Sunday, March 27, 2011

Building Future Leadership Conference - Part 2

Four of our participants recently attended Masa's Building Future Leadership conference in Jerusalem. Here's what Lisa, one of our 10 month Social Action track volunteers, had to say about the experience:

Almost two weeks ago, I went to my first MASA conference- a week long seminar hosted at a hostel in Jerusalem centered on building future leadership in the Jewish world. Walking off the bus and into the hostel, I found myself and the three other participants of my program surrounded by over 400 MASA participants, from both gap year and post-college programs. I spent the week with a group of 15 other post-college participants, discussing presentations as well as encounters from our time in Israel.

Being around such a diverse group of participants prompted a wide range of talks, ranging from living in Israel to the role of Zionism, to our roles in the future. With "Vision into Reality" as my focus, I was able to sit in on lectures hosted by members of the Israeli organization, Debate, as they disclosed the formula to attain your vision.

In the evenings, there were more opportunities to network with other participants as well as attend cultural and informative sessions. One such session being an open panel discussion comprising of four young adults from different sectors of the Jewish world. Ranging from working for the Israeli Defense Force, Hillel, or a start-up non-profit, the panel shed light on issues and topics that have emerged throughout my time in Israel.

The conference was a great opportunity to meet a wide-range of participants and enabled an open forum for discussion. It was evident by the conference that the MASA organization has a lot of confidence in the young generation to spearhead the Jewish world in the future. As a volunteer in South Tel Aviv, I often forget the role of my volunteering in the larger scheme, but by attending the conference and sharing my experiences, I realized that there is an immense support network both in Israel and worldwide.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Tikkun Olam Does the Desert

Alana is a 5 month Social Action track participant and University of Connecticut graduate. Here's an excerpt from her blog about the group's recent overnight trip!

This weekend marked our first group trip around Israel! Once a month we go on weekend camping trips through various regions. This weekend we drove down to the Negev (A huuuuge desert in southern Israel) for some hiking and farm tours. After a 2+ hour drive into the desert we found ourselves at an Alpaca farm down south. We learned all about the little critters and got to feed them too!

After learning about Alpacas (not to be confused with llamas…the farmer made that very clear) we took off for yet another farm tour. This time we found ourselves at a “Lone Farm” a few minutes south of the first farm. A Lone Farm is owned by one family in the middle of the Negev. There are quite a few lone farms in the area, which provides a nice community for trading, selling, etc…There is also quite a bit of tourism at Lone Farms, which is how these “middle of nowhere” vegetable/animal establishments survive.

The farm we arrived at was a goat farm, so of course we had to do a cheese and yogurt tasting. I’ve never had such great yogurt in my life! After that we learned more about the farm and why the farmer chose to live out in the Negev. The goats were fun too. We had a great time messing around, playing on farm equipment, and making friends with the animals.

Afterwards, we took off for Bedouin campgrounds in the area. We were off to spend a night in the great outdoors! The Bedouins are a nomadic Arab tribe that have lived in the desert for thousands of years. They generally work with livestock, but in the past few years that way of life has become increasingly more difficult. This is due to the tightening of zoning laws, the rise in Urban areas, land ownership rights, etc.

We arrived at the Bedouin camp and immediately set up our sleeping area. It was a little touristy, but still fun. We also drank some amazing tea that they were passing out at the camp.

The man on the right was the one providing the tea. After I finished my first glass I really wanted another so I went up to him and said, “Od-pa’am Bvachasha.” He looked at me kind of funny and my friends all laughed because I had said, “Another time, please.” In order to defend myself I turned back to him and said, “Ani ivrit lo tov.” This time he looked at me like I was seriously an idiot because I had said “I am Hebrew, not good.” After a few moments of contemplation I finally said it correctly (Ivrit sheli lo tov) and we had a good chuckle at my poor language skills.

Though embarrassing, I personally take no shame in this moment! Despite my lack of language knowledge I’ve totally put myself out there for the past few weeks. I say the words with confidence even if I don’t necessarily know that I’m correct. I may not always be right, but everything is a learning experience. One way or another I will figure out this wacky language!

After setting up our sleeping bags, a few of us hiked up the dunes to watch the sunset.

We then proceeded to cook up an incredible dinner. We made Poike (a type of vegetable concoction) and then finished up with chocolate covered bananas and marshmallows.

These homemade fire-baked pitas were also thrown into the mix. Oh my gracious, amazing.
After dinner we all sat around playing guitar, singing songs, and just plain chatting. We all went to bed together in the same tent area as one big happy Tikkun Olam family

The next morning we woke up bright and early to climb through the Ramon Crater (Mahktesh Ramon). The name “Crater” is actually quite misleading because technically it’s not really a crater (at least in the sense that a meteor did not hit the earth). Now, I’m no science whiz, but from what I understand millions of years ago the ocean sat in this specific area of the Negev. For various reasons the ocean eventually receded leaving behind this large eroded area.

The area is actually very cool, it looks like the Grand Canyon (at least what I imagine the Grand Canyon to look like).

Desert excitement! We proceeded to go on a 6+ hour hike (our toucas’s were on fiyah). We tackled this mountain/overlook, which had a killer view at the top.

Once we got to the top, we hiked around for a few hours and then made the descent back down. This is where things became a little dicey. The descent was almost entirely vertical and mostly sand/rock. There were a few boulders and footholds along the way, but for the most part it was a panicky trip to the bottom. Somehow I wound up in the front of my section of the pack and figuring everything out without someone helping was hard. When I’m nervous I give myself mini pep-talks, so I just kept saying things like, “This is great! I’m fine! We’re beasting this mountain! We are the alufs (champions!).” Behind me, my friend Davida was just as nervous so she kept laughing every time I fell on my booty/said something ridiculous. The trip down took almost 40 minutes and at the bottom we all kissed the ground with joy.

Afterwards, our guide Benji told us that middle school classes regularly come to do this hike. I don’t know what kind of mountain-goat kids they’re breeding in Israel, but I need to learn these secrets.

After a few more hours of hiking and a trip up another cliff we made our way back to TLV. We all took much needed showers and had a great time relaxing at the house.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Building Future Leadership Conference

Four of our participants recently attended Masa's Building Future Leadership conference in Jerusalem. Here's what Katie, one of our 10 month Coexistence track volunteers, had to say about the experience:

I recently spent a week with five hundred young Jews who are committed
to improving the global Jewish community. From Tikkun Olam, I was
joined by Nate Kemphues, Lisa Tankanow and Jodie Suckle at the
Building Future Leadership conference in Jerusalem. We participated
in workshops ranging from public speaking, tikkun olam, Israel
advocacy, team building skills, social entrepreneurship, to Jewish
leadership during the Holocaust. While the workshops were well put
together and interesting, I found that the people around me were the
most fascinating and motivating aspects of the conference. In the
small group that we participated in for the entire week, we heard from
young Jews who wanted to revitalize the Conservative movement,
radically change the way North American Jewish education works, bring
young Jewish communal professionals to Israel, and build stronger ties
between Jews and non-Jews across the globe.

Although the conference participants were a highlight, an evening
event called "Open Space" provided an amazing example of how to start
paradigm changing conversations. All 500 of the conference attendees
were crammed into a large room with large pieces of paper filling the
center of the space. A large box of markers was dumped onto the pile
of paper and we were told to write down any topic about any issue.
Topics were all over the place, from "Who is a Jew?" to "Do Jewish
Federations still matter?" to "Post Modernism and Zionism." We were
then told to pick a group, engage in the conversation and to move on
to a different topic if we weren't contributing to the conversation.
It was a truly impressive evening that we developed for ourselves and
that led to a variety of exchanges dealing with Judaism in the
Diaspora over the remainder of the week.

Discussing the challenges facing the Diaspora over meals and during
free time allowed me to finally commit to what I want to be doing for
the next five years of my life: professional Jewish communal work with
young adults and college students. I spent the last evening of the
conference discussing my resume and working on interviewing skills
with a conference attendee who used to be an HR manager at a Fortune
500 company. Friday morning I sent off an application to a position
that I never would have applied for if I hadn't received encouragement
and advice at the Building Future Leaders conference. While I'm a
long shot for the job, the conference was the motivation I needed to
commit to a serious job search so that I can help build the Jewish
community I want to raise my children in.

Katie Vogel is a native of Detroit, Michigan and attended graduate
school for urban planning at the University of Cincinnati. She plans
on returning to Chicago, Illinois after riding her bicycle from Moscow
to Berlin with her husband, Nate Kemphues. A participant in the 10
month Coexistence Track, Katie splits her time between grant writing
and research, pretending to be a dinosaur while chasing
kindergartners, tutoring English to high school students and
researching and developing bicycle legislation and policy for Israel.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Living Coexistence in Jaffa

Amy a 10 month Coexistence track participant and Brandeis graduate originally from Massachusetts, had the following to say about her exposure to Coexistence in Jaffa. Visit for more participant testimonials.

Since arriving in Israel six months ago, and spending time both working and living in the mixed city of Jaffa, my views on the Israel- Palestinian conflict and Israeli policy have changed. Daily, my viewpoints sway both leftwards and rightwards - often at the same time, but regardless of politics, my understanding of Israel as home to so many different people deepens with every person I encounter. It is impossible to look at the conflict here, let alone any conflict, as a struggle between political players, but rather I've come to see it as something incredibly human in that it shapes individuals' daily lives. I see the conflict play out on this level: in the issues that influence the lives of the Yaffanese (my neighbors).

Just this past week, housing issues came to a head with multiple protests and demonstrations up and down the main streets of Jaffa. On Wednesday, a group of about 20 right-wing Jewish protesters marched from the Jaffa port until they reached the end of our street, demanding in the name of zionism that Jaffa is meant to be a Jewish city, and only a Jewish city. Although this is contradictory to the ultimate truth that Jaffa is home to 17,000 Arabs, it was nevertheless difficult to witness, respond to, and all the more so to turn into teaching moments for the hundreds of students we collectively work with.

But amidst the hatred this week, were also moments of coexistence and community - one of which I was proud to be a part of. In addition to the counter protests that followed the right-wing demonstration, I attended a pre-demonstration the Tuesday evening prior, calling for an end to the government's removal of low-income housing tenants from both south Tel Aviv and Jaffa. This protest also took place a few blocks from our apartments, but was instead filled with camaraderie and hope for future, as both Arab and Jewish residents shouted impassioned stories of shared struggle and the desire to keep all families, both Jewish and Arab, in their homes. As one man yelled, "Jaffa has always been both Jewish and Arab and will forever be both Jewish and Arab!" Women, children, old people and young people, councilmen and teachers rose to speak as the megaphone was passed around. As I looked at the crowd I had trouble deciphering who was Arab and who was Jewish, which even in Jaffa is a rare occurrence. Although the mixed population co-habitates in a very small area, it is unique to find an issue that binds the Jewish and Arab plights so closely.
Conflict is around and among us in Israel and Jaffa, however, the human moments of hope and true coexistence help us to get through the more challenging of days. Continuing to see the stories of people, both Arab and Jewish, as human stories, not those of conflict, makes our work and life here all the more meaningful.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Dialogue in the Dark

Last week our volunteers participated in "Dialogue in the Dark," a guided tour by visually impaired staff members through a series of pitch black rooms in order to build awareness and overcome social barriers towards non-visual perception (

Alex Shonkoff, a 5-month participant in our Social Action volunteer track, had the following to say about the experience:

"Dialogue in the Dark is a Blind Museum, where you feel your way through the dark, led by a blind or visually impaired person. One of my volunteering places will be at the Blind Center, so this experience was one I was really looking forward to. It was incredible.

Our leader, Sadiot, was cheeky and mischievous, and led us through a maze in complete darkness. Every room was a different setting, and all you can do is use your other senses to get around. Following his voice into the maze, we “traveled” to different aspects of daily life, such as smelling the fruits at the shuk, walking along a city street with cars honking, sitting in a buoyed motor boat, feeling the wind on our faces and the current taking us. There was a music room, and at the end a cafĂ© with a bartender, who you could hear leave the bar to play the piano and sing (with an incredible voice). It was truly enlightening. I am really excited to work with blind people. I have never worked with anyone who’s had to strictly use other senses or abilities to get around."