olam fellows who will be spending 5-10 months volunteering in Israel. As a big Bina group, we will all be taking trips together throughout the year. I am looking forward to being able to spend more time with the rest of the Bina fellows during our time together!
Finally, we were able to load up the bus and head to our new homes for the next ten months! The Nazareth and Migdal HaEmek fellows all stopped first at our apartment in Migdal HaEmek, where we unloaded our luggage and walked to the center of town so people could buy sheets and pillows, and then to the grocery store to get our first round of basic groceries. We finished the night with a quick dinner of pizza; we headed home to set up our apartment! We will be living in a three bedroom 1 1/4 bathroom (one full bath and then just a toilet?) with a nice sized kitchen, dining room, and a decent living room! Now that we are finally starting to unpack, it is honestly starting to feel like home!
Today, we were met at our apartment by a Bina person to learn how to cash our monthly food stipend check. Then we went to the Ministry of Education building in Nazareth Elite to meet the teachers we will be working with throughout the upcoming year! My teacher was unable to come, but the principal as! I will be spending my ten months teaching 4-6 grade at the Aliza Begin school in Migdal HaEmek! The principal seems extremely friendly, and super excited to have me in the school! After exchanging contact information, she showed me pictures of the school on her phone, and we talked about me coming to visit the school before I start teaching. Hopefully, on Thursday or next Tuesday, I will be able to meet the teacher, and see what my year is going to look like!
Originally published on WhereTheFalafelAmI.wordpress.com
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.”
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.”
Doing a Masa Israel program is more than just going back after birthright, it’s actually experiencing the REAL Israel. It’s an actual journey! You will make friends from literally all over the world, see and feel things that are not found anywhere else, and you will want to keep coming back for more.
So enough of us trying to convince you to live your life or even get experience for your career, this time we will let our participants show you what this “journey” is all about. Follow these Instagram accounts to get the real deal from food to places you never even knew existed!
Participant: Julie Deutsch
Program: Career Israel
Participant: Kirill Trukhin
Program: Masa Tlalim
Participant: Tatiana Itskova
Program: Betar Mabat
Participant: David Jozef
Program: Top Israel Interns
Participant: Rachel Schwartz
Program: Career Israel
Participant: Ben Slutzky
Program: Israel By Design
Participant: Anastasiia Khodyrieva
Program: PMP Nativ Technion
Participant: Ariel Vainer
Program: Lej Leja
To learn more about Masa Israel and the programs we offer, click here.
Bring on the Tears, an MITF Story By Allison Paisner">Bring on the Tears, an MITF Story By Allison Paisner
And so, one by one the goodbyes commence. Doors are closing and I’m currently in this limbo where none are yet opening. Goodbye to school, to Petach Tikva, to Masa Israel Teaching Fellows, to Israel Experience, to my volunteer project with the Petach Tikva Department of Environment Education, and to my friends and family in this special country.
The first farewell was at Yeshurun for the end of the school year. The week before our last day, one of the 7th grade classes we work with threw us a surprise party! We walked into the classroom unsuspectingly, only to be bombarded with 30 students and balloons, singing, food, and an Israeli style מסיבה (meh-see-ba: party).
We all shared our summer plans and what we loved about working together. Hopefully, some of our students will stay in touch. We took our balloons with us out of school and released them together in our own little goodbye ceremony. As for the rest of the classes, we didn’t really have an official goodbye, but Emily and I made a video for the Petach Tikva MITF closing ceremony with some of our favorite 8th and 9th graders, which you can check out HERE. The purpose? To debut the video as a thank you from our school to the rest of the Petach Tikva MITF. It was my first time experimenting with iMovie… let’s just say I won’t be the next Spielberg.
The next goodbye was to my actual role as a teacher. Israel Experience had us plan a closing ceremony, in which we thanked our host teachers, host families, and the people who helped make our transitions this year into the Israel and teaching worlds easier. My host teacher, Shlomit (another teacher we work with who is amazing), and the librarian Batia (whom we got very close to throughout the year) all showed up. We closed out the year together with the rest of the English team (or the “E-Team” as we call ourselves) at Chagit’s house with a little get-together. Potluck style, we shared our thank you’s as well as received many (in addition to beautiful silver Shabbat candle holders) and had a last shebang recapping the year and sharing our future/summer plans. Will miss my Yeshurun community dearly, and only leave with fond (and funny) memories!
Another goodbye that went out with a bang was with the Petach Tikva Department of Environmental Education. As you’d know if you’ve been reading my blog throughout the year, this center has become one of my homes in Petach Tikva. From volunteering at the garden on Tuesdays and getting a glimpse of the composting program at the gans (kindergartens) in Petach Tikva, to working on a lecture on Adaptive and Resilient Cities with the office staff, it was nothing but a pleasure (in the end). Frustrating for me at times, because of the Israeli work style and process, is topsy-turvy from the States, I learned patience, sympathy in the workplace, and the importance of synergy among a group of people from all different backgrounds and ages.
As part of the culmination of my volunteer service, the director of the office and I set a date for me to present my lecture on Adaptive and Resilient Cities to members of neighboring municipalities… in English, of course. For nearly 2 hours I presented on concepts of vulnerability, mitigation, adaptation, resiliency, and sustainability, drawing case studies from around the world for best practices and policy implementation strategies. The entire audience was interactive, welcoming, and receptive to the material so it was overall an amazing experience for me to be able to present my research in a more formal setting to people. The following week I said my final goodbye to the office, where they presented me with a memory jar (sustainably made, obviously) and warm wishes for my future. I know we will continue to stay in touch, and I am genuinely interested to continue seeing the innovative educational initiatives the department comes up with.
Another tough goodbye was with my host family in PTK. Although I have a lot of blood relatives in Israel, I was also lucky enough to share a host family with two of my roommates. Genuinely some of the warmest and most giving people I know, I will miss Sigi and her wonderful family dearly. I spent a few amazing Shabbats there, but throughout the year we’ve come to get to know each other pretty well, and even though my host mom and dad barely speak English (as well as my two younger “host brothers”), it hasn’t stopped us from connecting and growing closer. I’ve had a taste of the best Yemenite food I’ve had in Israel (by far), the longest Shabbat dinners (seriously talking 6 hours here people), and running out of ways to express that I’m full and don’t want more food. So thank you Sigi for welcoming me into your beautiful family, and for treating me like one of your own <3
And then came the goodbye to MITF at HaYarkon Park in TLV. All of the Israel Teaching Fellows from around the country came to hear the CEO of Masa Israel and our Pedagogical Advisor from the Ministry of Education, among others, thank us for our work and spend a relaxing night celebrating the end of our experience. With free booze, a diploma and dope portable speakers as a little parting gift, it was a beautiful night and atmosphere, with lots of goodbyes to my friends from other cities.
The last MITF goodbye was just with Petach Tikva and Rishon, thanks to Israel Experience and our closing tiyul. This is the group we started off with August 27th when we met in Kiryat Moriah for the first time, and it’s the same group we are ending with on June 27th. Thankfully (and amazingly), we had some money left over in our budget, so Israel Experience spared no expense on this one! We rafted down the Jordan River (which had more than 6 inches of water in it this time!), enjoyed a BBQ buffet by the water (wow, how I miss BBQ), spent one day at a beautiful “resort” on the Kinneret, and ended the trip back at Zichron Ya’akov where we had our first seminar back in September. The meals were lavish, and I ate enough kosher meat to last me until my next trip to Israel… or so I say for now.
In addition to the physically packed schedule was the equally emotionally packed one as well. In a series of reflection activities, our group shared the ups and downs, favorite and worst moments, and highlights and regrets of the year. The 14 fellows in Petach Tikvah also had our own reflections, where we filled out private notes for each other in little memory boxes, crafted by our Madricha, Amit. I even debuted my ukulele playing skills (or lack thereof) when one of the Petach Tikvah Fellows performed a song he wrote for the group. The whole tiyul was surreal because of a lot of the people in the cohort I really didn’t get to know so well even after a year. It was a strange feeling for the final doors of MITF to be closing, and the tears and sobs began. Two weeks later, and I’m magically hydrated enough to cry nearly every day.
But the journey isn’t over yet. I’m still here until July 18th, and after all of these goodbyes to MITF, I still had all of my closest friends and family. For our last Friday Shabbat dinner altogether, we had a giant potluck at one of my friends’ boyfriend’s apartment in Tel Aviv. Roi and I contributed with Mac and Cheese (which apparently Israelis aren’t too familiar with), homemade onion rings, and my favorite Israeli salad with nishnooshim (it’s good, trust me).
Emily and I brought the skits we wrote for our English day, and after a few drinks, we had our boyfriends and friends act them out! Hands down one of the funniest things I was lucky enough to witness. Another favorite game is a three-round combination of taboo, one-word giveaway, and charades with the same series of words/phrases. Major כל הכבוד to the Israelis in the house whose first language (and for some, even second language) isn’t English. Truly a night filled with laughter and love that I will never forget.
And with that, I’ll end the last bit of my Masa experience. 10 of the most amazing months that were the best gift I could’ve given myself. Rolling into July, I am lucky enough to have three weeks of “Israel Closure.” Stay tuned for following posts about my trip to Eilat, my goodbyes to friends, family, and loved ones, and for my closing tiyul (self-planned) to Jerusalem at Neve, a Women’s Jewish Learning Program. While the tears are still coming, it’s time to start getting excited about the future because… no one knows what it will hold…
Each year we find ourselves turning the pages of the calendar more quickly, and what packed pages they are. Here at Masa Israel we have had yet another amazing year of programming and events, both in Israel and across the globe. Now in our 13th year, we’ve surpassed 120,000 alumni, and have begun a number of great new initiatives.
Take a brief look at the Top 16 Masa Moments of 2016:
1. Make Your Journey Matter Gap Fair
On February 21st we hosted a back-to-campus fair for our Gap Year participants bringing representatives from Israel Advocacy and Jewish campus organizations to show participants the many opportunities available to them when they return from their year in Israel.
2. Samsung Tel Aviv Marathon with #TeamMasa
On 26 February over 100 Masa participants, alumni, organizers, and staff participated in the annual Samsung Tel Aviv Marathon as part of the first ever #Team Masa.
3. Masa L’Maaseh
In March, 40 of our Yeshiva students went on the first Masa L’Maaseh, a four day journey , cosponsored by Yeshiva University and WZO, to explore Israel's ever-changing landscape as they visited places and met people that are driving a positive change in Israeli society, while enjoying an exciting group experience with participants from many different Jewish Studies programs.
4. Yom Hazikaron Ceremony at Latrun
This May 5,000 participants and Masa partners mourned Israel’s fallen soldiers and victims of terror together at our impactful Yom HaZikaron (Memorial Day) Ceremony at Latrun, the largest English language ceremony in Israel.
5. Ventures in the Capitol: JLM Young Professional Night
May 30th over 200 post-college & academic participants gathered at JVP Media Quarter in Jerusalem for a night of professional development sessions with top Israeli professionals, followed by a networking cocktail hour with top Israeli companies.
6. Culture Shuk
With a dozen performers, authors and artists, from legendary author Amos Oz, to Ethiopian hip hop sensation Café Shahor Hazak, 1,000 participants took an inside look at Israeli Culture.
7. Global Program Fairs
From Brazil to Berlin, the UK to Ukraine, our global team of Regional Masa Representatives have spoken to tens of thousands of potential participants at their events and fairs throughout the world.
In partnership with the Genesis Philanthropy Group, Masa takes thousands of Russian-speaking participants on 5 day journeys to explore Israel and Jewish peoplehood and identity through experiencing land, history, and people.
9. Masa Desert Project
This summer part of our Masa Ambassador’s team set up shop in popular Taglit spots Kfar Hanokdim and Han Hashayarot to share with over 750 Taglit-Birthright groups how they can get back to Israel.
10. The Matzpen Program
Focusing on building capacity in the field, our educational department implemented a series of day-long seminars for our program organizers. The curriculum focuses on pedagogical principles, skill building, current trends and issues in the field of education, and best practices for identity building in emerging adults.
11. My Masa Mega Event
Over 3,000 Masa participants gathered in Jerusalem for our annual My Masa event to kick-off our 2016-2017 year of programs. Word on the street is that this was one of the best events yet!
12. MITF Levinsky Teaching Certificate Program
With a class of 18, this October marked the beginning of our new English Teaching Certificate Program for MITF participants in partnership with Israel’s Ministry of Education and Levinsky College.
13. Partnership with The Forward
People are talking about Masa and The Forward decided they want to as well. This year we officially began a partnership with their new lifestyle section, Scribe. Check out 2 articles by Masa participants here and here.
14. JFNA General Assembly
Our alumni delegation networked with GA goers, and helped spread the word about Masa at our awesome expo booth. We also held an inspiring meeting with Natan Sharansky and a very well-attended (and fun!) joint VIP reception with Onward Israel.
15. Masa-GLI Global Leadership Summit & Tracks
This November our Masa-GLI Leadership Accelerator put on another successful Masa-GLI Global Leadership Summit, in Jerusalem, with generous support from the Wilf Family Foundation. We are particularly proud of the growth of the exposure tracks which allow participants to take their training into the field. Here are this year's tracks:
- FSU Participants Masa-GLI Leadership Fellowship, with support by the Genesis Philanthropy Group
- Hillel Masa-GLI Leadership Fellowship
- JFNA Masa-GLI Leadership Fellowship
- WUPJ / HUC-JIR Masa-GLI Leadership Fellowship
- Israel Dialog Masa-GLI Leadership Fellowship
- WeWork Masa-GLI Business & Innovation Leadership Fellowship
- Masa Influencers
16. North America Career Development Delegation
This November our Director of Business Development International, Adi Barel, and Director iof business Development North America, Adi Hila, hosted career development professionals from North American Universities for a week in Israel, taking them to visit various professional development programs, and immerse themselves in the Israeli start-up ecosystem.
Written by Amy Albertson, Creative Content Manager, Masa Israel Journey
A Look Inside MITF’s Youth Village Location with Deena Martin">A Look Inside MITF’s Youth Village Location with Deena Martin
At the time I decided to spend a year abroad on Masa Israel Teaching Fellows my life was in a whirlwind. For a long time I had a desire to volunteer abroad and with my current situation, I had to take the plunge. I researched different regions and programs throughout the world yet, something within my heart was always drawn to Israel.
I knew I could choose to go where ever I wanted, but Israel had a hold on me. I knew it was the right place to spend this year giving back to my people in our homeland. Although the decision to go to Israel was easy, I was concerned about language barriers, since my Hebrew skills from my Bat Mitzvah era were long gone, plus I had no friends or family in Israel.
Everyone and I mean EVERYONE thought I was crazy. People asked me “are you scared, isn’t Israel always at war?” “Why would you go somewhere you don’t speak the language and know no one?” I took these questions in stride and smiled.
My only response was “No, Israel is amazing and not dangerous” and “yes, I am crazy.”
I come from a strong Zionist home where Israel, Jewish life and strong connection to giving to the Jewish people was fostered and encouraged.
So, my mind was made up, I was like I said before, taking the plunge and going to Israel. I was so blessed to have a family who not only supported my decision but also encouraged me to go and give back to our homeland.
When my plane landed in Tel Aviv, I was every feeling emotion under the sun. It all didn’t seem real on the ride over- it felt like a quick trip and then I would home in a few weeks. When I got to the youth village is when it all started to sink in.
The first few months of school were tough. I took part in the pilot program of the Youth Villages for Masa Israel Teaching Fellows and we were year one and the very first participants to experience teaching in a youth village. To give the expression, too many cooks in the kitchen would be an understatement. You’ll learn soon that although Israel is the startup nation and uber successful, things can sometimes be a balagon (a mess). With that being said the beginning of my MITF program, there were a lot of people and organizations trying to make it the best it could possibly be, which at times was frustrating.
It took until the winter for there to be some clear direction and method to the madness of starting a new program. By the first break, the program seemed to have found its rhythm. Everything was on track. Being with the students in the midst of all the bumps of the program was the highlight and being able to work with them in a way that the teachers were unable to make me feel like I was truly doing what I came to Israel to do, make an impact.
I held many late night study groups and early morning prep sessions. I worked with the students on their chores and had meals with them in the evening. The students took me in as a friend and mentor, which made the Youth Village feel like home.
Through the support of the village community, I was able to have the confidence to explore Israel and fell in love with the desert, the cities and all of Israel’s wonders. I ventured from the North to the South, heard stories from Israelis, made friends with members outside the Jewish community, learned about the challenges each community faces, saw the diversity and freedom each community has in Israel.
I saw the amazing landscapes, enjoyed Shabbat meals with strangers that felt like family, cried when there was conflict, prayed for safety, discovered the depth of social, political and community issues facing this land. My Zionism became even stronger and I reconnected with my Jewish roots in a way that I thought I never would. I have always been an advocate for Israel, now I find myself to be a fierce and loyal ally. Always standing up for her rights, not afraid of engaging with people who want to see Israel off the map or try to misrepresent it.
I came back to America stronger in so many ways, but I am strongest now in my love, loyalty, and devotion to protect Israel. I came back home with my heart still in in Israel, ready and prepared to do my part in protecting Israel and the Jewish people.