My Masa Journey in Israelby Emily Gould August 13, 2019
Graduating from college is an exciting time to celebrate an accomplishment and finally move on from sixteen years of schooling. Many graduates are faced with the crippling anxiety of what to do next. We’re all so focused on getting past our FINAL final exams that no one talks about the post-graduation limbo which you abruptly fall into. School is over! But now what?
I found myself in just this situation during Spring 2017; no longer sure of
what sort of career I wanted to pursue, I decided to prolong this inevitable job juncture and run away to a foreign country. Incidentally, I opened up my email one morning to find an offer from Masa, an Israeli company–whose name means journey in Hebrew–that offers year-long English teaching fellowships (and internships) in Israel. Bingo. Opportunity knocked, and I answered the door.
Several months later I found myself boarding a sixteen-hour flight to Tel Aviv. It wasn’t until we paused for a layover in Toronto and I met a few other participants that I realized I really hadn’t put enough thought into this decision; I wondered if I’d made the right choice to live in a foreign country where I didn’t speak the language, had no real desire to pursue a career in teaching, and knew no one.
In hindsight, it’s clear that we all had these thoughts. Everyone was nervous, weird, and jet-lagged. The first week was a blur of navigating a new city, trying (and failing) to speak Hebrew to shopkeepers, and deciding who to be friends with. These were challenges I was entirely unprepared for. However, once we settled into the swing of things, the first month was arguably the most fun of our entire lives: spending long days at the beach, exploring Bat Yam, Yafo, and Tel Aviv, and eating more shawarma than I ever thought was possible.
To our chagrin, the long holiday came to an end when teaching began. Now we had to spend long days at school working hard to communicate with children who didn’t speak English and were not invested in learning–or so we thought. I remember that first day walking into Herzl School so clearly; a large banner saying “Welcome Masa Teaching Fellows!” greeted us at the entry, my host teacher had made us leis with name tags and goodie bags, and throngs of students ran up to hug us and tried their best to speak English with us.
This feeling of essentially being local celebrities did not fade for the entire length of the program; the kids never tired of us (nor we of them), parents and school staff invited us to Shabbat dinners, and even people on the streets of our small town knew us as “the Americans.”
What a contrast this love for each other and the Israelis was to the pain of having to leave Israel in June. I’ve never been more emotional than when I attended the 6th graders’ graduation to middle school, had my last day as a teaching fellow, said goodbye to roommates one-by-one, and was the last to leave our apartment–our home for the past year.
Despite all of these endings, we’ve managed to keep in contact with most everyone: staff from Masa and school, students we taught and their families, and our friends from the program and Israel. This has proved especially difficult as almost none of us live in the same state or even country. However, our dedication to remaining in contact has proved a true testament to the bonds we forged in Israel.
Arriving back in San Diego, I found myself back at a similar crossroads as I had the previous year with what to do with my life. However, this time I felt more properly equipped to handle the situation.
Before returning home from my Masa journey, I met Jane Fantel (Director of Israel Connections at the San Diego Jewish Federation) to tell her about the MITF program and what exactly it was all about. Because the San Diego Jewish Federation is a donor for these types of Masa programs, it was important to me that she understood how impactful the program was not only for the students that we were teaching, but also for us, the teaching fellows. The professional skills in and out of the classroom, as well as the confidence and life experience that one gains from living in a foreign country, were truly invaluable and unexpected assets.
I also talked with Miri Ketayi (Director of the Israel and Overseas Advisory Board at the San Diego Jewish Federation), and she is hopeful that the MITF programs will soon include fellows living in Sha’ar Hanegev–San Diego’s sister region, as “the Jewish Federation strongly believes in the importance of building meaningful relationships between the San Diego Jewish community and Israel.” She said that the Federation “achieve[s] this goal by sending San Diegans to Israel, and creating a strong partnership with Sha’ar Hanegev.” Ketayi also hopes that having an MITF cohort in Sha’ar Hanegev will encourage more San Diegans to teach there, and thereby strengthen the bonds between the two cities.
Since being back in Southern California, the members of the Jewish Federation have been extremely kind and welcoming to me; they have helped me further the skills that I learned from Masa and MITF by providing me with unique networking opportunities and maintaining my connection to Israel. On top of that, the experience of working in the classroom with Israeli children allowed me to discover that I am truly passionate about teaching, and am now pursuing it as a career.
While in Israel, Masa made sure to prepare us for the future by having seminars on career development, geopolitics, and even offering TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) certifications. I’m eternally grateful for the many practical and business-related skills things that Masa taught me. However, I’m even more grateful for the friendships, self-confidence, and perspective that living in Israel brought me.
This fall, there are hundreds of new Masa participants, 25 of them from San Diego. Speaking from personal experience, I know that people will get out of the program what they put into it; I and many of the people on my program went far out of our comfort zones to meet new people, live in a new country, speak a new language, and learn a new set of skills. I hope that this coming year brings participants as much joy as it brought me, and that they learn from their students, the citizens, and the culture overall to find out what they are truly passionate about.