Michele Hathaway | Masa Israel

Michele Hathaway
participant year: 
On WUJS in Israel, I quickly learned a very important lesson for both a recent college graduate and an artist—-flexibility, confidence and persistence yield hidden rewards. 
With no family in Israel and little recollection of my Bat Mitzvah Hebrew, sometimes the simplest task proved daunting. But after a few months of bumbling through the city, I was relieved to discover that daily tasks were sometimes even difficult for native Israelis who were always willing to lend a hand. From neighbors to coffee baristas to my co-workers, everyone welcomed me into their homes. 
Roaming the Israeli Opera House, where I interned, I stared wide-eyed at the world-renowned opera singers, conductors, and musicians while I completed administrative tasks in an office. Inspired by their presence but unsure how to approach them, I decided to take initiative and asked the assistant music director if I could sing for him. As a result he became my mentor, inviting me to join his choir and eventually allowing opportunities for me to become an adjunct member of the prestigious Tel Aviv Young Artists Program. Suddenly I had access to practice rooms, opera rehearsals, voice lessons, and performances. 
In Israel, nothing is predictable. One afternoon, in the administrative office, the opera’s head director ran to the photocopier where I sat beneath a daunting stack of scores, and exclaimed the singer playing the role of Queen of the Night was sick and they needed a singer for that night’s performance in Jerusalem. Luckily I knew the part and within two hours, was on stage, dolled up in glitter and costume, singing in German while the other opera singers performed in Hebrew. As a result of this experience, I made invaluable contacts. 
The erratic nature of Middle Eastern life—a hotbed for all extremes—became increasingly appealing to me. When Tel Aviv shut down on Shabbat I sauntered to the beach in flip-flops, freshly squeezed guava-banana juice in hand and lay in the sun. I took dips in the gorgeous Mediterranean Sea, snacked on hummus and pita bread (which never got old) and heeded the advice of locals about the best Tel Aviv dance parties. 
Israelis live a life of rawness and no-nonsense. Tel Aviv clubs are filled with young men and women who flood into the city after completing their military service and traveling stints. From the classiest restaurants to the frozen yogurt joints, kitchens stay open past 3 AM all week. Moseying down Rothschild Boulevard late at night, I watched people cry hysterically, laugh unabashedly, and fall in love right before my eyes. 
While at first the abrasive, in-your-face Israeli behavior was difficult to understand, let alone embrace, later on I found it a relief that I didn't have to pretend to be cheerful all the time. It was wonderful to be able to shed the Western tendency of taking everything personally. When I wasn’t attending art gallery openings, magazine galas and film festivals with my fellow WUJS participants, I felt free to sit by myself in restaurants, travel alone on weekends, or sit on a park bench simply observing the Tel Aviv crowds. 
The Masa Israel experience broadened my views on society, war, community, religion, and self-value in ways that can’t be taught in classroom. The stories and experiences with which I returned will continue to lead me down a path that is anything but mediocre.