Josh Dickinson

Josh Dickinson

Tikkun Olam in Tel Aviv-Jaffa
It was my first day of volunteering with Masa Israel's Tikkun Olam Tel Aviv-Jaffa, a 5-month volunteer program, and I was spending my morning at an all-boys' religious school called Ironi Het in the Tel Aviv neighborhood of Yad Eliyahu. I had just finished introducing myself when the questions started to pour in.
 
“Do you like the Boston Celtics?” (Of course.)
 
“Is it cold in Boston?” (Yes, very cold and very snowy.)
 
“Have you been to Israel before?” (Yes, I was here this summer on Taglit-Birthright.)
 
“Do you like Israel?” (Very much so. That’s why I decided to come back to volunteer.)
 
“Are you going to make Aliyah?” (Uh.. that’s a more serious conversation for another time..)
 
“Do you live above the convenience store?”
 
This last question made me laugh out loud. One of the apartments that houses volunteers happens to be above a convenience store. Apparently, it has become known as the “American apartment” in Kiryat Shalom, an otherwise small, mostly Orthodox, neighborhood in southern Tel Aviv. Many of the students I work with at Ironi Het live in Kiryat Shalom as well. 
 
Although I volunteer at three other places, my experience at Ironi Het has been the most interesting thus far. The best way I can describe the school is with the Hebrew word, “balagan,” meaning, chaotic. It is noisy, with kids running around everywhere, and no one listening to anyone else. While the teachers do not seem fazed by any of this, it seems impossible to get anything done. Luckily, as an English tutor, I usually take a few students to a quieter room, where we can work without distractions.
 
Because I'm not religious, I had to acclimate to the school's religious environment. Having only worn a kippah twice in my life—once at my friend's bar mitzvah way back when and again when I visited the Western Wall over the summer—I initially felt uncomfortable wearing one every day. But here I am now, with a nice little kippah I bought at the market for a mere ten shekels. Some of the boys have asked me if I’ve been to synagogue since I came to Israel. I haven’t. I wonder if they would have asked me this if I did not have to wear the kippah. 
 
One of my broad goals for the year is to “make a difference,” which is a goal I share with the other volunteers. But, we have learned that the impact of our work probably will not be readily apparent to us. Though we all like to see results, this knowledge has helped us keep things in perspective. Then again, one of the students who previously showed no interest in English recently asked to work with me. I was glad to hear this and look forward to helping him improve his English over the next few months, while he helps me improve my Hebrew.
 
Josh Dickinson grew up in Natick, MA, received his undergraduate degree from Boston University and his law degree from Northeastern University School of Law.

Lauren Zink

Lauren Zink

Otzma
 
In 2009 I was just beginning my senior year of college at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Connecticut. Like every student getting ready to graduate, I was thinking ahead to what I was going to do after I received my degree in public relations and marketing. I thought about choosing the more typical path and looking for a job. But I knew in my heart that this was not the path I wanted to take yet. Ever since I was little I had wanted to carve out some time in my life to volunteer, and I wanted that volunteer work to be done in Israel.
 
Growing up in Pittsfield, Massachusetts I had attended Hebrew School until I was 18. I was also an active member of United Synagogue Youth (USY). One summer I participated in USY on Wheels, a six-and-a-half week cross-country journey with other Jewish young adults. It was this trip, along with Birthright, which made me realize how much I love being in an environment with Jewish peers, learning and sharing new experiences.
 
Masa Israel’s OTZMA is a ten-month long program incorporating all of these things I was looking for: living in Israel like an Israeli, contributing to the country through volunteer work, making new friends, and learning the Hebrew language. I especially loved the variety of the program. While living in three locations during our year in Israel, we first focus on learning Hebrew and doing some volunteer work, then we fully immerse ourselves in volunteer work, and lastly we have the opportunity to live on a kibbutz or intern inTel Aviv or Jerusalem.
 
This is how my first month experience looked like. We were living in an absorption center in Ashqelon, Israel with Ethiopian immigrants and other Israeli volunteers who were taking a year off before they enter the army. Although this place was not as nice as the types of places I was used to live in, it became my new home. After all, home is where the heart is, and right now my heart is in Israel. 
 
I started taking Ulpan, an intensive Hebrew course, which is five hours a day, five days a week. In Ashqelon, not everyone can speak English and it was great to be able to practice my Hebrew speaking skills outside of the classroom. I also knew that it was crucial to learn as much as I can for part two of the program when I lived in Rehovot. The more I know, the more I will be able to volunteer and help my community and this has been nothing but motivational when it is time for me to study. 
 
My favorite volunteer opportunity was painting an apartment, which was easily the most disgusting living quarters I have ever seen, with bedrooms containing only a bed, cat hairballs strewn all over the floor and a stench from the bathroom lingering throughout the apartment. But I must admit that as we painted, the place certainly started to improve. That day I learned that a little bit can really go a long way. 
 
When the other Otzmanikim and I decided to take a break, we made our way up to the roof. It was in that moment that I realized that no matter how much paint was splattered on my body and face, or how gross the apartment was, there is always surrounding beauty. The area was not the nicest part of town, but that did not take away from the cool night air that we could feel and the beautiful landscapes that we could see. 
 
There have been many moments like this one in Israel. At times I was very frustrated or quite homesick for certain things. But at the end of every day when I got ready to go to sleep I thought to myself how I am nothing but fortunate to be here and able to dedicate my time to something that I am so passionate about. 
On our Sukkot break, I chose to travel to Jordan. There I was able to experience a new culture and see what one of Israel’s neighboring countries is like. I think the best part of the experience for me however, was realizing how much I missed Israel and looked forward to returning to what now truly feels like home. 
 
OTZMA gave me a little slice of the pie of what the rest of my experience will be. If the other slices taste as good as that one, then I cannot wait for the new knowledge, experiences, and memories that will surely have lifelong impacts.

Kassandra Grunewald

Kassandra Grunewald

Otzma
 
Raised in a Minnesotan town with a small Jewish population, Judaism was a peripheral part of Kassandra Grunewald’s life. “My Jewish friends and my daily friends were always separate. They were two different sides of me,” she said.
 
With a large Jewish population as its main appeal, Kassandra enrolled in Boston University, becoming active in the Hillel and taking multiple Jewish courses. After graduation, Kassandra joined OTZMA to work and volunteer in Israel, where she believed she could continue leading a Jewish life. 
 
During the internship stage, Kassandra lived in Tel Aviv and worked for businesswoman Galia Albin on a project called, Live Hatikva. Albin envisioned a broadcast in which a record-breaking number of Jews in Israel and around the world would sing Hatikva at a specific time on Israel’s 60th Independence Day. The initiative was meant to unite Jews in Israel and around the world in celebration of Israel, to revive the national anthem’s words, and to make it into the Guinness Book of World Records. Kassandra coordinated this event in Jewish communities throughout the English-speaking world. 
 
“In Israel, people aren’t used to having interns, so either they will give you envelopes to stuff or they will send you into the courtroom,” Kassandra said. In addition to contacting every Hillel inNorth America and many other Jewish organizations, Kassandra worked to ensure that each group involved in the project was filmed – a Guinness Book of World Records regulation. 
 
In the end, the initiative included 30 states and 20 countries, with groups ranging from three to 5,000 people. On May 7, 2008, at 10:50 P.M., Jews from all around the world sang Hatikva while simultaneously watching live broadcasts of Israeli communities doing the same. “It was bigger than anything I had ever imagined I’d be a part of,” Kassandra said. 
 
After the event, Kassandra received emails of appreciation from participants around the world. “So many of them hadn’t even been to Israel and, yet, this had made them feel so connected,” she said. The U.J.C. expressed interest in making the Live Hatikva initiative annual. 
 
At the end of her nine months with OTZMA, Kassandra decided to make Aliyah and continue her work for Live Hatikva. 
 
“I’m not that religious, but Israeli culture is one of closeness, of family. People on the street will tell you to use their cell phone and will try to lend you money,” she said. “And, if I haven’t had enough of Israel for the year, then it makes sense to stay.” 

Lindsay Rothschild

Lindsay Rothschild

Otzma
After her Birthright trip to Israel during college, Short Hills-native Lindsey Rothschild knew she had to return. “I know it’s cliché, but I just really fell in love with it,” she says. “While at the Kotel, I ran into a recent Northwestern alum who was on a Masa Israel Journey program and I thought to myself, this has to be me next year.”
 
With the encouragement of the Hillel Israel Engagement professional at Northwestern, Lindsey enrolled in Masa Israel’s OTZMA, a ten-month service-oriented program. “When I bumped into another Northwestern student at the Kotel during my first Shabbat on OTZMA, I was really happy to have come full circle,” she says.
 
During her ten months in Israel, Lindsey lived and volunteered in various cities. Starting off in Ashkelon, Lindsey lived in an absorption center, took an intensive Hebrew course and volunteered in a local foster home and synagogue. After spending a few weeks studying at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies, Lindsey moved to Ofakim, Metro West’s Partnership 2000 sister city. 
 
When Lindsey arrived, she met a visiting yoga delegation from the Metro West area. Spearheaded by a woman who had participated in the first OTZMA, Lindsey, who also had experience teaching yoga, was inspired to start her own program. “I thought it would be a great thing for the community, and they responded really well to it,” says Lindsey. Lindsey held classes for teenaged girls from the local center for troubled youth, as well as middle-aged women. “The teenagers would only participate if I put on really non-yoga pop music but after a few minutes, they’d just end up dancing,” says Lindsey. “Then I got the community’s Israeli volunteer to join and they started to get into it.” 
 
After leaving Ofakim, Lindsey went to Tel Aviv, where she worked in the marketing department of the Women’s International Zionist Organization (WIZO), updating the English website and improving the content. “My boss really reached out to me, inviting me to her home, press conferences and WIZO-benefactor site visits throughout the country,” says Lindsey.
 
The highlight of Lindsey’s year was having the opportunity to take part in the weeklong Desert Queen Journey, a Jewish Agency-sponsored jeep challenge for women from Israel and the Diaspora. As part of a Masa Israel team with other participants from England, Argentina and Canada, Lindsey learned how to drive a jeep in the desert, gained biblical knowledge, took part in team-building activities and ate incredible food. The theme of the journey was “Freedom” and two of the Journey participants were women whose brothers had been captured and killed in the Second Lebanon War. Lindsey also had the opportunity to meet Gilad Schalit’s parents. 
 
“The whole experience was very moving,” says Lindsey, “One night, my group put on a skit about what it means to grow up outside of Israel. We were really able to have important discussions and learn about each other’s perspectives.” At the end of the Journey, the Desert Queen participants chose the Masa Israel women as the winning team.
 
After Lindsey returned from Otzma, she landed a job in the Jewish world. Lindsey is excited to begin a Hebrew ulpan course in New York in a week.

Rachel Zieleniec

Rachel Zieleniec

Yahel Social Change Program
Program: 
After graduating from Ohio University, I knew I wanted to spend a year volunteering in Israel. While in college, I started Bobcats for Israel, the pro-Israel group on campus, and volunteered at Ethiopian absorption centers during an alternative spring break trip to Israel. This sparked my passion for the Ethiopian community and compelled me to enroll in Masa Israel’s Yahel Social Change, a five-month service program among the Ethiopian community in Gedera.
 
Though that was my fifth time in Israel, I saw a side of Israel that is completely new to me. Every week, I took part in Homework at Home, a home-based tutoring project meant to empower families to create positive learning environments for their children.
On my first day of tutoring, I entered one of my student’s homes to find it covered in trash. It was impossible to differentiate between the furniture and the floor, and there was no place to work. At my other student’s home, the situation was only slightly better—amid the blaring TV and screaming babies, at least we could find a surface to work on.
 
Things did not immediately improve, but I consistently showed up with pencils and paper so that we could get to work. Now, three months later, my student’s mother turns on the light when it’s tutoring time. She lowers the volume on the television and tells the babies to quiet down. A few weeks ago, the whole family joined the tutoring session, and watched their child answer question after question correctly in English. I will never forget the mother’s smile when I wrote 100 on her child’s paper.
 
These kids have a ton of potential, but need a safe space to grow. In weekly hangouts at the community trailer, we set up food and games, and gave them a place to blow off steam. With Chaverim b’Teva, a nonprofit that seeks to empower the Ethiopian Israeli community, we tried to empower the kids and their families to feel pride in their background.
 
Aside from feeling lucky that I was able to see small improvements in the children and families around me, I also felt fortunate that I was able to immerse myself in such a rich culture. Seeing another community express their Judaism in a way that is different from my own has made my Judaism so much broader. Historically, Ethiopian Jews do not celebrate Chanukah because they did not have access to the holiday’s roots, but on the last night of Chanukah, we led a celebratory camping trip for them.
 
In the middle of the forest, a counselor, who had set up a DJ booth, announced that it was time to light candles. Instead of saying the prayers in the quiet way that I am accustomed to, the counselor turned on a techno/reggae version of the blessings and the kids started singing them from the top of their lungs. I had never experienced such a display of Jewish pride, and it was amazing to see them not only celebrate a holiday that their ancestors never even knew about, but to see them make it their own.
 
In just a few months, it’s been incredible to become immersed in this community—to experience its frustrations and celebrate its successes. For a person coming right out of college, I cannot imagine a more inspiring opportunity.

Naomi Siegel

Naomi Siegel

LIFE
A few years after graduating from the University of Wisconsin and working in the non-profit world, I wanted to go back to Israel. During high school I spent a semester in Israel, but because it was the Intifada, I had little opportunity to explore the country. When I found out about Masa Israel's LIFE program, a nine-month service-learning program in Israel and India, I knew it was the perfect fit. I had also been very drawn to traveling to India, but I didn’t know the opportunity would appear so soon in my life. As part of the LIFE program, I would have the opportunity to not only spend time in both countries, but to give back while doing so. There I would be able to pursue community projects with the support of NGOs, working and living alongside the local populations.
 
Backed by an NGO that worked to promote sustainable rural development, I worked with another LIFE participant to develop an art curriculum for Indian schools. Observing elementary schools throughout the state, we were able to create a curriculum that spoke to the needs and interests of the students and teachers. Ultimately, the curriculum called for the use of recycled materials, which not only added an element of environmental awareness to the curriculum, but also made the projects accessible to students from every economical caste. We also created a teacher-training program that encouraged student participation and alternative methods of teaching that utilized art, music and drama. Eight teachers from all different types of schools received this training as well as a CD full of lesson plan ideas.
 
In Israel, I had the opportunity to use my background in alternative medicine to organize an event for the One Family Fund, a support center for victims of terror and their families. In addition to donating my skills as a Reiki Master, I recruited 18 alternative medicine practitioners to offer massage, reflexology, and other healing modalities. I matched individuals to the right practitioners and witnessed beautiful transformations from both givers and receivers.
 
To complement our work in the field, we traveled throughout Israel and India, meeting leaders in non-profits that have significantly impacted the different countries and took part in discussions about social action and cultural sensitivity. With participants from Israel, North America and England, and mentors from India and Israel, we were constantly challenged to look at issues from diverse perspectives, creating an environment of constant learning and growth.
 
Back in the United States, the knowledge I gained through Masa Israel's LIFE program has proven to be invaluable as I take part in creating a center for social activism and sustainable community in Washington. At the center, leaders and activists will learn about social change, leadership and personal wellness. I also continue to practice Reiki healing and network with other practitioners interested in social change. Once again, I am creating something from nothing, and I feel confident in the guidance I gained from LIFE.
 
I encourage more young adults to take on the challenge of LIFE.

Lisa Wilder

Lisa Wilder

Oranim Community Involvement
As a volunteer English teacher in Israel, I recently took a class trip to Caesarea, the picturesque coastal city scattered with Roman ruins. The tour was conducted entirely in Hebrew and I was thrilled that I understood so much of it. Yet, that didn’t stop me from joking and chatting with the students in English throughout the trip. I was amazed that visiting a historical site with 2,000-year-old ruins constitutes an ordinary field trip in Israel. After almost five months in Israel, I've stopped being surprised by things that would be out of the ordinary in other places.
 
I came to Israel for the first time four years ago on Birthright. I loved it and knew I had to return the first chance I had. After graduating from Carleton University with a degree in Public Affairs and Policy Management, I decided to head to Israel through Masa Israel Journey. I am so glad I kept my word.
 
As one of nine volunteers with Oranim’s Community Involvement program, I have spent the last five months living in Ness Ziona, a small community outside of Tel Aviv, and volunteering as an English teacher at a local middle school. One of my favourite activities with the students is interpreting fairy tales and presenting them to the class, which I did with grade 7 students.
 
Before this experience I never realized how much I would enjoy working with students. Even though I do not plan on becoming a teacher, I know that I want to continue working with children from this age group because they are so full of creative energy.
 
Teaching older students is more challenging because it is harder to make an impression on them. However, it is very rewarding when we do manage to impress them, as we did when we assigned them a MadLibs activity and led a debate in English.
 
Aside from becoming part of the Ness Ziona community through my teaching, I have had the opportunity to become close to my mishpacha ma’arahat (host family). Not only have they given me extra support while in Israel, but they have welcomed the other eight Oranim volunteers into their home as well.
 
My host parents’ seven-year-old son, Lotem, is the best Hebrew teacher I have ever had. We only speak in Hebrew and he is not afraid to correct my mistakes. His family has never been to Canada but they told me that a future trip there is inevitable. Hosting them in Canada is the least I can do, considering the amazing trips, meals, and genuine care they have provided me with over the past few months.
 
Living in Israel has brought the kinds of challenges and joys that I could never have experienced on a short trip. Though I will soon leave Israel to begin law school at the University of Toronto, I know that I will always be looking for an excuse to return. With my new family and friends, those excuses won’t be hard to find.

Rachel Present

Rachel Present

Otzma
Age: 23
Hometown: Rochester, NY (USA)
Profession: Student, activist
Hobbies/interests: American politics, cooking
Masa program: Otzma 
Future plans: Work on Capital Hill in Washington DC
 
Rachel came to Israel after the war with Lebanon as a volunteer to help with Israel's recovery. As an Otzma participant, Rachel worked with Druze, Arab-Israeli, Palestinian, Christian and Jewish children in the pediatric oncology ward at Haifa's Rambam hospital. 

Getting ahead, and giving back

<div class="masa-blog-title">Getting ahead, and giving back</div>

 
By Rina Gluckman, Otzma
 
I chose to participate in Otzma at the age of 23 because it had everything I wanted in an experience abroad.
 
During the first part of the program, I lived in northern Israel with other Otzma participants and volunteered at the Nazeret Elite absorption center with new Israeli immigrants. With my economics degree and business interests, I was in heaven.
 

Safety and security

Safety and security

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