Am­bi­tions as a Masa teach­ing fel­low

The Jerusalem Post - The Jerusalem Post Magazine - - OBSERVATIO­NS - • ZACHARY KEYSER The writer was a Masa Is­rael Teach­ing Fel­low­ship par­tic­i­pant dur­ing the school year of 20172018 and is cur­rently a break­ing news edi­tor for The Jerusalem Post.

Last year, I par­tic­i­pated in the Masa Is­rael Teach­ing Fel­low­ship, which is funded by the Ed­u­ca­tion Min­istry and Jew­ish Agency. The pro­gram brings Di­as­pora col­lege grad­u­ates from English-speak­ing coun­tries to Is­rael to teach English to ele­men­tary school pupils for 10 months.

In ad­di­tion, dur­ing the year, nor­mally on Sun­days, we would travel around Is­rael, learn­ing about the coun­try in an ex­panded, year-round, Birthright-type fash­ion.

I left my job, my life, my friends, my fam­ily, to spend a year of my life vol­un­teer­ing for what I be­lieve to be a greater cause than my­self – the ed­u­ca­tion and wel­fare of the chil­dren of Is­rael.

I felt that I could do some real good for the coun­try. English is im­por­tant for Is­raelis to learn, es­pe­cially chil­dren, for many rea­sons. It not only helps their chances to get what­ever job they want down the line, it also can con­trib­ute to build­ing the econ­omy and as­sist­ing the State of Is­rael in con­nect­ing with the rest of the world even fur­ther in the fu­ture.

Why vol­un­teer in this coun­try in par­tic­u­lar? Full dis­clo­sure: I’m not a re­li­gious per­son. I had been to Is­rael once be­fore, but I didn’t speak a lick of He­brew. Still, some­thing in me has al­ways had a con­nec­tion to, and a want to live in, Is­rael, but I don’t even truly un­der­stand it my­self. Maybe it’s the sense of be­long­ing, be­ing in a coun­try with other Jew­ish peo­ple. In Amer­ica, I would never ad­ver­tise my Ju­daism, and when I went to school in West Vir­ginia, to some peo­ple I was the first Jew­ish per­son they had ever met. Go fig­ure.

I WAS ac­cepted into Masa Is­rael Teach­ing Fel­low­ship Haifa, and it was the city’s first year of par­tic­i­pa­tion in the pro­gram. Masa Is­rael also holds pro­grams in 15 other cities across the coun­try.

In my city, I was joined by 19 other par­tic­i­pants. We all lived in the same build­ing, trav­eled the coun­try with one an­other, and some of us even be­came firm friends.

We were all given dif­fer­ent schools to teach in with one other fel­low, who would be your teach­ing part­ner for the year. We also had a host teacher from the school, a pro­gram di­rec­tor, a ped­a­gog­i­cal ad­viser and a madricha (coun­selor) to guide us on our masa (jour­ney) through­out the year.

How­ever, some­thing I found odd ini­tially was this: When I went to school in Amer­ica, I went with my next-door neigh­bor, the kid up the street, the girl a cou­ple streets over, and so forth, no mat­ter their race, re­li­gion or eth­nic­ity. I was sur­prised to learn that Is­raeli schools are sep­a­rated by re­li­gion and sec­tor, and this is pri­mar­ily by choice. The pro­gram, be­ing a prod­uct of the Jew­ish Agency, fo­cuses mostly on the Jew­ish sec­tor.

For our classes, we would take six to 10 kids at a time. Some­times we would sit in on classes, and some­times we would par­tic­i­pate in ac­tiv­i­ties run by the school. We would go to the school four days a week and teach for about five hours a day.

This was by far the most re­ward­ing ex­pe­ri­ence of my life. Learn­ing about the coun­try and teach­ing its youth, I fell in love with Is­rael.

I had never taught a class in my life be­fore this, and I wasn’t sure if I would even en­joy do­ing it, but I loved ev­ery se­cond of be­ing in school. I started to be­come in­vested in the chil­dren’s lives. I en­joyed learn­ing their names, what they like, who they are, how they ex­press them­selves, and what trou­bled them, whether in English class or in life. Con­nect­ing with these lit­tle hu­man be­ings warmed my heart, and this com­mu­ni­ca­tion, keep in mind, would be con­ducted en­tirely in English. For some of these kids, that was a true feat to at­tempt to ac­com­plish.

That’s the beauty in the pro­gram, though. It forces the chil­dren to speak English to in­ter­act with us, while learn­ing about Amer­i­can cul­ture in the process. They must try to for­mu­late sen­tences and re­call cer­tain words, even if only to tell me they watched a TV show the day be­fore. There were sev­eral stu­dents whose English level sky­rock­eted over the year. Kids who pre­vi­ously couldn’t speak English at all be­gan to speak full sen­tences with me.

We can’t take all or even most of the credit. Dur­ing my year I was given two won­der­ful host teach­ers who made me feel like I had fam­ily in a for­eign coun­try, which re­ally made me feel at home quickly.

WHILE I loved teach­ing in the schools, I felt like there was a big dis­con­nect be­tween Masa Is­rael and each of the cities they hosted. For most cities, they would out­source who ran the pro­grams, and for me it was Oranim Aca­demic Col­lege in Kiryat Tivon.

While the staff at Oranim for the most part was won­der­ful and ac­com­mo­dat­ing, there were a lot of times when I felt I was lack­ing the sup­port I truly needed, be­ing an English-speak­ing im­mi­grant in the coun­try.

I be­lieve Masa Is­rael books more Di­as­pora Jews to come to Is­rael than it can truly han­dle. For the most part, the pro­fes­sional de­vel­op­ment pro­grams didn’t have enough spa­ces for ev­ery­one who wanted to join, the teacher tracks were se­lec­tive, and things you were told you could do in the be­gin­ning of the year were no longer avail­able once you ar­rived for your 10-month stay.

There were a lot of prom­ises made that were left un­kept. There was a lot of pres­sure put on us as teach­ers with­out much over­sight, and a lot of times when Masa took too long to re­spond to in­quiries and is­sues.

I felt we were treated less as em­ploy­ees and more as an ad­ver­tise­ment for the Ed­u­ca­tion Min­istry, the at­ti­tude be­ing that once we were al­ready in the coun­try, there was no need for ex­tra hand-hold­ing. In short, there is no such thing as hu­man re­sources when you are a fel­low in the Masa pro­gram.

Re­gard­less of this is­sue, I had a won­der­ful time liv­ing and work­ing in an­other coun­try. Be­fore start­ing, you just need to be aware that this pro­gram is not easy and cer­tainly not for ev­ery­one. You need to make the best of your ex­pe­ri­ences, just as you should in life.

The true gift in this en­deavor is the chil­dren. You will make a sig­nif­i­cant im­pact in these chil­dren’s lives. I had sev­eral par­ents come up to me, thank­ing me and telling me that my teach­ing part­ner and I are all the kids ever talk about. To hear that their child is no longer scared or dis­cour­aged to study English be­cause of what you did – that is the true re­ward.

I couldn’t have de­cided on a bet­ter way to spend a year of my life. Feel­ing at home in a coun­try full of strangers is a unique feel­ing, but if you have ever been to Is­rael, you know that the peo­ple are ex­cep­tion­ally car­ing. Just tell some­one you don’t have a place to go for Shab­bat or Passover, and watch them open their home to you or go to great lengths to find you a place to go.

This is where I live now, and this is where I am proud to call home.


‘MAK­ING A sig­nif­i­cant im­pact on chil­dren’s lives’: Masa Is­rael Teach­ing Fel­low­ship par­tic­i­pants.

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