Melissa Cohen | Masa Israel

Melissa Cohen
participant year: 
Before starting Tikkun Olam in Tel Aviv-Jaffa, when explaining to my friends and family what I was about to do, they told me what a life changing experience I was about to go through. My usual response to this was a head nod and a smile because, deep down, I was very unsure how I was going to feel while being there. I knew I was going to have fun, and that it might be a bit challenging, but I never thought I would do half of what I did.
Living in Tel Aviv and volunteering with Tikkun Olam was truly an amazing experience. I was able to discover new cultures, new surroundings, new people, and also learn about myself.  
Before Tikkun Olam, I was at a standstill. It was about time to start looking for real, full time jobs, but I knew something deep down was telling me it wasn’t time just yet. So I chose the Tikkun Olam in Tel Aviv-Jaffa program, and I don’t think I could have made a better decision. The volunteer work, the other participants, and Tel Aviv all fit perfectly what I was looking for. 
One of the things from this experience that I am most proud of is my volunteering. At one of my four volunteering places, The Center for Disabled Adults in south Tel Aviv, my supervisor asked me if I felt my presence was important.  "How do you feel you changed this Center and the people?” she asked. I had only been there for about 4 months, and so I wasn't sure if I have done anything. It wasn't really about making a big dramatic change there, but just for me to make my own small impact for the Center's residents. They may not remember me after the program is over, but I am proud that each day that I came to the Center, I knew that I made someone’s day just a little better.
When I decided to come and live in Israel with Tikkun Olam, I never really expected to learn so much about my own beliefs. During the program, I was forced to think about where I stand on the spectrum of the Jewish religion, what I think about Israel and its politics, and most importantly, how I felt coming to make my humble contribution to Israeli society. Throughout my life, I have been in many situations where I had to grapple with my connection to Judaism and Israel, my experience in Israel with Tikkun Olam gave me the tools to really understand how I feel about that connection.
When our group arrived in Israel, we spent a weekend on a kibbutz to start getting to know each other before moving into our apartments in Tel Aviv. One activity that we did was to write down our goals for the next 5 months, and our expectations of ourselves and the program. We wrote them down, put them in a sealed envelope and received them back at the end of the program. When I opened my envelope, I realized that had I surpassed every goal I had written down and more.
I took many risks, met amazing people, traveled, and conquered the streets of Tel Aviv. I learned a language, worked with people I would have never expected to work with - it was all simply amazing. My biggest goal that I wrote on my paper was to find myself. Although I have many more years to explore and find myself, I feel that if I had not partaken in this experience, I would not be who I am today.