At the time I decided to spend a year abroad on Masa Israel Teaching Fellows my life was in a whirlwind. For a long time I had a desire to volunteer abroad and with my current situation, I had to take the plunge. I researched different regions and programs throughout the world yet, something within my heart was always drawn to Israel.
I knew I could choose to go where ever I wanted, but Israel had a hold on me. I knew it was the right place to spend this year giving back to my people in our homeland. Although the decision to go to Israel was easy, I was concerned about language barriers, since my Hebrew skills from my Bat Mitzvah era were long gone, plus I had no friends or family in Israel.
Everyone and I mean EVERYONE thought I was crazy. People asked me “are you scared, isn’t Israel always at war?” “Why would you go somewhere you don’t speak the language and know no one?” I took these questions in stride and smiled.
My only response was “No, Israel is amazing and not dangerous” and “yes, I am crazy.”
I come from a strong Zionist home where Israel, Jewish life and strong connection to giving to the Jewish people was fostered and encouraged.
So, my mind was made up, I was like I said before, taking the plunge and going to Israel. I was so blessed to have a family who not only supported my decision but also encouraged me to go and give back to our homeland.
When my plane landed in Tel Aviv, I was every feeling emotion under the sun. It all didn’t seem real on the ride over- it felt like a quick trip and then I would home in a few weeks. When I got to the youth village is when it all started to sink in.
The first few months of school were tough. I took part in the pilot program of the Youth Villages for Masa Israel Teaching Fellows and we were year one and the very first participants to experience teaching in a youth village. To give the expression, too many cooks in the kitchen would be an understatement. You’ll learn soon that although Israel is the startup nation and uber successful, things can sometimes be a balagon (a mess). With that being said the beginning of my MITF program, there were a lot of people and organizations trying to make it the best it could possibly be, which at times was frustrating.
It took until the winter for there to be some clear direction and method to the madness of starting a new program. By the first break, the program seemed to have found its rhythm. Everything was on track. Being with the students in the midst of all the bumps of the program was the highlight and being able to work with them in a way that the teachers were unable to make me feel like I was truly doing what I came to Israel to do, make an impact.
I held many late night study groups and early morning prep sessions. I worked with the students on their chores and had meals with them in the evening. The students took me in as a friend and mentor, which made the Youth Village feel like home.
Through the support of the village community, I was able to have the confidence to explore Israel and fell in love with the desert, the cities and all of Israel’s wonders. I ventured from the North to the South, heard stories from Israelis, made friends with members outside the Jewish community, learned about the challenges each community faces, saw the diversity and freedom each community has in Israel.
I saw the amazing landscapes, enjoyed Shabbat meals with strangers that felt like family, cried when there was conflict, prayed for safety, discovered the depth of social, political and community issues facing this land. My Zionism became even stronger and I reconnected with my Jewish roots in a way that I thought I never would. I have always been an advocate for Israel, now I find myself to be a fierce and loyal ally. Always standing up for her rights, not afraid of engaging with people who want to see Israel off the map or try to misrepresent it.
I came back to America stronger in so many ways, but I am strongest now in my love, loyalty, and devotion to protect Israel. I came back home with my heart still in in Israel, ready and prepared to do my part in protecting Israel and the Jewish people.