Letter from Josh Grinberg, Fall 2015 recipient, Yeshiva Har Etzion in Jerusalem.
I have been most successful in achieving the following two goals: learning about Israeli culture, and exploring my Jewish roots. Regarding Israeli culture, I have traveled extensively, visiting Tzfat, Latrun, Givat Shmuel, Tel Aviv, Efrat, a Gush Etzion army base, and many other areas, and learned history experientially on organized trips to the Golan and the Jerusalem. One of my favorite sights was Nimrod’s castle, a massive Muslim fortification modeled after the Crusader castles, near Lebanon. Comparing Nimrod’s castle perched on a hill to the Jerusalem Old City in the Judean hills helped bring Bunting’s Clover Leaf Map to life. Further, interacting with Israeli shopkeepers, tour guides, relatives, and taxi drivers, and checking Israeli news five times a day has helped develop my understanding of modern Israel.
The goal on which I plan to focus more heavily during the second half of my year is improving my Hebrew. So far, I managed to set up a chevruta (learning partnership) with an Israeli student so that we can learn in Hebrew, which has improved my language skills tremendously. However, I am not yet satisfied with the amount of Hebrew I have learned, and have started reading for pleasure in Hebrew, attending lectures in Hebrew, and creating and sharing Hebrew vocab lists with friends. Although my morning classes have been mostly taught in English up until this point, I am very excited that they are now transitioning to mostly Hebrew. If, in a few months, I feel that these changes are not satisfactory, I will consider enrolling in a part-time ulpan as well.
Letter from Kyle Savitch, Fall 2015 recipient, Pardes Institute of Jewish studies.
This year in Israel has been one of the most incredible years of my life, so far. Having the opportunity to live and learn in Jerusalem was a dream of mine in college, but I never truly had the opportunity until now. This is my fourth trip to Israel and my third spent studying in Jerusalem, but it is my first trip longer than just a winter break of college. There is so much to be experienced in Jerusalem that can not be experienced in just a short trip and I am grateful to have a full year here to live and experience it all. Despite the current climate, I feel at home in Israel and tend to feel even safer than I do in America.So far, during my time in Israel, I have mostly been studying at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem. This experience has been incredible and there is simply an unmatched beauty in studying Jewish texts in the land which they describe. As part of my program, I have also had the fortune to explore Israel and go on day trips and Shabbatons traveling to areas such as the Negev, Gush Etzion, and Ein Gedi. Having the opportunity to see the beauty of this land both in nature and in the stone of every building in Jerusalem has fostered an even stronger connection to Israel than I had before.
Beyond the natural beauty of Israel, it has also been incredible to experience the culture here. On previous trips, I mostly stayed in central Jerusalem and lived in hotels or other temporary housing. The experience of living in an apartment outside of central Jerusalem and doing weekly shopping and errands was, therefore, a completely new one. There are no Walmart style one-stop-shops and navigating the shuk is different than any experience I have had in America. Culture shock as this may have been initially, I have enjoyed these opportunities to challenge myself to integrate myself into Israeli society more completely. Although my experience in Israel is very much in contrast with my experience growing up in America, my trip so far has been incredible and I am looking forward to the learning and exploring that the rest of the year will bring.
Letter from Monica Arkin, Fall 2015 recipient, Career Israel.
I am just about halfway through my year in Israel and this is the perfect time to reflect on the past five months. At the start of September I began a five-month Masa internship program called “Career Israel.” Through Career Israel I was able to integrate myself into Israeli society while working in internships that I cared about. Each week I spent three days at the Israel Trauma Coalition (ITC) and two days at Hadassah Hospital – Ein Karem. I opted to divide my time between two internships as opposed to focusing on just one because I figured that two internships would provide me with more diverse experiences. I’m so glad I was able to work at both placement sites because I learned different lessons: at ITC I learned how non-profits operate behind the scenes to provide psychological treatment to Israelis and at Hadassah I gained both research and clinical experience by assisting a psychologist with his research paper and volunteering with patients in the psychiatric ward.
I came to Israel for professional exposure to the field of psychology in Israel. However, I ended up also receiving a crash course in resilience that was a little too close for comfort. I moved to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv at the beginning of October, right as the recent terror wave began. All of the sudden I was no longer just an observer. I was thrown into the everyday experiences that one endures while living in a zone that is a frequent target of terror. I quickly picked up on the patterns of terror. I tried to protect myself in any way I could while simultaneously acknowledging that I was essentially defenseless. I learned tricks from more seasoned Israelis who had lived through terror waves before: one co-worker told me that while waiting for the bus I should stand behind the stop as opposed to waiting in front so I wouldn’t be an easy target for a car ramming; my friend told me to check the Facebook page “The Muqata” before I ever got on public transportation so I could get the most up-to-date information on where the latest stabbing was; I quickly detected patterns such as where the stabbings typically occurred and at what time of the day. I listened in amazement as Israelis shook their heads in despair one moment and the next made a joke about “the situation.” I got a very real lesson in what it means to live in a traumatized society and what it takes to be resilient.
However I would be remiss if I painted a picture of Israel that focused only on terror and trauma. I’m also learning many other things about Israeli society. Despite the tensions, I love living in Jerusalem. It allows me to see all sides of society. Everyday I see people of different religions, different observances within religions, varied socioeconomic status, and more. Take one ride on the Jerusalem light rail and you can hear Hebrew, Arabic, English, French, Russian, Amharic, Spanish, Portuguese, German, and many other languages from all of the different immigrants and tourists. Jerusalem is certainly not a utopian melting pot but I love how it feels like a microcosm for the world.
Since my Masa program ended I have had a lot more free time. In my free time I’ve been hiking and enjoying the nature. I have fallen in love again with the north and the south and now I am exploring lesser-known Jerusalem hikes. I no longer feel like a tourist. I used to talk about how much I loved Israel’s falafel but now I know the best Israeli foods are Tnuva brand cottage cheese, mocha flavored krembo, and tea with louisa. I miss home but I have a few months left here before I return to regularly scheduled programming, and I don’t intend on wasting a single day.