What’s it like to do a Masa program?
What’s it like to want nothing more than to follow your passion, and then actually go for it?
We often find ourselves looking at success stories from a distance, never dreaming that it could be our story, and we let this stop us from living out our dreams. And then there are those of us who don’t.
Batya Perlman spent months looking for a way to get to Israel when she finally found Masa. The Masa scholarship she received was the stepping stone she needed to make Israel not only a possibility, but a reality. I had the pleasure of talking to Batya more about her story; check out the interview below:
Q: How did a gap year with Masa set you up for your future - the one you’re living now and the one you hope to be living in the next five years?
My gap year gave me the opportunity to go beyond the “tourist perspective” and experience the daily reality of living in Israel. I learned how to converse in Hebrew, navigate the public transportation system, and overall be more independent. At the same time, because I didn’t have the responsibility of a full-time job, I was able to see the romantic side of Israel: the archeology, the nature, and the holy sites that are so integral to my connection with Judaism.
My year in Israel strengthened my resolve to return, which had already begun to form years earlier. It left me feeling like making aliyah would be manageable, now that I knew the lay of the land, at least to some extent.
During my Gap Year, I met one of my closest friends, and together we began studying topics of self-growth, outside of classes. It has been five years since then, and we’re both back in Israel and still very much in touch. She’s from Toronto and I’m from Baltimore, so our gap year is really what brought us together.
Q: What would you say is the highlight of your gap year in Israel? Anything pertaining to Masa specifically?
There were two main highlights of my Gap year in Israel.
The first was the studies. I’m grateful that my school was listed on the Masa website, because many of the classes and teachers really spoke to me. Away from the pressure of high school and college, I was able to really soak in the lessons. I even gathered all the class recordings at the end of the year and compiled them into a folder - many of my friends tell me they still listen to them now!
The second highlight of my year was experiencing the archeology of Israel, which has always fascinated me. There’s something completely mesmerizing about the layers of history in the Old City, the caves people hid in during the era of the Second Temple Period, Masada, and the many other places I was privileged enough to explore.
Q: What was/is the most challenging thing about living in Israel?
In my experience, the most challenging part of living in Israel was, and is, the unpredictability. I constantly find that my plans, living situation, and job are in flux. This aspect of Israeli living took a lot of getting used to, and the many other olim I spoke to have said their experience was similar in this regard.
There’s one thought that always lies in the back of my head when I’m faced with this type of unpredictability.
When I was back in America, there was a somewhat rigid trajectory for me to follow, and chances were that I would be able to trek through it without ever having to veer onto the side roads. Coming to Israel, that trajectory changed completely - I even ended up beginning my college career all over again.
I feel that experiencing life this way allows me to recognize a truer reality for myself: one in which I only have control over myself and my actions - not over anyone else’s. The more I internalize this, the more I am at ease with the world and grateful for the life I live here.
Q: Do you feel that this experience helped you in your studies back home/in Israel?
My gap year experience definitely benefitted my studies back home, considering I was studying Judaic Studies for my undergrad. I was able to study in Israel what I had already chosen as my major, and receive college credits which counted towards my degree. Even if I hadn’t been studying Judaic studies, I would have been able to put those same credits towards general studies requirements, which many of my friends did.
Q: What advice would you give someone who’s thinking about going to Israel but is on the brink of making the decision?
The main thing that stops people from coming to Israel is fear.
They read the news and become paralyzed. Granted, if I only knew Israel from what I saw and heard from the news, I would also be hesitant about coming here. But the reality is completely different from what is portrayed in the media. I would never walk around Manhattan alone in the middle of the night (and definitely not without pepper spray).
But where I live now, I walk around freely, regardless of the hour, and I’m not afraid. This isn’t just my sentiment - my roommates run out for midnight snacks with nothing but their house keys, and my friends walk through the streets of Jerusalem well before daybreak. If I ever need to go outside at 3 AM to just spend time alone and think, I can. Reality here is not the way the news portrays it.
The other thing that stops people from coming to Israel is fear of commitment.
People often feel that if they come to Israel one time, they’ll feel compelled to return. And it’s true, Israel does that to people - it’s a glorious place - but visiting doesn’t warrant staying. I know that lots of people come to Israel once and fall in love. They toy with the idea of making Aliyah, but the thought scares them, and so Israel becomes a stressful, wishful topic, rather than a reality. If someone is thinking about visiting, for however long, I think it would be helpful for them to keep their mind in the present and come ready to soak in the experience, without putting expectations on it. From my perspective, it’s silly to skip dessert just because you’re worried you’ll want more.
Masa sets the standards for long term programs in Israel through our program partners. To ensure that experiences like Batya’s are life changing, Masa oversees the implementation of educational goals, development and operation of the leadership tracks, volunteer work, housing, and scholarships.
Read more in Batya's blog The Aliyah Blog