By Jennifer Blitz, Masa Israel Teaching Fellows in Petach Tikvah alumna
If it wasn’t for a doting mother looking for a pair of board shorts for her son, the extent of my Hebrew knowledge might still be “Shalom.”
Having just earned my master’s degree in childhood education I spent the summer of 2013 applying for a myriad of teaching positions in New York City. My daily sense of panic in regards to my future was at an all-time high and I took a part time job at a surf shop to keep myself afloat during my job hunt.
“Let me know if I can help you with anything,” I said to a customer who didn’t quite fit the mold of our typical clientele. She explained that she was looking for a pair of drawstring board shorts for her son.
We got to talking and, as it turned out, her son lived on a kibbutz in Israel. I was intrigued and shared that in just two weeks, I would be in Israel for the first time on my Birthright trip. I proceeded to divulge that I hadn’t landed my dream job just yet and that I was starting to sweat.
Jen (right) and a friend on Masada
She then asked me if I had looked into Masa Israel Journey. My new best friend explained that her son was on a Masa Israel program and that the organization provided hundreds of opportunities for young Jewish people to live and work in Israel.
After we said our goodbyes, I immediately opened my laptop and began researching Masa Israel. To my delight, I discovered the Masa Israel Teaching Fellows program. I always wanted to teach abroad and I was curious about getting in better touch with my roots.
Before Masa Israel Teaching Fellows, Israel was this place that lived inside of my television, on the headlines of the news and occasionally in the titles of books I saw my father reading. Now, Israel is so personal to me. The amazing experience of living in the Jewish state has added new dimensions to my identity and has opened the doors to a beautiful community of people both abroad and at home.
Jennifer (lower right) with other Masa Israel Teaching Fellows in Petach Tikvah
I truly could go on and on about all the memorable experiences I had during my ten months in Israel. Some highlights include camping along the banks of the Kinneret, hiking the Mitzpe Ramon Crater, marveling at the wonder of the Old City, exploring the Jaffa flee market on Friday afternoons, tracking down the country’s best hummus, spending day on the beach in Tel Aviv, biking in the Hula Valley, taking part in an archaeological dig, soaking in the minerals of the Dead Sea, and so much more.
My work life was pretty great as well. My school was welcoming and homey and so incredibly laid back compared to the high intensity, high stress, and high discipline New York City schools I was used to. I mostly taught small groups and saw myself as the lead member of the English language hype squad in which my main mission was to make learning fun, and to talk about Justin Bieber and Beyoncé as much as possible. The kids were curious and engaged in learning; they were so loving and sweet… most of the time.
Teaching English in Israel wasn’t without its stresses and frustrations. In the end though, it was awesome and, knowing what I know now, my best advice is to have fun. If you’ve made a child smile, disguised learning English as the coolest thing ever, and possibly taught some actual English, you’ve done your job.
Jennifer (left) and her co-teacher on America Day at their school in Petach Tikvah
I am currently an elementary science teacher at a charter school in Brooklyn. While teaching English in small groups was a much different challenge, I feel like my experience as a Masa Israel Teaching Fellow better prepared me for my future career in a few ways. For one, it was a wonderful resume builder and made a positive impression on prospective employers. Throughout the interview process, I felt like the story of doing something out of my comfort zone and sticking to it despite the difficulties was really well received. Living and teaching in a foreign country was quite tough at times, not unlike most new jobs and experiences. It’s an adjustment and Masa Israel Teaching Fellows truly did improve my ability to make those adjustments with a little more style and grace.
Now that I’m back in New York, I’m continuing to explore where I fit in this incredible community. Whether it’s going to Masa Israel alumni events, Shabbat services for young Jewish professionals, or seeing The Idan Raichel Project at the Beacon Theater, I’ve been open to trying new things that I would have otherwise never considered. My Masa Israel experience opened up my world in a big way and it’s exciting to think that the journey is far from over.
Want to experience Israel like Jennifer did? Apply to become a Masa Israel Teaching Fellow Today!