In the USA, Mother's Day is a special holiday meant to celebrate your mother and shower her with compliments and gifts. Sometimes, a great gift can consist of you going on a long term program in Israel. In honor of Mother’s Day, our gift is to highlight how much impact a Masa Israel participant gives to their parent and the Jewish people.
By Nancy Iankowitz
Happy Mother's Day from Masa Israel!
A Yom Ha’Shoa tribute to my late grandmother (Esther Klein, 1918-2011), who did more than survive Auschwitz and Ravensbruck: She defeated them.
To truly do justice to Esther Klein, I ought to invite you to my kitchen as I tell you about her. I would seat you in the corner on a rickety step stool, play some swing music, and let you peel some potatoes for my soup, or very slowly add the ground nuts into the egg whites for the highest rising Pesach cake in Bayswater, if not all of Queens.
While you were on that step stool, I would tell you stories about my childhood and my sisters and my parents, all gone. I would never cry. I would tell you in a way that never scared you or depressed you, but instead compelled you to bring the story forward, to your own kitchens, later.
I would sing along with the music and laugh at your jokes, whether or not they were funny, and I would tell you my distinct opinion on family life, world politics, fashion, economics, literature, or social etiquette.
Later, we would play Rummikub and I would scratch your back until you fell asleep. I would tell you stories about your father, when he was little, and how he reminded me in this way of my own father, and in that way, of you.
Without too much effort, I would tie you generations back, and tie myself generations forward, completely by the way, as you were dozing off.
You would never guess that my own wonderful childhood ended at the train tracks, until I would tell you that part, too. There was a perfect sense that nightmarish evil was absolutely real, and also that, most decisively… “Ve Von.”
We won because, when you are not sitting on that step stool, I am using it, well into my 80’s, to climb to reach things from the top cabinet, teaching you that it’s all about balance.
I tell you about my very religious and learned father who learned at the Shabbat table with my mother, back when most European women were learning the Tzena Re’enna. Who sent his sons to yeshiva and expected them to work, like he did. I would tell you how my mother, Nechama, prepared blueberry jam for stomach ailments, because she was known as something of a medicine woman around town, and, like my father’s dry-goods store, her kitchen was a regular stop for the local poor.
I would create a seamless flow from the Hershkowitz’s charitable and intellectual kitchen in Seredna to my short but horrific stay in Auschwitz and then Ravensbruck, where I was sustained by my nieces, teenagers of whom my sisters put me in charge… and then right back to the kitchen where we now sit, making potato soup.
Which, if I were my grandmother, would bring me back to my mother, who told me on our first day in Auschwitz, when we were being processed into our potato sacks, to ignore the SS, just as I had ignored the goats and the cows back home. My mother had reminded me, in those two weeks we were together before she disappeared in a cloud over Poland, who was the human being in this situation, and what that demanded of me. I remembered, and reminded, every day since.
What it meant to be human was to have both determination and balance. Empathy and a sense of justice. Respect for the dead and a total dedication to the living. To living. A sense of reverence and a sense of humor. Balance. Living modestly but mindful of aesthetics. A dedication and deep gratitude to America, and a complete devotion to and support of Israel. Work outside the home well into her 70’s, and family always first. Being equal parts emotional, intellectual, and physical. Torah classes, survivor’s meetings, family events, the gym. Shul and the beach, both healing.
Being realistic and optimistic – living on that delicate edge of facing down yesterday and expecting a reversal tomorrow, while completely in the present, today. My Grandma was Zen before anyone knew what that was, except maybe my uncle.
My grandmother’s life, you would soon see, was a “Dayenu” story. Thankful and disbelieving of every victory, and also always pushing the envelope toward the next one, the one that her father demanded that she pursue.
Esther Klein did things on her terms. She accepted God’s will. But to the greatest possible extent, it would be God’s… and Esther’s.
It was the endless winter that began 1945. My grandmother and her nieces had just been marched through the snow from Auschwitz to Ravensbruck. The Nazis felt that the end was near, and the final solution needed final solving. To accelerate matters, they put the women in an outdoor tent in sub-freezing weather. The calculations were correct. Half died the first night there. The survivors, my grandmother told me, slept very little, and when they did, it was standing or sitting, huddled in groups.
They also didn’t let go of their tin cups, because that way, they could drink hot soup, when it was available. Being and asthmatic since age 13, my grandmother got sick. Very sick. She did the forbidden and fell asleep. She thought she would not wake up. But then something crazy happened. She had a dream.
In that dream, her father, whom she had not seen since getting off the train on Shavuot of 1944, was standing near a window in a long white robe. She said it looked like a kittel. He asked her to come look out the window. He pointed actively to a tree with white blossoms, and told her: When the trees start to blossom white, you and Ibby and Helen will be free. Please wait.
So she woke up. She stood up. And she waited. And encouraged others to do the same. As her father promised, they were liberated in spring. The Swedish Red Cross took my grandmother and her nieces back to Sweden. When they disembarked this more benevolent train, they found that they had arrived in an orchard in full bloom. On every tree, white flowers.
This story, which every Klein grandchild has heard more than once, was Grandma’s way of saying that you need an inner guide, one that is firmly planted in your own authentic roots, but that you make yours, and tell it your way. You need to hang on and believe in God, but you need to do your part to make it so. She believed in Divine miracles made real only via human effort, which is the message of the first Esther, too. She believed in bearing witness to the past, and she believed in writing your own story going forward.
Grandma, I miss you terribly. A world without you is a strange place. But you taught us what your idyllic life before Auschwitz, and your unthinkable time there, taught you: how to balance on a rickety step stool while singing and reaching higher.
What more could we have asked to know?
The Jerusalem Post: For those looking to explore Israel, emerging cities">The Jerusalem Post: For those looking to explore Israel, emerging cities
By Shaina Oppenheimer
Integral to the choice of coming to Israel is the eagerness to give back to its people. Masa hopes to inculcate a sense of shared responsibility.
Every year, Masa Israel Journey enables thousands of young Jewish adults to come to Israel on various programs and experience the country as a local, diving deep into Israeli culture. However, the dynamic of these programs is starting to change; as more participants gravitate towards smaller cities, the focus is shifting from “my Israel” to “our Israel.”
A service and learning program incorporating gap years, study abroad, volunteer work and other post-graduate work contexts, Masa is starting to radiate waves of change throughout the Jewish community in moderately-sized metropolises, such as Beit She’an, Petah Tikva and Beersheba.
By Liran Avisar, CEO of Masa Israel Journey
Today, there are more options available than ever before for young people to experience Israel, whether for days, weeks, months, or an entire year.
Every spring, Jewish people across the United States and around the world sit at a table with their friends and family to retell the story of our exodus from Egypt. The first leg of our journey back in time begins with the “Ma Nishtana” (“What has changed?”), also known as the Four Questions.
As we prepare to retell the story of the liberation of the Israelites and the birth of the Jewish people, it is also worth exploring the current state of our Tribe. This Passover, I have four slightly different questions for the American Jewish community.
These are the four major questions that are worth asking:
1. How can we increase young American Jews’ interest in Jewish life and Israel?
If you just read the headlines, it might seem that engagement is on the decline and anti-Israel activities are expanding. But the sky isn’t exactly falling.
One thing we do know is that it takes a transformative Israel experience with a lasting impact for Jewish young adults to reestablish, or even establish for the first time, their personal connections to the Jewish people and to Israel – to discover the Tribe.
Now, I am not talking about a single event, happening, or “aha” moment. Though for some it may only take one spark to reignite the Jewish fire inside. I’m not talking about the classic structure of organized Israel trips that include a bus tour of the country’s sites like Masada and Yad Vashem, meeting Israelis, learning to count to 10 in Hebrew and stuffing your face with more hummus and falafel than you ever thought possible.
These are clearly cornerstones to a young Diaspora Jew’s introduction to Israel – the state, the land and the people. However, the personal moments, conversations and observations enabled by a long-term Israel experience are the lasting connections that help our young people realize they are part of something bigger than themselves – Am Yisrael.
I’m talking about your first trip to an Israeli mall, when you see the clothing and accessories covered in Stars of David instead of crosses. The grandmotherly women you encounter on the bus that offers unsolicited life advice and a bite of their snacks as if you were their own grandchild.
The way in which everyone wishes you “Shana Tova” in the fall, not because they’re religious or on the way to synagogue, but because it’s as natural as wishing someone “Happy Holidays” in the winter in America.
These are the local Israeli moments that stay with young Jews as they go back home and reflect on their experience and newfound connection to Israel and their Jewish identities. They are what make that connection durable.
2. How do we empower our students to authentically change the Israel conversation on college campuses across the country?
Young Jews who spend substantial amounts of time living in Israel are much more equipped to deal with the often hostile anti-Israel rhetoric and activities on campus. Having spent significant time in Israel, they know more about what’s happening (and has happened) on the ground. As such, they are not only able to take part in discussions and debates, but also have the knowledge and tools to change the tone and content of the conversations.
By bringing their own Israel stories and experience into campus dialogue, these students have the power to change a combative debate into a personal conversation. Having a trove of deeply personal experiences on the ground in Israel allows individuals to speak more knowledgeably and comfortably about Israel and its politics.
Spending significant time in Israel also enables young Jews to better differentiate between legitimate criticism and uninformed, misguided hatred. Rather than feeding into the entrenched, polarizing propaganda war, these students are empowered to respectfully confront dissenting viewpoints. They can go beyond traditional hasbara (public diplomacy) efforts and pro-Israel talking points to have nuanced and intellectual conversations about the reality of the challenges facing the State of Israel, its leadership and its people.
3. What will the US Jewish community’s professional and lay leadership look like in 10 years?
With the number of unaffiliated Jews in America on the rise, one might think that the American Jewish community’s professional and lay leadership is shrinking or narrowing. However, the pipeline is actually expanding. One key indicator of young Jews who remain engaged and take on leadership roles in Jewish life are those who have spent an extended amount of time in Israel.
The variety of opportunities to spend meaningful time in Israel has consistently grown over the past several years. Today, there are more options available than ever before for young people to experience Israel, whether for days, weeks, months, or an entire year.
In 10 years, the majority of Jewish adults in the United States will have participated in an immersive Israel experience. We are talking about an unprecedented reality for the American Jewish community.
Throughout my and my American colleague’s meetings with our numerous Jewish communal partners, from Jewish Federations to Hillels to synagogues and beyond, it becomes more and more apparent that alumni of immersive Israel experiences, particularly those who have spent between five to 12 months in Israel, are overrepresented in the Jewish professional world. They are everywhere, in every organization, and they are the future leaders of the Jewish community.
As a result, they are and will continue to be more determined to connect Israel to all aspects of Jewish life. More than anything, they will make Israel travel an integral part of Jewish life and Jewish experiences. That, my friends, is revolutionary.
In a decade, these same young leaders will hold influential positions, whether in the Jewish world, business world, the philanthropic world and beyond. They will be the ones calling the shots and making important decisions. To have their Israel stories to tell and an unforgettable experience to look back on will mold these discussions and decisions before they even begin.
4. Yalla, nu, when are you coming?
By Andria Kaplan Aylyarov
Sandy Tolan dives deep inside the relationship of Bashir Khairi, a Palestinian and Dalia Eshkenazi Landau, an Israeli college student. The book breaks down the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through the relationship of this unlikely friendship and proves hope and transformation does exist.
Written by Tuvia Tenenbom, a Jewish journalist, who disguises himself as a German reporter so he can wander Israel for seven months. Tenebom visits Gaza, the West Bank and numerous Israeli cities to break bread and mingle with people of all kinds to unfold the unknown truths of the Holy Land.
Ari Shavit is one of the most influential journalists in the Middle East and in this book, a personal narrative we are introduced to Shavit’s great-grandfather, a British Zionist who comes to Israel on a Thomas Cook tour in 1897. The book will help grasp your personal understanding of “why did Israel come to be, how did it come to be, and can Israel survive.
Have you ever wondered how a country so young, surrounded by enemies on all sides is able to produce more startup companies than any other country? Authors Dan Senor and Saul Singer examine the adversity-drive culture and workplace informalities that shape the great country that is now called, Startup Nation.
The books describe the story of a man, Yossi Harel, known to some as a modern-day Moses, who commands a ship carrying 24,000 Holocaust survivors to the shores of Palestine despite what the British Mandate says.
The famous Israeli novelist Amoz Oz interviews dozens of his fellow countrymen from every corner of Israel, every cultural background to paint a diverse portrait of their fears, hopes and prejudices.
Calling all espionage enthusiasts! This book is the amazing story of of Elie Cohen, who managed to infiltrate the hierarchy of an enemy nation to a degree completely unheard of.
If you’re coming to Israel and looking to travel to countries close by for the low then this book is a must-read. Twain’s book describes his journey on a charted vessel with numerous stops in Marseilles, Israel, Rome, Odessa and Morocco.
Etgar Keret, one of Israel’s most well-known authors, wrote The Seven Good Years, his first memoir to document his life between the birth of his son and his father’s death. The New York Times says it’s a brilliant, life-affirming, and hilarious memoir from a genius.
Andria Kaplan Aylyarov is a Masa Israel Alumna and content marketing specialist for Masa Israel Journey. She loves a good glass of white wine and wishes she was 85-years-old and living in Boca, but she currently resides in Brooklyn.
Masa Israel Alumni Fellow of the Week: Molly Radler">Masa Israel Alumni Fellow of the Week: Molly Radler
After graduating, Molly did a Masa Israel Volunteer Program, for 10 months in the city of Akko, as well as various Druze villages in the North. There she taught English and other subjects in both formal and non-formal settings to young Jewish, Arab, and Druze teenagers. The connection Molly built with the students from different backgrounds was what lead her to want to further facilitate connections for students in the United States. Soon after she joined The David Project and became a Senior Campus Coordinator with, working with college campuses throughout the state of Florida. She helped guide pro-Israel college students to advocate for Israel on campus to the non-Jewish community, speaking on behalf of their own narratives and connecting those to their peers, making the Israel discourse on campus more inclusive and relatable.
Molly will be going to graduate school to pursue a Master's in Social Work with the Greater Rochester Collaborative Master of Social Work (GRC MSW) Program of Nazareth College and The College at Brockport, SUNY.
What was the most meaningful aspect of your Masa Israel experience?
The most meaningful aspect of my Masa Israel experience was the network of people and connections I was able to take with me after my year with Masa. The bond that we formed while doing the truly amazing and unique work of our program is something that has bonded me to the group of my peers that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. In addition, Masa provided opportunities to connect with other Masa participants throughout the whole country of Israel, and some of my closest friends and some of the most inspiring people I have met are ones I met on Masa.
What inspired you to become a Masa Israel Alumni Fellow?
I have become a very passionate advocate for Masa and have actively been suggesting that my students and friends apply for Masa programs. I was very active in all the opportunities that Masa provided in addition to my actual program, and love to share my experience with others to hopefully get them involved as well. I hope to help connect the network of Masa alumni across the country in years to come after their volunteership, as well as advocate for many other Jewish people to be able to have a similar experience.
Each Masa Israel Alumni Fellow is required to create an Impact project to bring back to their local community, either to increase local alumni involvement or help recruit new participants for Masa Israel programs. What ideas do you have for your Impact project, should you be chosen as a Fellow?
I would love to create a network between the various Israel and Jewish organizations for young adults to learn about ways to get back to Israel through Masa. In Boston, there are already things in place for this to be successful, but on a very broad scale. If chosen I would love the opportunity to use this as a resource to start a specific project for students to find their perfect program to get back to Israel and explore their Jewish identity and connection to Israel through Masa.
Masa Israel alumnae giving back to the world. #InternationalWomensDay">Masa Israel alumnae giving back to the world. #InternationalWomensDay
In honor of International Women’s Day, we decided to highlight our fellow Masa Israel alumnae and their amazing accomplishments. Here at Masa we know our participants have the potential to not only make a difference in their own lives, but in the lives of others. Giving back is the focus this month and it’s the perfect time to mention a few alumnae who have done just that.
1. Kayci Merritté, Yahel Social Change Program 2014-2015 Alumna
“After my Masa Israel experience, I returned to my hometown of St. Louis to serve as an AmeriCorps member assisting in refugee resettlement. Once-a-week I pick up new arrivals from all of the world – Congo, Iraq, Cuba, the list goes on – from the airport and bring them to their new homes. Throughout the rest of my week, I help these new residents of my city access the medical care that they need. I’m not sure I would have applied for this position if it were not for my experiences in Ramat Eliyahu.”
2. Jamie Gold, Masa Israel Teaching Fellows 2012-2013 Alumna
“As a result of her Masa Israel Teaching Fellows experience, Jamie chose to pursue a career in Jewish education. Upon returning to Los Angeles, Jamie moved into the Moishe House in West L.A. and enrolled in the DeLeT program at Hebrew Union College. “Masa Israel Teaching Fellows is the only reason I was picked for the HUC program,” Jamie says. She believes it gave her the necessary Israel and teaching experiences to be a top-notch Jewish educator.”
3. Rachel Pope, MSIH 2011 alumna
“Rachel is completing a two year fellowship in Malawi. She is learning how to repair obstetric fistulas and working with the next generation of Malawian residents at the newly created Malawian OB/GYN residency program. Rachel is currently living in Lilongwe, Malawi and working for the government hospital, Kamuzu Central.”
4. Ashleigh Talberth, Pardes Insitute of Jewish Studies 2014-2015 Alumna
“A serial green-tech entrepreneur, Ashleigh has pioneered initiatives for a broad range of leading companies, startups, and institutions for over 12 years. She currently consults for emerging companies primarily in California and Israel, the world's leading green-tech and startup hot spots.” ("Israelcagreentech." Israelcagreentech. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 Mar. 2016.)
By Yehudit Werchow, Director of Education
Jan Lievens' "The Feast of Esther" (Via Wiki Media Commons)
"וַיֹּאמֶר מָרְדֳּכַי לְהָשִׁיב אֶל אֶסְתֵּר אַל תְּדַמִּי בְנַפְשֵׁךְ לְהִמָּלֵט בֵּית הַמֶּלֶךְ מִכָּל הַיְּהוּדִים. כִּי אִם הַחֲרֵשׁ תַּחֲרִישִׁי בָּעֵת הַזֹּאת רֶוַח וְהַצָּלָה יַעֲמוֹד לַיְּהוּדִים מִמָּקוֹם אַחֵר וְאַתְּ וּבֵית אָבִיךְ תֹּאבֵדוּ וּמִי יוֹדֵעַ אִם לְעֵת כָּזֹא הִגַּעַתְּ לַמַּלְכוּת." (מגלית אסתר פרק ד)
“And Mordechai told the palace messenger: Tell Esther – don’t think about your own wellbeing at a time when the lives of all Jews are in the balance. Because if you are silent now, salvation will surely come to the Jews from another source anyway, and your legacy, and your father’s, will be lost to history. Who knows if this is the entire reason you were made Queen?” (the Scroll of Esther, Chapter 4)
In this excerpt from the Book of Esther, Mordechai, Jewish leader and a relative of the newly-chosen young queen, asks Esther to do something bold: Advocate for her hated People, even as she has kept her nationality to herself until this point.
Edwin Longsden Long's "Esther Haram" (Via Wiki Media Commons)
How many times have we found ourselves struggling, avoiding, or resisting action? At times it could be because we are not sure if we understand the motivation behind the action or its purpose, sometimes it’s because we feel that the call for action is external or that the timing is not ideal.
There are times when our resistance emerges from our fears of change, disapproval, insecurities (are we talented enough, strong enough, safe, resourceful) or from our fear of being successful, from letting our talent be present and seen.
Esther, just like many of us, is, before approaching the King on behalf of her People, which she had kept secret, facing her own moment of inner struggle and transformation. In her case, the call for action is coming from Mordechai. It seems that at first, she struggles with it. Perhaps it’s because of the scope of the act, the circumstances, which are understandably intimidating and obviously threatening.
Aert de Gelder's "Esther and Mordechai writing the second letter of Purim" (Via Wiki Media Commons)
Yet, she embraces the call and acts on it with courage and beauty, giving of herself, using her emotional intelligence for the greater good.
Calls for action don’t necessarily need to come from within, and this doesn’t mean that these are any less legitimate. It feels like Esther connected with her inner truth and motivations to act and these powerful sources empowered and liberated her from the paralyzing fears driving her to act so courageously and resourcefully, to come to a place of giving.
Purim and the Megilla are invitations to reunite our personal and collective deepest values, motivations and strengths. Invitations to give back to our family and friends, to Israel, our own communities and the Jewish people. Let’s embrace these invitations and grow with them.
This Purim, join the Masa Israel community and show the world where you’re living and giving:
Download the sign here, write your city on the map and share your picture using #MasaGives.
Welcome to the Masa Israel family, Meara Razon Ashtivker
Meara joins us from the hi-tech sector, where she served as C.O.O. at Boomset, an innovative event-tech company, managing sales and marketing and spearheading global partnerships. Prior to joining Boomset, Meara held the position of V.P. of community outreach for Jspace.com where she created and executed a marketing plan, as well as planned and produced mass-attended events.
True to our mission, Meara has lived it like a local, having spent significant time living, working and studying in Israel. After receiving her B.A. from the University of Hartford, she was selected to participate in the Otzma program. In the years following, she moved to Miami to work with Young Judaea and returned to Israel to work for the Jewish Agency for Israel. Meara received an M.A. in non-profit management from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem while working for Beit Hatfutsot.
Meara served as the board chair for Dor Chadash and sat on the board of directors of the American Zionist Movement and the Moatza in New York.
In her new position as Masa Israel’s North American COO, where she will be managing the national recruitment and marketing efforts in the US.
She plans on expanding her vast global and local partner network, industry insight and international know-how to continue to bring an increasing number of young Jews to Israel in order to impact the futures of both.
We wish her, and us, much success! Welcome to the Masa Israel family, Meara.
In honor of Presidents' Day, we're challenging you to see how much you know about U.S. and Israeli Presidents: