Altruism and Ideology on Otzma

Altruism and Ideology on Otzma

April 5, 2011

After graduating from Washington University in St. Louis where she majored in Women’s Studies and Italian, Annie Lascoe knew she wanted to spend the year volunteering in Israel.
“I’ve spent a lot of time in European countries and have really enjoyed myself, but when it’s time to leave, I’ve always felt ready,” says Annie. “Between trips to Israel, I’ve only felt those aches to return, like there was something missing in me.”
 
Having previously traveled to Israel with her family, Birthright and Young Judaea summer programs, Annie wanted a longer and more immersive experience, so she enrolled in Otzma, a year-long service-focused program. “I believe in Israel and think that Jews should spend time there and feel like they have a personal stake in the land,” says Annie. “My goal for the year was to take part in contributing to Israel in significant ways.”
 
During the first three months, Annie lived in an absorption center in Ashkelon, learning Hebrew, and volunteering in a foster center and a nursery school at the local Conservative synagogue. Within those first few months, Annie started to feel at home.
 
“I loved speaking Hebrew everyday and I loved having the time to develop my political opinions regarding Israel and Zionism,” says Annie. “But my favorite thing was just seeing the guy selling vegetables on the corner of the street, knowing that the cucumbers and the irrigation tools used to grow them were both created in Israel. Each week, he’d wish me a Shabbat Shalom and it was a clear indication that all my experiences in Israel served the purpose of cultivating my Jewish identity.”
 
In January, along with fellow Otzmaniks from New York and Los Angeles, Annie moved to Rehovot and volunteered at an after-school center for students with special needs, Naamat, a women’s organization, a high school where she taught English, and an Ethiopian community center. There, she also had the opportunity to perform in a Hebrew play alongside Ethiopian teenagers. The only non-Israeli in the play, Annie found it challenging but was thrilled when her friends filled up two rows of the theater.
 
“To have friends in a foreign country loving you and supporting you and believing in what you’re doing is really unique to Otzma,” says Annie. “The choice to contribute to a country for 10 months is a result of altruism and ideology.”
 
In the United States, Annie had worked with nonprofits organizations as well, but often felt like she could not support their whole mission. “So many of them totally vilify Israel though their causes have nothing to do with Israel,” she says. “It was nice to finally be able to work in organizations that I believed in, while being an open Zionist.”
 
A strong feminist, Annie spent her last three months in Israel interning for Galia Albin, a well-known Israeli businesswoman. Annie helped organize her annual Live Hatikva project, which unites people around the world to sing Hatikva on Israel’s Independence Day. Annie appreciated all the advice she received from her accomplished boss. When Galia told her that no matter what she decides to do, Annie should work with people, Annie listened.
 
Though she previously assumed she’d go into business, Annie realized that in order to do the kind of work she hoped to do—be it in a woman’s organization or in a nonprofit that seeks to end human trafficking—she needed a graduate degree in social work. Now living in Manhattan, Annie will begin her studies at Columbia’s School of Social Work in January.
 
“I was sitting with one of my best friends in a bar in Tel Aviv and talking about the things that were most important to me—women’s studies and my personal relationships,” Annie says. “I’d spent the past several months helping people and I knew that’s what I wanted to continue to do. I’m so thankful Otzma helped me realize that.”

Seeking Diversity and Balance while Volunteering Abroad

Seeking Diversity and Balance while Volunteering Abroad

April 11, 2011

After graduating from Brandeis University, Chicago-native Becky Kupchan knew that she wanted to spend the year volunteering abroad and decided to enroll in the WUJS Peace and Social Justice program.
“I hadn’t yet spent time in Israel on my own,” says Becky. “At Brandeis, I sought out a more diverse community and studied abroad in Argentina. WUJS seemed like it struck a good balance with an independent internship and a group aspect.”
 
While living in Jerusalem, Becky interned at the Israel Association for Ethiopian Jews. There she edited grant proposals, worked on North American donor outreach, and blogged about her experiences. She also had the opportunity to visit Ethiopian absorption centers and attend a Supreme Court case related to the Ethiopian population.
 
“I previously worked with Central American immigrants and I was happy to work with another community that needed help,” says Becky.
 
One of her most memorable experiences was the Sigd holiday celebration, which commemorates the Ethiopians’ return to Jerusalem. “It was a very powerful religious ceremony with the kesim leading prayers and everyone in white with decorated umbrellas,” says Becky. “It was incredible to take part in it alongside tens of thousands of Ethiopian Jews.”
 
Aside from her internship, Becky took part in a Hebrew ulpan and trips throughout Israel, which included travels to Latrun and Hebron. She also roomed with three recent graduates, who became good friends.
 
“I learned about Israel in ways that can’t be taught or read in an article. By living there and going grocery shopping and doing things that one does in daily life, I was able to see how impressive Israeli society is and explore my own connection to Israel,” says Becky.
 
While in Israel for Yom Hazikaron, Becky experienced the country-wide siren in Tel Aviv. “I remember thinking that nothing like this would ever happen in America because there isn’t one thing that everyone would agree to have a moment of silence for,” says Becky. “It was beautiful that for once, Israelis, who are always so opinionated, were able to find common ground.”
 
After returning from Israel, Becky became program coordinator at Camp Ramah Wisconsin, the camp she attended growing up. She now works for Shorashim, a nonprofit organization devoted to building bridges between Jews in Israel and around the world, and helps coordinate its Birthright trips.
 
“My Masa Israel experience helped me prioritize the things that are important to me,” says Becky. “There’s something about Israel that really draws me in and I love being able to send others there.”

Stretching limits and appreciating nature at Hakfar Hayarok

<div class="masa-blog-title">Stretching limits and appreciating nature at Hakfar Hayarok </div>

 
By Adi Raz, Because We Care
 
After graduating from Santa Clara University I was faced with the challenge of figuring out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I had studied psychology, but was a bit wary of the counseling profession and didn’t know if it was for me. I decided that I needed a change of scene to clear my head before I made any life altering decisions.
 

Drawing the URJ Connection

<div class="masa-blog-title">Drawing the URJ Connection</div>

 
 
Goldman Union Camp Institute (GUCI) is one of many URJ camps and communities in the United States and was one of the most important parts of my childhood. I started at GUCI when I was 9 years old, eager and ready to experience the joys of camp that I had heard so much about from my older brother and many friends from my Jewish community in Dayton, Ohio.
 

8 crazy nights (or days) out for Hannukah

<div class="masa-blog-title">8 crazy nights (or days) out for Hannukah</div>

 
With eight whole days of celebration, you’re probably looking for ways to make the most out of the festival of lights—Israeli style!
 

Life on Ahaliya Street

<div class="masa-blog-title">Life on Ahaliya Street</div>

By Rachel Zieleniec, Yahel Social Change Program
 
The Yahel program sits on a few guiding principles: humility, collaboration, cross-culture, empowerment and sustainability.
 
Although these might seem like they are just “buzz words” – this program is truly unique in the fact that we are making each one of these principles come to life throughout our work in Gedera.  This program isn’t a typical American-l
 

Otzma’s education day in the Negev

<div class="masa-blog-title">Otzma’s education day in the Negev</div>

 
By Nikki Avershal, OTZMA, Philadelphia, PA
 
OTZMA is more than Americans volunteering in Israel.
 

Masa Israel forges new partnerships with global service organizations

Masa Israel forges new partnerships with global service organizations

Masa Israel forges new partnerships with global service organizations

November 24, 2010

With young adults’ growing interest in international volunteer opportunities, Masa Israel is making Israel a global hub for service programs.
Representatives from leading American service organizations, including Teach for America, Peace Corps, City Year, Repair the World and other organizations traveled to Israel this week to explore volunteering opportunities offered through Masa Israel Journey.
 
A participant on one of the Masa Israel service programs, Yahel Social Change Program, had the opportunity to meet with the delegation:
 
"This past week we had the opportunity to host the Masa Delegation in Gedera and tell them a bit about what Yahel is doing here. The Delegation was made up of Jewish and non-Jewish directors, presidents and founders from some of the top direct service organizations in the world including City Year, Peace Corps, Joint Distribution Committee, American Jewish World Service and Teach for America. Out of about 150 Masa programs, they chose Yahel as one of the five or six programs to come visit. We were honored, excited and nervous all at the same time. A few of us created a presentation that exemplified our experience so far and in what ways we’ve incorporated the words of empowerment, humility, initiative, cross-culture, sustainability and collaboration into our time here. In times of contentment and/or confusion, I look to these words and figure out how or if they connect to the situation.
 
After our presentation, community members made the delegates a traditional Ethiopian meal. During our meal together, we spoke to them about our lives, how we got to where we are and where we hope to be in the future. The feedback that the program and we received was incredibly uplifting."

Learning from a Jewish hero

<div class="masa-blog-title">Learning from a Jewish hero</div>

By Cara Frazin, Masa Israel Campus Intern, University of Illinois at Chicago
 
On September 15, 2010, I had the rare opportunity to meet Natan Sharansky before the annual Jewish Federation Annual Meeting Luncheon where he was the main speaker.
 
As an active participant with the Levine Hillel at the University of Illinois at Chicago and as the Masa Israel intern for my campus, I spend a lot of time educating people about Israel and promoting Israel advocacy. When I was invited by The Hillels o