By Chloe Newman, Masa Israel Teaching Fellow in Ashdod
My first [few] months here seemed a flurry of realizing how many small, everyday items I had taken for granted in Pittsburgh. Many small kitchen-wares (a proper spice collection being one very important one), some nicer clothing items, art supplies, some school supplies, and general household items were purchased before my first stipend arrived, halfway through the month. My bike was the most significant, and perhaps my best, purchase, and when I started exploring the country, I noticed I was again dishing out cash for travel expenses.
Although my spending was not so extravagant in retrospect, I was discouraged at the time, having to dip into my savings so much. I vowed that once the madness had normalized, I would have a plan, to live comfortably and reasonably on my stipend. Now that I feel I’m establishing my flow, the idea still seemed like a good one, so earlier this month, I finally started a reliable budgeting spreadsheet to effectively use my humble monthly stipend.
My plan: 40 NIS a day. ($10)
That’s on average, of course. Some days I don’t buy anything. And then you have a day, as I did this month, where I spent 100 NIS on contact solution for the rest of the program. You can’t buy everything for ten bucks or less…but, it’s certainly helped me a LOT in putting my purchases into perspective. Even just having some quick notes on what else I’ve bought in the previous weeks helps me make decisions about what purchases make sense.
This list may not be interesting to the folks outside this program, but here’s what I feel has helped the most (and if you want, just skip to the bottom for more self-reflection on consumerism):
– I rarely buy clothing or beauty care products. If I want to wear something new, I kindly ask one of the lovely ladies in my apartment if they would share, and in return, I offer my…spices…and uh, cooking, I think. It works, okay? They’re nice.
– I buy almost all of my fresh groceries once a week, when the shuk is open. I ride my bike there after school, with only my backpack and some limited handlebar space for carrying my purchases. I generally already know what I want to buy before I arrive, but I’m open to switching out something for a new fruit or veggie that’s come into season. This prevents me from impulse purchases, and from buying more than I can eat before it spoils. Usually, my total is around 20 NIS.
– I don’t buy lots of processed food or snacks. Mostly whole ingredients to make something delicious out of: produce, legumes, grains, nuts, oils, sauces and spices…and humus and fresh-baked pita. The grocery-store humus is probably the most processed thing I eat, here.
-I visit the grocery store once every week or two for any other pantry items, but I do my best to be creative with what I’ve already got on hand. I’ve found that restaurants in Ashdod are…okay…but I love to cook, so I do that during the week. I prefer to save my going-out money for a weekend treat meal in Tel-Aviv (where the vegan options roam wild and free).
– On the note of traveling, I bring some food and snacks with me. Usually, a friend is hosting me, so I can bring ingredients to cook my own meals (and/or cook for them), or buy cheap groceries once I’m there for the weekend.
– I don’t buy drinks at bars. I won’t be fooled anymore. It’s just ridiculous. You can buy three bottles of wine at the grocery store for the same price of one, teeny tiny beer, which I don’t even like. Wine forever.
I don’t consider this being too frugal. I don’t feel my fun or my experiences here inhibited by my budgeting. I feel it prioritizes what’s important to me (mostly travel, healthy, tasty food, and art) and lets me worry less about spending on things I really don’t want or need. Ever since I packed my three bags to come live here, I’ve been enjoying the liberation of living on less, and I’m looking forward to experimenting further with how my time here can impact my level of consumerism in the future.
Originally published on Chloe’s blog.
5 Elements of Israeli Culture and Mentality That I Will Bring Home">5 Elements of Israeli Culture and Mentality That I Will Bring Home
By Desiree Eslamboly, Masa Israel Teaching Fellow in Petach Tikvah
Say what you want about Israelis- they’re brash, they’re pushy, and they’re bluntly honest – sure. But there is a reason why, when visiting, it only takes a few short days to fall in love with their country. And I’m not convinced that it’s solely the land that captivates people. After living here for only 4 short months, I have landed on 5 different elements of Israeli culture and mentality that I will be bringing back with me when I return to the United States.
1. Israeli Hospitality
Time and time again I am floored by the hospitality and generosity of Israelis. If I got even just an agorot (the Israeli equivalent of a dime) for every time I received an invite from an Israeli to join them for a meal, an outing with their family, or a tour of their city, I think it’s safe to say my humble monthly stipend would be double what it is now. Israelis have an incredibly special way of instantaneously making you feel like family. I have spent the past 3 out of 5 days at my host teacher, Rosi’s, house, and whether I was there eating homemade shakshuka or taking a nap on her sofa, I’ve been fortunate enough to feel right at home while 7,500 + miles away.
Rosi always says something that I think perfectly encapsulates the Israeli mentality. “If there is room in your heart,” she begins, “there is room at the table.” Sure, Israelis may not have the most ostentatious lifestyles and they definitely don’t preach the “bigger is better” mentality that some Americans cherish, but their hearts know no boundaries. This mentality is something I fully intend on bringing back with me to the States.
2. Say What You Mean and Mean What You Say
This one is a bit harder to adapt to life in the U.S. Israelis have earned a reputation for being brutally honest- and rightfully so. I can always count on an Israeli to give me their honest opinion, whether I actually want to hear it or not. Israelis refuse to sugar coat their thoughts. At times, this can be difficult to digest, but it is something I’ve come to appreciate. As Americans, we have been socialized to skirt around issues in order to avoid offending others. There are many times when I find it hard to voice my opinion or stand up for myself, and being in Israel has made me realize how refreshingly genuine it is to hear pure, unadulterated honesty. While it may take some time for me to find a happy medium between Israeli honesty and the American need to be politically correct, I look forward to developing my own communicative style founded on being more outspoken.
3. If You Want Something, Just Ask
As I mentioned above, I have trouble voicing my ideas or opinions. Sometimes, even asking for the simplest of favors is a challenge. My fear of rejection is real and has proved difficult to overcome, but being in Israel has helped me work on this. Israelis have no shame when it comes to asking for favors or questioning the rules – so why should I? I know people say this all the time, but the honest truth is that the worst possible response is “no.”
My co-teaching fellow and I had a great idea for a monthly bulletin board that would bring English to the whole school, as opposed to just the kids we work with. Our school doesn’t necessarily have an abundance of free space or resources, so we were a little nervous to present our idea. We felt as though we might be a burden and add more stress to our principal’s life. After mustering up the courage to present the idea to our principal, she instantaneously responded with “It’s a great idea, of course you can have the space!” There was zero reason for us to even be concerned about asking.
It seems so obvious, but people will not know what you want unless you voice your needs. As the old adage goes, “ask, and you shall receive.”
4. Don’t Take Yourself Too Seriously
One of my favorite motivational speakers, Kid President, once said, “Life is too short to worry about being too short.” We all have our strengths and our shortcomings, but why sweat our weaknesses? I have struggled a lot with learning Hebrew, and I think a huge part of it is that I’m too embarrassed to practice through speaking the language. Every time I begin to speak, all I can think about is how pitiful my attempted Israeli accent is. When it comes down to it, does it really matter?
My students have taught me that experiences are way more pleasant when you can put your ego aside and learn to laugh at yourself. During a recent rehearsal for the school play, one of my students accidentally referred to a character named “Sam” as “Sun.” Watching said student laugh the mistake off, and find it hilarious that he referred to the character as shemesh (the Hebrew word for sun), reminded me that it’s okay to mess up – it’s all part of the journey.
5. When in Doubt, Cos Café it Out
Whenever my co-teaching fellow and I face a new challenge, our host teacher is there to help us work through things. Before we tackle anything, though, Rosi always says, “But first, let’s drink something hot.”
Before coming to Israel, there were times when I felt so overwhelmed by stressful situations that I would just let the stress consume me. Cos café – the Hebrew phrase for cup of coffee – in this case represents something more than just a warm drink. By sitting down to drink “something hot” before I take on a new challenge, I’ve learned the importance of grounding yourself. Quite frankly, stuff happens and life goes on. Taking a minute to center yourself before letting the craziness of the world overwhelm you is always a good idea.
To read more about Desiree’s adventures in Petach Tikvah, check out her blog.
By Matthew Callman, Masa Israel Teaching Fellow in Netanya
This past week, over 250 Masa Israel program participants from over 25 countries came together at Hotel Yehuda in Jerusalem for the The Wilf Family Masa Israel Leadership Summit. These five days were full of workshops, lectures, trips, and other interactive activities. The purpose of the summit was to educate the participants and give us the proper tools to become future Jewish leaders. On the last day, in order to tie the summit together, we received an article that lists the seven principles of a Jewish leader. In order to reflect on the summit, I am using those same seven principles to draw the connection between the summit and Jewish leadership.
Principle 1: Leadership begins with taking responsibility.
Prior to the conference, we had the responsibility to complete the application process for the summit, and upon acceptance, sign up for the workshops that we would be interested in attending. During the workshops, professionals from around the Israeli community came in to spread their knowledge on various topics. Workshops included the challenges facing European Jews, Jewish philanthropy, proper messaging and branding techniques, how to run a t-shirt campaign, a memorable talk by Tamir Goodman, and the opportunity to visit the Knesset. The workshops were the part of the summit where we would put in the effort in order to receive the message they were trying to send. As for myself, I took the responsible role and took copious notes so, in the future, I can go back and reflect on what I learned.
Principle 2: No one can lead alone.
At the beginning of the program, the participants were separated into 11 teams. These would be our homeroom groups, where after each day we would come together and reflect on what we learned. It all started out on Sunday, when we completed various team building exercises at the Biblical Zoo. The purpose of these exercises was to build that atmosphere of a team. Having a unified team, will make leading it easier. Throughout the week, due the extensive workshop choices, some people may have had difficulty deciding what workshops they wanted to attend. Our homeroom groups were then used as the place where everyone talked about the workshops they attended that day. At first, we were strangers when we walked in on day one, but by day five we had many conversations, connected and shared ideas to help each other grow as individuals and leaders.
Principle 3: Leadership is about the future. It is vision-driven.
The purpose of the summit was to help us become the future Jewish leaders of our communities. The week started out with some important questions. These questions were not going to be answered during the summit, but they were used to spark an interest in how we can best answer those questions.
Three major questions were asked by Shmuel Rozner of the Jewish People Policy Institute during his lecture:
-Why would one want to be Jewish?
-Why does Judaism need to be continued?
-What role can a Jewish leader play in the world?
These are powerful questions, and they laid the groundwork for the remainder of the summit. They got me thinking and, after reflecting on these questions during the week, as the conference concluded, I asked myself the question: “How can I become the best Jewish leader in my community?” With that question in mind, I can now figure out how I can grow as an individual each and every day in order to make the impact that I know I am capable of making.
Principle 4: Leaders learn.
Obviously, we were at a summit, so we were going to do a lot of learning, but learning should never end. During the conference, many opportunities were created to allow us to learn from each other. It never matters how one learns, as long as one is looking for new knowledge. While learning from your peers, you never know what you may find out. People have different views on and interpretations of topics, and they may make a point that you did not think of. It was great to see that, throughout the day, people were constantly asking each other about the workshops they attended and what they learned from them. The open environment at the summit, allowed for the exchange of ideas that will really help people grow as leaders.
Principle 5: Leadership means believing in the people you lead.
As future Jewish leaders, who are we really looking to lead? The answer may vary depending on who you ask, but there is one general category that we must believe in, and it is the Jewish people as a whole. The summit gave us the opportunity to envision that. Where else could you find young Jews from all around the world under one roof? Coming from a very Jewish area on Long Island, sometimes I forget that being Jewish in other areas of the world can be very difficult. Hearing some of those stories had a huge impact on me and really opened up my mind to Judaism around the world. Now, when we go back to our respective communities, we will be focusing on not only making our communities better, but also on the worldwide Jewish community.
Principle 6: Leadership involves a sense of timing and pace.
Can there only be one leader? Through my experiences studying leadership, there needs to be a group of leaders. Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses, and in order to be the best leader, you must surround yourself with people who not only support you, but also cover those weaknesses for you. Some people may not be ready to be the big time leader, but want to help support their peer. The summit allowed for so many great minds to not only network, but to build personal relationships, too. These connections that were formed, will give all of us the opportunity to grow at their own pace as a leader and find how they can be the best leader they can be.
Principle 7: Leadership is stressful and emotionally demanding
This week was not an easy week. We had a very packed out schedule, and a lot to learn in such a small period of time. For me, I got very little sleep because I wanted to take advantage of having so many motivated young Jews all together. Personally, I stepped outside my comfort zone and put myself out there for people to notice me. The summit may have been a roller coaster ride with many highs and lows, but the bottom line is, I am so blessed that I had the opportunity to attend the summit. I have taken so much from it, and I cannot wait to continue on my journey to be the best Jewish leader that I know I can be.
The following article was used to help me out with this post:
"Seven principles of Jewish Leadership" by Jonathan Sacks, The Jerusalem Post 6/14/2012
**Be sure to check out the article here and read another point of view on Jewish leadership**
Read more about Matthew’s experiences in Netanya on his blog.
By Chloe Newman, Masa Israel Teaching Fellow in Ashdod
While this holiday season didn’t resemble the traditions of my youth, it was still very special for me. With my new friends and communities here in Israel, I took part in multi-cultural celebrations across the country. The saying here goes that Israelis will take any excuse to celebrate, eat, drink, and be merry with the ones they love…and especially without the bombardment of superficial, commercial holiday stresses, why not?
In past years on Chanukah, my family and I lit candles and exchanged gifts. I remember dreidels, latkes, and chocolate gelt sales and displays becoming more and more aggressive in our local markets. This year, I celebrated in Israel, where all of the holidays seem much less commercialized than back home. Even a holiday like Chanukah seemed hardly present (no pun intended), save for the three days off from school and the overflowing abundance of freshly baked jelly donuts. When I did spend one special evening sharing a holiday meal with a soldier friend and her family, it far exceeded America’s month (or more) of in-your-face advertisements and pressures for holiday shopping.
Just after Christmas Day, I caught a train to Haifa. There I was able to see the last day of the annual “Holiday of Holiday’s” celebration, where, for two weeks, festivities and special events are throughout the city’s museums, restaurants, and streets. Although there were many ticketed events available, I spent my weekend visiting the public celebrations and sites, exploring the beautiful landscape, architecture, and little pockets of art and nature scattered across the city’s mountainside.
Though Israel is most often recognized for its Jewish population, in Haifa I found a plethora of Christian, Jewish, and Muslim symbols, not to mention the breathtaking Baha’i Gardens. When I came upon the “UNESCO Square for Tolerance and Peace,” I could feel what a powerful and extraordinary promotion the site is for the peaceful coexistence of these overlapping religious populations.
Haifa’s multi-culturalism was also apparent as I moseyed through the large crowds of people, ducked in and out of shops, and watched the festival’s daily mid-afternoon parade of soldiers, students, and Santas. Every day, the streets were filled with the smoke and smells of cooked treats, many of which I didn’t recognize. Upon discovering a few colorful stands of popcorn and cotton candy, it seemed all too American in the midst of the now commonplace falafel and humus vendors.
The “Holiday of Holidays” usually spans across Chanukah, Id al-Adha, and Christmas, although my friends and I visited Tel-Aviv for the latter. I had not expected much to be seen; I was, after all, living in the Jewish State. There was the occasional decorated window, a few pedestrians with Santa hats on…and that was about it. As we found out, Christmas festivities are mostly reserved for New Year’s Eve, which Israelis call “Sylvester.” The history of this day is complex for Jews, but the opportunity for a celebration was certainly seized in Tel-Aviv.
So, my friends and I returned here for New Year’s Eve, and the bars and clubs were overflowing. We journeyed in and out of different venues, and when midnight hit, we all turned to each other expecting the announcement. No one else looked up. No one seemed to notice the time, except for us. We shrugged and laughed, and agreed that this New Year’s (as opposed to that of the Jewish calendar) was truly just an excuse to party.
Reflecting on these holidays, I realize that I did miss seeing my family and old friends, to uphold the little traditions we had. Yet, I’m hopeful that this year’s experience of Israeli holiday culture is having a positive influence on me, one I can bring with me when I return. I am fascinated by this particular mix of secular and religious celebrations, and the many coexisting cultures within Israel. It certainly sparks my curiosity about what other internationally significant days of gratitude for family, friends, and “excuses to party” I’ve been missing out on.
To read more about Chloe’s adventures in Israel, check out her blog.