By Sergio Carmona
Kenneth Hice of Palmetto Bay had a life-changing experience in Israel that shaped his connection to his Judaism more than two years ago.
Hice was a participant of Masa Israel Teaching Fellows (MITF), a program that brings American Jews to Israel to gain valuable teaching experience as they help to close Israel’s achievement gap by teaching English to Israeli students. It is a 10-month service-learning fellowship for high-achieving Jewish college graduates ages 21 to 30 and allows these young professionals to gain international teaching and social work experience in Israel.
Before participating at MITF a couple of years ago, Hice had very little connection to Judaism and his Jewish identity. However, by the end of his 10-month trip in Israel, he had a much stronger sense of his place in the Jewish world,and even learned Hebrew while there.
“It definitely was life-changing,” Hice said about the trip. “To be honest, I had never been to a bar mitzvah or a bat mitzvah. I had never really been to temple or been able to celebrate beyond basic holidays with family and friends. I had never worn a kippah here in the states. However on this trip, I was able to go to the Western Wall multiple times, I was able to converse with rabbis and I was able to really immerse myself in the culture and understand what it exactly meant to be Jewish and do it.”
Since this experience, Hice said he has become more culturally Jewish.
“I’ve been to a few Shabbat dinners since my experience in Israel where before this experience I might have been to a total of two in my life,” he said. “I’ve had positive connections with people who I met overseas and I now have more understanding of when Jewish holidays start where before I most likely wouldn’t have done much to celebrate and understand what they mean. Now I know the background of the holidays and what it means to celebrate them.”
Tamar Zilbershatz, director of Gap & Service Programs for Masa Israel Journey, said about Hice’s participation in the program: “Kenneth’s work outside of the classroom engaged students in a fun way to help them learn English better. His dedication and effort were greatly valued by Israeli teachers.”
MITF is a joint initiative of the Israeli Ministry of Education, Masa Israel Journey and The Jewish Agency for Israel. Masa Israel Journey is a project of the Government of Israel and the Jewish Agency for Israel and is made possible through the contributions of the Jewish Federations of North America and Keren Hayesod-UIA.