During the whirlwind of her 10 day Birthright Israel experience, Marissa Joseph, McLean, Virginia-native, vaguely remembers visiting an artists’ kibbutz. “I don’t remember what it was called or where it was located, but I do remember thinking that if Israel had a kibbutz for artists, it had to have one for dancers too,” says Marissa, then a student at SUNY Purchase’s dance conservatory. “Right then, I made a decision that I would dance there one day.”
Three years later—following the discovery of a Facebook ad about a program for international dancers on Kibbutz Ga’aton in Israel and a semester in Holland, where Marissa danced alongside and befriended an Israeli dancer—Marissa returned to Israel to take part in Masa Israel’s Dance Journey. For five months, she would live on the Dance Village in the Galilee and study dance with the Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company (KDCD).
“I couldn’t believe that I was finally there,” says Marissa, who quickly grew accustomed to her dance-filled days. “I lived and breathed dance. In the mornings, we woke up to classical music drifting from the first company’s ballet classes. In the evenings, I took yoga and pilates classes that catered to the KCDC aesthetic. When I had a stroke of creativity at 11pm, I ran over to the studio—which was only a block away.”
During her time in Israel, Marissa says that she felt artistically free. “The Israeli fearlessness and tough love definitely rubbed off on me,” says Marissa, who was given the opportunity to choreograph her own dances and then perform them throughout the country. “The kibbutz was like a creative rehabilitation center for dancers. It was invigorating.”
Marissa and her peers also enjoyed their down time, cooking dinner together after a long day of work and drinking mint tea on their veranda while watching the sunset. On Passover, Marissa attended a host family’s seder, which was unlike any previous seder she had attended. “The house was filled with singing and laughing and even when the whole family was situated around the table, I had no idea how the seder would begin,” says Marissa. “Then the grandfather said the blessing over the wine and everyone screamed, ‘Amen!’” What followed was a hagaddah-speed reading, African drum performance, tons of food, and an impromptu dance party in the kitchen. “It was like a microcosmic Israel experience with everyone so happy to celebrate the Jewish holiday together, without it feeling forced,” says Marissa.
Now living in New York, Marissa is working on a few collaborative dance pieces—one focused on artists’ experiences during the tough economy that will be performed in an Off-Broadway show in March. She also works as a personal trainer. Even though her days are filled with activity, she thinks about her Masa Israel experience every day and jumped at the opportunity to help lead one of the Dance Journey auditions in New York this fall.
“Dance Journey was a dream,” says Marissa. “I can’t wait to go back to Israel.”