Elliot Lazarus

WUJS Internship Program
My arrival in Israel came about through an ironic convergence of difficult circumstances and fantasy. After losing my job at an architectural firm in Manhattan, my wife and I decided to participate in Masa Israel Journey’s WUJS internship program in Jerusalem. While pursuing continued professional growth, we have appreciated the pause in the midst of our rushed New York City life. 
Since graduating from the New York Institute of Technology five years ago, I had been working as an architect in Manhattan. While we were both very busy professionally, my wife, Michal, and I fell in love and married. Though we felt enslaved by the daily grind, we never really had a chance to step away from it all and think about how we wanted to structure our lives going forward. On weekends we sometimes fantasized about creating a less harried, more meaningful life together – but that was all forgotten come Monday. 
Then the recession hit. Architects feel the effects of recessions immediately because the first thing to go is future planning. Design commissions were scarce last year and then construction came to a grinding halt. Rather than waiting around for the markets to turn, we decided to take advantage of this slow time by fulfilling our weekend dreams. We chose to participate in the WUJS Internship program, which would place me in an architecture firm in Jerusalem for six months. 
Anyone in a creative profession can benefit greatly from spending some time abroad. It opens the mind and heightens the senses. As an architect in Jerusalem, I am keenly aware of these effects. 
Visually, there is something about the purity of Jerusalem’s light. It makes the white architecture, often ancient, appear crisp and fresh against a deep blue sky. The composition is punctuated with bold, dark green Mediterranean cypresses. One would think that building an entire city of the same stone would get monotonous. Instead, it makes the eye more sensitive to nuance. There is a subtle interplay of stone textures, and a myriad of ways to make an opening in a wall. 
While walking in Jerusalem—and I walk a lot—I pay close attention to the articulation of window and door openings in the ubiquitous limestone walls. My commute to work is a far cry from the frantic, overcrowded subway ride on so many levels. 
Jerusalem’s tremendous historical and religious significance is a constant presence as I work now. To be designing a project alongside the site where King Solomon built his Temple almost three thousand years prior is unbelievable. It is an architect’s dream. 
When I spent two wonderful years studying in Yeshivat Kol Torah in Jerusalem after high school, I left with the impression that Jerusalem was the place to nurture the spirit and but not much else. Coming back here to work has negated that preconception. Every day, I work alongside highly professional, talented people from all over the world on cutting edge projects. Right now, I’m involved with a light rail project that runs just outside of the old city. Once completed, it will resolve the congestion problems of a city whose streets were designed long before automobiles, and will make a significant dent in air pollution. It is a privilege to assist in weaving such a piece of modernity through an ancient urban fabric in a way that is both efficient and contextually sensitive. 
While on WUJS, I had the opportunity to attend the Israeli Presidential Conference, through Masa Israel’s Activities for Participants (MAP). Bringing together some of the world’s greatest minds in various disciplines to discuss Israel’s future, including Tony Blair, Ray Kurzweil, James Wolfensohn, Jimmy Wales, and Josh Silverman, it was a huge accomplishment for the tiny Middle Eastern country. Speaker after speaker discussed Israel’s pivotal role in the technological, scientific, economic, and political future of our changing world. 
But my exposure to the modern, professional side of Israel is only a small part of the overall Masa Israel experience. I also made great friends. The WUJS program brought together a colorful cross section of Jews from all over the world. Growing up in a strongly Orthodox Jewish community in Far Rockaway, New York, “diversity” meant (slightly) different yarmulke styles. I attended yeshiva for both elementary and high school and had a rather homogeneous group of friends. Spending quality time with Jewish people from so many different backgrounds has made me feel more connected to the Jewish nation as a whole. Our commonalities are so much greater than our small, mostly superficial differences. When we sat around the dinner table on Friday nights, we are just one ancient family that has come home for Shabbat. 
I do not know too many people who can say that job loss led to further career development and life enrichment. I can confidently say that, aside from marrying my wife, participating in WUJS’s internship program has been the best decision I’ve ever made.