Miriam Wasser | Masa Israel

Miriam Wasser
participant year: 
When I first tell people about the LIFE program, their response usually goes something like this: “Whoa, there’s a Masa program that goes to India?”
The answer is, “Yes, there is a Masa program in which you spend four months in India and five in Israel doing an internship related to social justice and change, and yes, it is as cool as it sounds. But it’s so much more than that.”
I applied to the LIFE program because I wanted to do meaningful work with sustainable results. I hoped to throw my energy into worthy causes while learning how to tailor my work to best suit what is needed.
At my core, I wholeheartedly believe that we must try to improve the world, but that we need to interact with, work with, and get to know people, places, and ideas different from our own in order to do so. LIFE appeared to, and does, provide these opportunities and fit these criteria.
The program gives us tremendous access to organizations, people, and opportunities we otherwise might not get. We do internships and projects that are nothing like traditional internships. We don’t get coffee and make copies for our boss; we go into the field, work with experts, and write reports that are put on the boss’ desk (next to the coffee). 
In the LIFE program, we study and put into practice a theory called Adaptive Leadership. It is about the ability to mobilize others to tackle tough challenges and thrive. When the program started, we talked about what this might look like, what actions we needed to take to make change in the world. And yet, as the program continues, I understand more and more that Adaptive Leadership is both a theory and a mindset; a paradigm for making positive changes both internally and externally. To be a good leader requires that you focus less on the problems around you, and more on what you can do to mitigate them; that you be solution-oriented.
Leadership on the LIFE program is about being creative, motivated, and employing the entrepreneurial spirit. It is like the Chinese symbol for crisis, which also means opportunity. And it is a way to examine the world and your role in it. 
You are put in real-world situations—professionally, cross-culturally, and socially—and encouraged to push past the limits of your skill set; to expand your comfort zone; to work outside of what is culturally familiar; and to take risks. 
I look back on my internship in India with a two-fold incredulity: first, for what I accomplished, and second, that I was actually able to accomplish it. The project I did was emotionally trying and at times a logistical nightmare. There were days where translation problems or office politics seemed like insurmountable barriers. And there were days where, I’d come to realize, I was part of the barrier; I needed to change. 
LIFE gives you tools to work through these walls—to manage your project, your boss, and yourself within a world of uncertainty; to tackle tough challenges and thrive. You study Adaptive Leadership, and you do Adaptive Leadership, because LIFE is not just about theory; it’s about action.
In the program we ask, “What does it mean to make social change? What does it mean to hold social justice as a core value?” And mostly, “what are we going to do about it?” How these three questions intermingle, how they are braided together, constitute the backbone of the LIFE experience. 
LIFE is also a Jewish program. It’s a Jewish program in that yes, it’s based in Jerusalem and is for Jewish post-college graduates, but also, because it operates within a Jewish mindset. It adheres to a particular set of Jewish values, employing a particular lens through which to view the world.
I have never really been a very religious person; I was interested in Tikkun Olam, not attending services. I was, and am, attracted to the Jewish mindset: the sense of community, the drive to make the world a better place, and the celebration of thinking deeply and asking questions. 
At times I haven’t felt comfortable calling myself a Jewish leader, but I’m beginning to understand that when it comes to social change and justice, Judaism, like leadership, encourages a solution-oriented mindset. I’m learning to look at Judaism as not just a religion, but also as a tool, a paradigm, and a philosophy for how to exist.
When I applied to the program, I wanted to see and experience a different way of living. At the time, I was referring to other cultures and people. But with the help of the LIFE program, I am on a path towards living differently, towards learning about my own culture and people. Learning about our values; my values.