By Caitlin Whittemore

I’ve always felt that education has the power to transform communities. When people come together under a common cause – to educate themselves – it builds bridges and forges important connections.
I’ve known this to be true my entire life, but I got to see it firsthand because of a teaching experience I had with Masa Israel Teaching Fellows.
I was always interested in Israel, and I wanted to find a way to combine my love of Israel with my love of teaching. I’d gone to Israel once with my family and another time with a religious studies program in college for a month, and I had hoped to go back again one
day. MITF presented me with the perfect opportunity to experience Israel again while living out my passion for education.
In 2014, I traveled to Ramla to teach students in sixth through eighth grade. Though the Israeli city is primarily Jewish, there is also a significant Arab population. Before arriving in Israel, I heard about the complexities of Jewish-Arab relations there. While some
challenges did arise, overall, the children had the same goal: To learn as much as they could and exist alongside one another, despite differences in their backgrounds.
It was exactly because I saw these socio-economic and religious disparities in Israel that were very similar to those in the United States that I became further inspired to continue volunteering in Israel and advocating for more access to equity in educational systems there.
Not only did I have the chance to teach in Israel, I also learned. To ensure it would be easier to connect with the children, I spent time studying Hebrew in ulpan. That made dayto- day life in the classroom, and in the country, much easier. I was also exposed to even more diversity, since there were people of various backgrounds coming together to learn the language, as they, too, settled into the country.
While in Israel, I also sought more ways to give back to the community. I volunteered outside of the classroom twice: Once, when I painted the walls of Arab day school, and then when I spent a fulfilling few weeks volunteering in the IDF. Living on an IDF base
during Passover break was an incredibly empowering and humbling experience. I made friendships with people from all over the world who were there volunteering as well.
By the time I had finished my 10 months with MITF, I felt an even stronger love for Israel than I had previously. I witnessed the complexities and richness of the country. I saw how diverse groups can come together under the united goal of learning and existing side by side. It’s like any family: Despite the obstacles, at the end of the day, you have so much love for one another. While I experienced some challenges firsthand in my classroom, I truly believe that the work I, and other Masa Israel Teaching Fellows, accomplished helped
spread unity.
My experiences in Israel allowed me to have the career I have today in Education Policy and made me see how those disparities affect the U.S. and Israel, which are both countries I love. My Masa program listened to my experiences and those of my colleagues and
helped us all find the resources we needed to make the changes we wanted to see. Israel is my second home, and it is because of that love that I’m able to have a voice in trying to make it better for the people there who are not heard as loud as someone like me.
Caitlin Whittemore is a Masa alum of Masa Israel Teaching Fellows, a program of Israel Experience.
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