By Masa Israel participant Jordana Gilman
I had no expectations for my first BFL conference, and I was having an awful day when I first arrived to the Ganei Moriah Hotel in Jerusalem half an hour late after four hours of traveling. Things quickly turned around for me, and I was welcomed into the BFL community like a long lost friend. The long weekend transformed my mood and challenged me in so many ways.
The Masa leadership program was unique. The tours of Jerusalem were the same famous places but new and interesting stories and facts. The workshops still asked us to practice public speaking and explore our own identities, but everything was done in such a creative way, it all felt new. I especially appreciated this “new” aspect of the conference because I have been to other leadership seminars before and I was expecting more of the same. I was wrong, and I am so happy about that.
Each lecture throughout the weekend (there were many!) were given by super engaging, interesting, nice people who cared about us and who cared about Judaism, leadership, and youth. We talked about college, about heroes, about vision. Every lecture was a discussion and the small group enhanced the comfortable atmosphere.
Besides vague and dreamy ideas about visions and heroes, I really feel like I came out of the conference with some solid, realistic, ready-for-action program plans and college level leadership techniques. The programming ideas and specific leadership skills are especially important in order for this conference to be relevant and worthwhile (I had the dreamy ideas about visions and heroes already)!
I firmly believe that a person has to go outside his or her comfort zone in order to really grow. Having said that, I also think that it takes quite a task to make me uncomfortable, but Masa did it. To my surprise, we were asked to collect food donations (for needy families on Shabbat) in the shuk in Jerusalem from vendors and shoppers, simply by going up to random people and asking them to donate for a good cause.
On the ride to the market, I was really, really nervous; soliciting really isn’t my thing, especially with a language barrier! Twenty minutes into volunteering, however, my arms were heavy with bags of fruit and vegetables, I was beaming at my partner, and we were on a roll. It felt amazing. That’s not to say it wasn’t hard, because some people said no and some people could hardly help themselves, and that was difficult to see. By the end of the hour and a half, though, we all met back at the bus, weighed down with food and so proud of ourselves.
Shabbat at BFL was one of the most spiritual experiences of my life. We lit candles together and then instead of services, I went to a small discussion about spirituality with one other BFL participant and our group leader. We really got down to the heart of things and it was great. That night, we had a boundary breaking activity during which we let down all our walls and just talked to each other about really important things in our lives, and we all felt so much closer after that. In the morning, I went to a yoga session on the roof overlooking Jerusalem, and the yoga even tied into Judaism! It was awesome. The whole time I felt like I was in the right place at the right time, and that I was listening to myself. I can’t wait for our next weekend together!
Jordana Gilman is a participant on the Nativ College Leadership program and was selected to be a part of Masa Israel’s Building Future Leaders leadership development program, on the Gap Year track.