Jamie Gold, 28, attended Hebrew school at her Reform synagogue from fourth grade through high school. While most would consider the Northridge, California native’s Jewish affiliation to be above average, Jamie never felt a strong connection to the greater Jewish community or Israel.
“I was just going through the motions,” Jamie explains, looking back at her Hebrew school years. “I was doing what I was supposed to do, but none of it was very meaningful to me.”
As soon as she finished Hebrew School, Jamie’s Jewish affiliation seemingly ceased to exist. As a student at the University of California, Santa Barbara, Jamie was not involved in Jewish life on campus. Though, she still found herself surrounded by Jewish friends.
“When I went on Birthright, Israel wasn’t even on my radar,” Jamie explains. Instead, she saw the trip as an opportunity to take a free 10-day vacation with her friends. However, within days of her arrival, Jamie felt completely at home and connected to Israel. “There was a sense of community that was missing from my life in LA.”
Toward the end of her trip, Jamie ran into Morgan Kaczor, an acquaintance from Los Angeles (and now Masa Israel’s West Coast Regional Director), who was travelling on another Birthright bus. Both young women discussed their desires to stay in Israel for a longer period of time, at which point Jamie’s friend mentioned her plans to become a Masa Israel Teaching Fellow.
Through her child psychology courses and volunteer work in an elementary school during college, Jamie had developed a passion for education. She was intrigued and researched the program as soon as she arrived home in California. While she briefly considered a Masa Israel internship program, Jamie was already thinking about leaving the corporate world to pursue her interests in education. Masa Israel Teaching Fellows provided Jamie with the perfect opportunity to change her career path and explore the new sense of Jewish identity that she discovered in Israel during her ten days on Birthright.
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Within days of her return to the U.S., Jamie applied to be a Masa Israel Teaching Fellow and started attending events at Moishe House West LA. A few weeks later, she was accepted to the program and quit her job, so she could enjoy the summer with her friends and family before moving to Rishon LeZion in September of 2012.
In Israel, Jamie found that Masa Israel Teaching Fellows created the perfect environment for her to develop teaching and lesson planning skills. She worked with small groups of students outside of the classroom, which gave her more flexibility and space for creativity than a traditional classroom setting.
Instead of relying on workbooks and conversation guides, Jamie looked to the internet for inspiration. As she sifted through a goldmine of educational information and resources, Jamie found ways to integrate American holidays into her lessons, as well as songs and poetry. These additions to the curriculum were so successful that many of Jamie’s Israeli colleagues implemented similar changes to their lesson plans.
By the end of the year, both Jamie and the teachers in the school noticed the most improvement among the ‘problem’ students and those struggling to keep up with the rest of the class. Jamie came to realize that her students saw working with her as a privilege. “They wanted to speak to me because I was relatable,” Jamie explains. “Since I couldn’t speak Hebrew, they were forced to try to speak English.”
Yet, Jamie was not the only person doing the teaching that year. As one of the few Masa Israel Teaching Fellows placed in a middle school, Jamie’s students gave her unique perspectives on Israeli life. “They taught me about being Israeli and how they grew up,” Jamie remembers. As she helped her eldest students prepare for high school, she found them already planning for their future service in the Israel Defense Forces.
As a result of her Masa Israel Teaching Fellows experience, Jamie chose to pursue a career in Jewish education. Upon returning to Los Angeles, Jamie moved into the Moishe House in West L.A. and enrolled in the DeLeT program at Hebrew Union College. “Masa Israel Teaching Fellows is the only reason I was picked for the HUC program,” Jamie says. She believes it gave her the necessary Israel and teaching experiences to be a top-notch Jewish educator.
Jamie graduated from the DeLeT program this summer and recently joined the Moishe House staff as Director of Alumni Engagement. In an effort to combine her love of teaching and Jewish communal work, Jamie teaches Hebrew school part-time and remains an active member of the Los Angeles Masa Israel Alumni Board.
“It’s ironic that someone who at one point felt completely unengaged has now made it her career to develop ways to engage and strengthen the Jewish community,” Jamie notes.