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.
Masa Israel Teaching Fellows Ashdod alumnus (2013-2014) and Detroit-area native, Josh Finn wrote a great piece for Detroit Jewish News about his MITF experience and how it's helped him continue his journey to becoming an American Sign Language interpreter.
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.
Texas Jewish Post: Arlington-born Unger teaching Israeli kids English">Texas Jewish Post: Arlington-born Unger teaching Israeli kids English
By Ben Tinsley
In a place very far removed from his hometown of Arlington, native Texan Max Unger teaches English to Israeli children in Ramle-Lod through Masa Israel’s Teaching Fellows program.
Max Unger, a 26-year-old Texas-Arlington graduate, tutors underprivileged students in Ramle-Lod.
The 26-year-old University of Texas at Arlington graduate said this is an incredibly rewarding experience.
“It’s great because I feel like I’m making a difference — sharing a gift,” Unger said during a recent telephone interview from Israel. “English is the unofficial language of business and it is very important to speak it. Many Israelis want to speak English. I mean, I’m not solving world hunger or anything but this is a gift, a tiny gift. The kids where I teach don’t get that much exposure to languages.”
JTA: Nevada Jewish vote in question due to Shabbat date, caucus confusion">JTA: Nevada Jewish vote in question due to Shabbat date, caucus confusion
By Ron Kampeas
LAS VEGAS (JTA) – Jewish voters in Nevada suffer the same affliction as anyone else ahead of caucuses in the presidential race: No one is quite sure how the damn system works.
“A big part of what we do is to educate people about what a caucus is,” said Joel Wanger, the point man for the Hillary Clinton campaign in this city’s Jewish community.
Joel Wanger, a Nevada regional organizing director for the Hillary Clinton campaign, in a Las Vegas suburban office. (Ron Kampeas)
The Democratic caucus takes place on Saturday — a problem for Sabbath-observing Jews. Orthodox groups, including the Orthodox Union, have registered complaints. Republicans will hold their caucus on the following Tuesday.
Wanger, who is also the Clinton campaign’s regional organizational director, enumerated the questions he encounters: “What is a caucus? How does it work? Will Hillary be there? Does it cost any money?”
This is how it works for Democrats: Party voters meet and talk until a majority in the room is ready to elect delegates to a county convention. The presidential candidate who accrues the most delegates is the winner.
Clinton may turn up at one or two caucuses. One need not pay to vote, one has only to register with the party – allowed even on the day of the caucus.
Wanger said he gets those questions at get-togethers targeting Latinos, blacks or Jews. For the Jews, Wanger, who has been in the state since last summer and who is an alumnus of the Israel Government Fellows program, has organized Sukkot parties and run an explanatory session at the Adelson Educational Campus, a Jewish school. Students who will be 18 by November are eligible to vote in the caucuses. Wanger says he’s probably reached 300 Jewish voters.
In honor of Presidents' Day, we're challenging you to see how much you know about U.S. and Israeli Presidents:
Valentine's Day may not be a Jewish holiday, but we can't stop ourselves from kvelling over all of these beautiful alumni couples who met in Israel:
Joel Wanger cites his Jewish faith as a factor in becoming politically active.
By Daniel Schere
Joel Wanger (right) says working for progressive candidates such as Hillary Clinton is an important way to “live” his Judaism. (Provided)
It was the deep-seated Jewish values of social justice that spurred Crofton, Md., native Joel Wanger to become involved in politics. Wanger “fell in love” with the campaign lifestyle while in college at Northeastern University in Boston, he said, prompting him to apply for the Israel Government Fellows program that is run by Masa Israel.
“The thing that stuck with me the most about that experience was what it means to be an American Jew versus a Jew from anywhere else in the world,” he said.
Wanger’s fellowship involved work with the Israeli Presidential Conference, including assisting different speakers with position papers.
“The theme of the conference was ‘Tomorrow,’ and it was all about the tomorrow of the world, the tomorrow of the people and the tomorrow of Israel,” he said.
“I was really able to see some of the differences and the starkness between being an American Jew and a Russian Jew, a Spanish Jew and seeing what those opportunities are.”
Wanger said his passion for tikkun olam started well before this point. He became familiar with social justice work through attending Camp Harlem in Pennsylvania as a child through his teen years as well as his involvement with his synagogue youth group in Bowie, Md.
After finishing the fellowship program in 2012, Wanger spent the next few months figuring out what he wanted to do next. It was during an interview with progressive organization Democratic GAIN that he was asked if he would be interested in submitting his resume to President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign. He accepted and was placed in Las Vegas as a field organizer.
Wanger said that as soon as the 2012 election ended he began anticipating former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s launch for a 2016 presidential bid, and when she made her campaign announcement last year, he wasted no time in getting involved.
“I actually arrived in Nevada on April 13, 2015, which was the day that she announced, and one of the opportunities that I wanted to pursue in getting out here that early was that Las Vegas really does have a large Jewish community,” he said. “As Jewish Americans, we share values with Clinton. Her fights are our fights, and it’s not just about donating money, it’s about our shared values and getting involved in the campaign in a more concrete way.”
Wanger, 27, said several other millennials have become involved with the Clinton campaign in Nevada, thanks to the use of Twitter as a recruitment tool. He said social media has been a much greater force in this campaign than it was while he was working for the Ohio Democratic Party in 2014. People his age who support Clinton do so because she has been a “fighter” for the middle class, he said, which is a quality that is personal to him.
“As a millennial, whether it’s women’s reproductive health or raising the minimum wage, these are all issues that I care about,” he said. “Not just as a citizen, but as somebody who was in college during the financial crisis and saw the job market go down. These are things that are important to me.”
Wanger drew a sharp distinction between the proposal of Clinton to make college debt free and that of the tuition-free concept put forth by Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). “The new college compact that Hillary Clinton has proposed really focuses on the idea of making sure you can graduate college debt free,” he said. “Because while it would be amazing to have everyone go to college for free, I agree with Clinton when she says Donald Trump’s children probably don’t need to go to college for free.”
Wanger said he feels “confident” that Clinton will emerge victorious in the Nevada caucus on Feb. 20. Much of his work in the campaign has focused on organizing the group Jewish Americans for Hillary, which he launched in August. This involves identifying “captains” at the different synagogues in Las Vegas and organizing house parties as a means of engaging people from across all age groups. Wanger said he feels this is the role he sees for himself when it comes to giving back.
“I could live my Judaism not by making aliyah or by being kosher or being shomer Shabbos,” he said, “but by working in progressive politics for candidates like President Barack Obama, like Hillary Clinton, who are fighting to make the world a better place, who are fighting to repair the world.” JT
Originally published in the Baltimore Jewish Times.
The Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle: Ten Months in Israel for Shorewood native">The Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle: Ten Months in Israel for Shorewood native
By Rob Golub
Marissa Steinhofer, 23 is not best friends with Miley Cyrus.
Yes, the pop star who played “Hannah Montana” is from Franklin, Tennessee, which is in the United States, which is where Steinhofer is from. But, really, that doesn’t mean they hang out.
As Steinhofer was getting over this first hurdle of explanation while teaching children English in Israel, she came to realize her students were fascinated with America.
“I feel like a celebrity every day when I go to school,” said Steinhofer, who is mid-way through a ten-month teaching stint in Ashdod, Israel. “The kids are so excited to see me every day.”
Steinhofer grew up in Wauwatosa and then moved to Shorewood and attended high school there. She spent many summers at Olin-Sang-Ruby Union Institute, the Reform Jewish camp in Oconomowoc. She attended University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee, double-majoring in Jewish studies and communication. She was president of Hillel Milwaukee before graduating in May of 2014.
All of that has led her to this moment: She’s in a classroom at Retamim School in Israel, looking at her watch. She’s waiting for a small group of her Israeli students, ranging from 3rd to 6th grade, to stop talking. They see her eyeing her watch. They trail off and stop.
When that happens, she has everyone sit in silence for exactly as long as she timed them talking. “See, this wasn’t very fun,” she says, “so let’s not do this again.”
Though she’s got to control the class, she loves her job and the kids are great, she said.
“They want to learn English,” she said. “They want to put in the effort. They’re excited.”
Her role is to teach typical Israeli students as part of the Masa Israel’s Teaching Fellows program. The program is a 10-month teaching and volunteer fellowship in which college graduates teach English to Israeli children. More information is available at IsraelTeachingFellows.org.
Steinhofer is using weekends to travel around Israel, to see Israeli and American friends from camp and elsewhere.
Steinhofer is well aware of the litany of attacks in Israel. “A lot of what’s happening right now in Israel is in Jerusalem, Ashdod’s pretty far from that,” she said. “You go about your life. I guess you could kind of compare it to shootings in America in a way. Yeah, something might happen but you can’t just stop living. But I’m definitely more aware. I pay attention more. I look around more.”
Steinhofer can see herself working in the Jewish community after she’s done with her 10 months.
“I don’t want to make aliyah,” she said. “I love Milwaukee but I’m planning on applying to jobs all over the country. Milwaukee will always be my home.”
From Steinhofer’s blog: EatPrayLoveIsrael
- On her first Israeli wedding: “First thing that I learned was that gifts aren’t a thing here. Everyone brings money to the wedding and writes on the envelopes that were provided for us.
- You know you’re in Israel when: “Winter means 60 degrees and big puffy winter jackets, hats, gloves, and scarves have all come out.
- On a ceremony in October: “As the kids started singing this beautiful song to remember Rabin, it started to rain lightly. It was a beautiful moment like Yitzhak Rabin was listening and started crying because these kids were singing so beautifully.
Originally Published in The Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle.
Hillel International: Welcoming the 2016 Masa-Hillel Fellows">Hillel International: Welcoming the 2016 Masa-Hillel Fellows
We are so excited to welcome our third cohort of Masa-Hillel Fellows. The fellowship is a six-month professional development seminar designed to prepare current Masa Israel participants for Hillel work.
Through Hillel’s partnership with Masa, Hillel provides a Fellowship experience for current Masa participants who were at the Masa Israel Leadership Summit in November. The goal of the Masa-Hillel Fellowship is to build a talent pipeline and populate Hillel’s professional cohort with talented individuals and budding leaders who are actively exploring Israel and reinforcing their Jewish and Israel connections. Learn more about the Fellowship and the 2014 and 2015 cohort’s on our blog.