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.
Q: What is your full name, where you are from, university if relevant, and city/program were you are on?
Harry Ehrlich, originally from Boston, MA, I was a participant on Destination Israel's 5-month August Internship program in Tel Aviv
Q: Why Israel?
When I first visited Israel in January of 2017 there was something that grabbed me. I was part of a Taglit group for working professionals (ages 24-27) and at that point in my life I was looking for the next stage. I had been working at a job in Boston for ~3 years, and even though I loved it and the people I was working with, I knew that to really grow and develop I needed to branch way out of my comfort zone. Originally I though that would mean moving somewhere else in America, but once I visited Israel, and Tel Aviv in particular, I knew there was something special here, something that i wanted to really explore and give a chance to.
The way that the people interact with you and with each other, is just flat out different than the states. Strangers’ getting into deep conversations is commonplace, and that is something that I cherish about living in Tel Aviv. English is the international language that connects us, and I am fortunate that it is this way. I have met incredible people from all over the world here in Tel Aviv and many of them began from striking up a random conversation. It's beautiful when strangers don't equal danger (ie see how strangers in America interact).
Q: What was your favorite moment during your journey?
My favorite moment so far was putting together my first photo gallery as a closing ceremony for my Destination Israel Program. It was an event that I worked on with fellow program participant Alissa Brown, and our goal was to share the many photos I had taken in the past five months with the people who the photos are of! I think what made it my greatest moment in Israel was how difficult the process was. I learned a lot about how Israeli's manage time, communicate, and how to solve problems on a condensed timeline. It was my greatest triumph, pushing it across the finish line without compromising the aspects of the event that were important to me. It was the hardest and most rewarding thing I have done in Israel for sure. I think a big part of that also comes from the fact that it was independently motivated and without putting myself out there it would have never even been an idea. Very glad it worked out!
Q: What was your internship like, what made it different from working in the USA?
Well, the internship portion of my program was interesting. It turns out that the internship I originally started with was the not the one I finished with. I won't get into the details of why my first internship wasn't a good fit, but I will say that i was able to have a candid and honest discussion with my "boss" and explain the reasons that it didn't work. I ended up pivoting into a position as a freelancer, working with friends of mine who also happened to be my teacher's for a fitness program I was doing. I was able to put my attention into creating videos and photos for their young business as a way to help grow their online presence. I think the main difference between my internship in Israel and internships I have held in America years ago, was I was coming in with much more experience, that I knew in what areas I could be effective for the company. Instead of it being a traditional internship, it was more a collaboration. But if I was giving advice to someone who was in a more traditional type of internship I would tell them to not be afraid to demonstrate their value and abilities to whoever their manager/boss is. In the end, you're not being paid for the work you're doing, so you should be going in with the mindset of "what can I do for this company that will make them ask the question 'should we be paying this person for the value they are adding?"
Q: Any advice for incoming Interns or newbies to Tel Aviv?
Taking risks and asking questions a huge part of the process and being within the safety net of Masa, it provides us with a unique opportunity to extend ourselves out of our comfort zone and really try to create professional/personal growth and change. Israeli work places are less buttoned up then traditional USA workplaces, be yourself and try new things and see how it works for you!
ALSO (this point is more important)
Meet everyone that you can, give people chances, don't give up on relationships with people because they act different or are from totally different places. You can make some incredibly strong international connections in 5 months, so MAKE THE MOST OF THE TIME!!!
Seriously tho...you can watch Netflix when you're in America, experience Israel while you are here!
Originally from Houston, Texas Ariel came to Israel to teach English to Israeli students in Petah Tikva on a 10 month MITF program. After hitting the halfway mark of her program, she shared with us some insights into her journey thus far
Q: What is your full name, where you are from, university, and city/program you are on?
My name is Ariel Krause and I am from Houston, Texas. I studied Biomedical Engineering at Washington University in St Louis and I am currently participating in the Masa Israel Teaching Fellows Program in Petach Tikva.
Q: What made you come to Israel, Petah Tikva specifically?
There were a couple of things that motivated me to come: 1. I was feeling very safe and comfortable back home and felt stuck in a place of fear so I wanted to get out of my comfort zone and give something new a chance; 2. I wanted to immerse myself in a new culture; 3. I wanted to reconnect with my Judaism and experience true Israeli society (not just what I saw on Birthright)
Choosing PTK was actually pretty random. I wanted to be somewhere close to Tel Aviv, so that automatically narrowed down cities. And then when it came down to it, I really resonated with the participant in the PTK video on the Masa page. It just felt like the right place for me, so I went for it.
Q: What is your favorite moment this far in your journey?
Gosh, picking a favorite moment is so tough. I feel like I am continually experiencing new moments that are special and memorable. But I guess a moment that sums up my experience pretty well is a random encounter I had with a young Israeli couple I met on a bus I took from Tel Aviv to Migdal Haemek before Hanukkah break. I was visiting an Israeli friend who I met a few years ago in Portland for Shabbat. She had told me the bus stop to get off at, but my phone died and the bus didn't have any chargers so I was planning to wing it.. About half way through the ride I turned around and asked a young couple sitting behind me how much longer it would be to Migdal Haemek. A simple question turned into the most wonderful hour long conversation and then when we got to Migdal Haemek they offered to take me directly to my friends. We made a quick stop at their apartment first to charge my phone and have tea. It was so spontaneous and amazing and warmed my heart. I'll never forget sitting on their patio outside and talking about the differences between Israeli and American society. This is just one of the many moments where I've received help from strangers and experienced such genuine warmth and deep connection.
Q: What has your experience been like so far?
Man, another tough one. It's so hard to put my experience into words. Being here in Israel is electrifying. The people are warm and welcoming and make me feel appreciated and understood. The kids are full of love and energy and there is a huge emphasis on family. The program has given me the perfect balance of independence and support. It is structured while at the same time unstructured. I feel like I am able to make my experience my own and get involved things that are most important to me. In just five months, I have managed to travel all over Israel. I also took a trip to Jordan during Hanukkah. Being in Israel has given me a clarity I was struggling to find at home. I have a deeper sense of who I am, what I want, and what is important to me. It has definitely put things into perspective and made me stronger and more independent.
Q: Any advice for future MITFers?
Don't set any expectations for yourself or the program. Don't expect things to be super well defined. Come with an open mind and an open heart. Take charge of situations and make them your own. Israeli culture and society is very different than what you are used to at home. It's much more unorganized and chaotic, which can be difficult at times, but just keep that in mind and learn to embrace it. That's what makes the experience so beautiful!
Last week during one of the break our kids had a “celebrating 70 years party”! There were different stations, some kids were selling bamba, soup, falafel, and then there were other stations, decorating balloons and making confetti cannons. It was so much fun! Unfortunately I did not take pictures! I was too busy hanging out with all of the kids at the different stations. It has been really rainy and cold but at least it isn’t snow! There are beautiful rainbows though!
I started a project with my 6th graders. We are labeling the school! We wrote down all of the different places in the school and then I gave each of my students two places. They have to write the name of the place and decorate it! They really love it so far! Tomorrow and Thursday we will be finishing up the project by going around the school and putting everything up!
After school on Thursday, I went with Hope and Noam to Noam’s kibbutz (Nir David) for the weekend. It was a lot of fun! We relaxed for a good portion of the weekend and did some lesson planning. On Saturday, her Grandfather took a golf cart and brought us around to all of the springs and gave us a tour of the Emek Ha’Mayaanot or the Valley of Springs. Noam’s cousins came with us and it was nice meeting some of her extended family. Her other cousins stayed home playing Monopoly! We played rummikub with her Grandma later that evening.
Yesterday was my first day back at Gilboa school since my knee injury! It was so nice to be back and the kids really missed me! I had a great day and they really enjoyed the lesson I planned. This week I have an ABC-123 chutes and ladders game! It is like the regular game but with letters, numbers, and words they know and need to practice! They really loved it and so did my kids at Noam Neriyah.
Read more from Erica's blog - Erica's Journey
Graduate school is like a roller coaster. You get on, it starts slow, and then it gradually accelerates until you're on a high-speed ride and cannot get off until it ends. Lately, school has been intense. I had my first final exam yesterday (whoo!), two papers due next week, and one final exam to study for. After next week, I will have a final paper due every week for the next month. In addition to my school work, I am doing some extra curricular activities.
I’m happily surprised by how easily and quickly things happen here. One of my goals for coming to Israel was to work with children in an empathy-building capacity. Just three months later, I have an internship with Debate for Peace and will be starting a volunteer project with Elifelet shortly. Elifelet is an Israeli nonprofit focused on helping refugee children in the country. I will go to an under-staffed refugee day care center once a week in order to be a consistent caregiver for at least one 2-3 year old child. It’s a cause I think is super important and I’m so excited to get started.
Another one of my goals was to work in the lab of Nurit Shnabel, a social psychology professor at Tel Aviv University whose research I admire. Just a couple weeks after reaching out to her, I am helping two of her PhD candidates with a research project.
I was also accepted into a conference called VHacks held in Rome. It brings students with technology backgrounds and students with social change initiatives together. Very exciting!
Oh, and I am also on two committees at TAU: International Senate, which brings together representatives from every international program to suggest activities for the student union and our Madrichim (ambassadors to everything non-academic in Israel), and Interdisciplinary Committee, where we plan speakers and events related to conflict resolution for our fellow classmates.
As you can see, I’m doing a lot, not to mention my classes. Moreover, I love everything I do. I love the act of learning almost anything. The problem is there is never enough time in the day. My New Year’s resolution for 2018 is simplicity. I believe you do more meaningful work when you do less. The problem is then, how do I do less? The best answer I’ve been able to come up with is to pick one thing - the thing - you want to focus on. But then what is the thing?
I’ve been pondering this for awhile. I knew I was unhappy working in entertainment so I went to grad school, in part because I thought it would help to clarify what I want to do in life. In some ways it has. I know eventually I want to become a US Diplomat. But in other ways it has made the future even more obscure. Before I join the State Department, I want to spend more time learning. I have a strong interest in social psychology and I thought that I wanted to get a PhD after my Masters. But now I’m not so sure. I’m surprisingly loving my international law and political science classes. And academia is seeming repetitious to me. Occasionally there are new findings, but for the most part, people respond to and expand on other people’s research. When there are new findings, what does that do? Do the findings translate beyond the academic community into actions that affect everyday people? This is an area that needs further research.
Meanwhile, I have a theory of my own that I developed whilst figuring out what I want to do in life: our ideal career is dependent on our values and our function in the world.
Hypothesis1 (v): Values in line with job correlates with ideal career; β1 > 0
Hypothesis2 (f): Function in the world in line with job correlates with ideal career; β2 > 0
Here's the statistical formula:
Y = β0 + βvDv + βfDf + ε
My values are doing something that I consider ethically sound, has some positive influence on people’s lives, and that still enables me to live a comfortable life with a decent paycheck. In terms of function in the world, I feel most driven to take an active, getting things done role.
The other night I woke up groggily after a long night of my brain working really hard. The first coherent thought was, “I should go to law school.” This came as a shock to me. Not that I’ve never considered it, but that I’ve never wanted to be a lawyer. It sounds strange since who wouldn’t? But I don’t particularly like the idea of practicing law. I've worked with lawyers and the bulk of what they did seemed boring. However, it is in line with my values and function in the world. Additionally, I love the conceptual study of law and value the tools you gain from law school. I also love the negotiating aspect that many lawyers practice. So if I could go to law school and specify in negotiation and international law, I think I would be happy. However, since I have not yet proven my hypotheses above, I cannot be sure. I will let you know in 10 years or so when I have the results.
I want to take the time to acknowledge how lucky I am to have the dilemma of "what do I want to do in life?" Many people do not have this choice.
Here’s to an uncertain and exciting year ahead.
Highlights from this year so far:
(Broshim dorm cat lounging in the community room)
(The Mediterranean during a break from the rain)
Read more in Miranda's blog A Year In Israel