Old Alumni mixing with the new Alumni.
Old Alumni mixing with the new Alumni.
While Jacob Kieval , 25, of Sharon, Massachusetts, is only one of many graduates of the WUJS Israel program to return home to great professional opportunities, he may be the first one to immediately find a job with a popular reality show. After finishing his volunteer internship in Israel in 2010, he began working on NBC's hit musical show "The Voice".
After graduating from Washington University in 2009, Jacob decided to go to Israel to help figure out what professional path to take. Having spent a summer in Israel with USY Pilgrimage and three months during his senior year of high school, it was a logical choice. He researched various Masa programs and based on the internship component, WUJS turned out to be exactly what he was looking for, placing Jacob in Tel Aviv for his Israel experience.
One of Jacob's two internships was working at Meirav Productions in Ramat Gan, a company which produces commercials and promotional videos. His work included capturing footage and transferring media from one format to another, exposing him to a side of the business in which he had limited experience. While many stories have been told about people falling in love with their internships, propelling them to further pursue a career choice, often ignored are the stories where people have valuable experiences figuring out what they don't want to do. Through this experience, Jacob benefitted from realizing that this side of the industry was not a good fit for him. Though he thought he may have ended up in the wrong production house, his later experiences in Los Angeles only confirmed what he thought on the WUJS program.
In his second internship, Jacob worked for WUJS itself, creating and producing videos of the program participants which were sent out to their parents on a weekly basis, giving him more hands-on experience of video and film editing which is his real passion.
While not working, Jacob enjoyed his free time exploring Tel Aviv from the beaches and restaurants to the bars. Shabbat provided a valuable opportunity to take a break from traveling and spending money when Jacob would relax and enjoy time with friends. He said that his time in Israel allowed him to learn much more about the country on a practical level. More than seeing the sites, he got a real sense of what it's like to live in Israel day in and day out, using transportation and becoming familiar with city life.
As luck would have it, the director of WUJS at the time had a connection to Mark Burnett Productions, the production company responsible for such successful TV shows as "Survivor" and "The Apprentice". A few phone calls later, Jacob had landed a position in the music department of "The Voice" as an associate music producer in Los Angeles. Jacob works with the house band which backs the performers to make sure they know what music to play, helps them to acquire the lyrics and sheet music to prepare, and helps contestants prepare for their performances.
Jacob plans to stay in LA to see what this job leads to next and hopes to visit Israel every few years.
And to anyone considering a Masa program? Jacob says that WUJS is a great program for people looking for a great opportunity.
Earlier this year, Jenna Gang, 23, of Silver Spring, MD returned from the WUJS Israel program. Only months later, it is clear that her time abroad enhanced her career development. WUJS Israel, a program under the Young Judaea umbrella, has brought thousands of young Jewish leaders to Israel over the past decades to volunteer, learn, and help make the Jewish state a better place.
Jenna first went on Taglit-Birthright Israel in 2010 and fell in love with the country immediately. Every night, she said, she would fall asleep dreaming of the Israeli beaches. Upon her return to the United States, she met with a professional at Birthright Next who helped her find the right program to return for a longer period of time. Because of its arts component, the WUJS program was a perfect fit for Jenna, who graduated from New York's FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology) with a degree in photography and digital media.
One of the best parts about the Arts track is the amount of time that artists are given to develop their portfolio and craft a body of work. Based in Jerusalem, Jenna took an Israeli film class which enabled her to see another country's perspective on the art form, nothing to sneeze at considering Israel's numerous Best Foreign Film nominees over the past few years. She also visited many museums and galleries, allowing her to see what local artists were creating. Taking note of how photography in Israel is different (much more political than in the US), Jenna made a concerted effort to feature Israel as a beautiful place, taking pictures without people which an innocent observer might not even realize were from here.
Upon completing her work, Jenna's images were featured in an exhibit in the Beit Ribek museum in Bat Yam, just another accomplishment of a woman whose work has been showcased in many galleries in the United States.
As for the program's highlights, Jenna said that she was thrilled to be truly immersed in the culture as opposed to during her Birthright trip or a vacation. During her free time and on many Shabbats, she enjoyed traveling, spending time with other artists, and exploring the beautiful neighborhoods of Jerusalem taking pictures. Her time in Israel helped her realize that there are more important things than money and that while life in US is often about needing bigger and better things, in Israel, life was more about spending time with family and friends.
Now back in New York City, Jenna is still in touch with many of her fellow participants who she knows she will be friends with for life, even recently hosting several of them for a Shabbat dinner in her Chinatown apartment. As she has done every summer since her sophomore year of college, she is currently working for Macy's, using her artistic talents to help create their famous catalog which is both mailed out and distributed in newspapers. Jenna has helped in the past to build sets and paint and is now working for them as a photographer.
As for her future? Jenna has already begun to save money to return to Israel and is working with an initiative called Artists 4 Israel to promote Israel through the arts. While she is thinking about moving to Israel, in the meantime, she hopes to visit at least once a year.
for Jenna's site and work: www.jennagang.com
Lisa Friedman joined us from Clifton Park, New York. WUJS Israel placed her in the Jewish Federations of North America Jerusalem office. She wanted to do meaningful work where she could have an impact on peoples lives. Her Israeli internship duties involved assisting in the organization of a field trip to the Negev, meeting with at risk youth and more. Lisa felt that she had a strong impact on peoples lives. Masa Israel Journey makes it easy for young Jewish adults like Lisa to find suitable programs in Israel.
Shayna Petit came to WUJS Israel from Chicago in hopes of finding her perfect Israeli internship. She worked as a stage Manager for Nephesh Theater Company. The group travels around Israel putting on productions for Israeli youth. Shayna was able to choose her responsibilities based on her skills and experiences. They included: traveling with the productions, managing rehearsals and dealing with the actors. She found the program through Masa Israel Journey after searching for a post-Birthright program. Masa Israel Journey connects young Jewish adults with an interest in Israel, like Shayna to programs such as WUJS Israel.
Photography, more than any other medium possesses such a power to transport us to anywhere in the world. And because of it's documentary nature, we often believe what a photograph is telling us. When New York based photographer Jenna Gang contacted me, I was especially intrigued by her series of images from Israel. It turns out this controversial country has very special meaning for Jenna. I hope you'll enjoy hearing her talk about the series in this email interview we conducted recently.
Artsy Forager | Your series of photographs from Israel have such a different, more quiet focus than most imagery coming from that country. What was your catalyst for the series? Did it evolve over time or did you begin with your concept already in mind?
Jenna Gang | The catalyst for this series was my grandfather. As a holocaust survivor, he expressed throughout my childhood how important it was for me to visit the holy land. After he passed away, his 35mm camera was given to me by my grandmother. By merging his camera with his aspirations for me, I thought it only fitting to honor his memory by shooting this series.
Throughout my development as a photographer, I have always been drawn to images that were minimalistic and left interpretation to the viewer. Through photographs, the world sees Israel as a conflict. I wanted to show that Israel is so much more than that. I simplified my subject to lines and shapes to reflect the natural beauty of the country.
JG | In hopes of not sounding too generic, most of my fellow FIT alumni are my heroes. This is because although our foundation was built in the same way our results vary so widely. Erin Kennedy, Christian Thorman and Nadirah Zakariya were each given the same tools that I was and yet we all emerged with distinct individual styles. I wait in anticipation to see what they create next.
AF | What do you think you would be doing if you weren't a photographer?
JG | If I weren't a photographer, I'd be a food critic. Since I love to eat, this would be a worthy profession. I understand that I would have to eat some bad food along the way, but it would all be worth it for that one good dish.
AF | What is your dream photography project?
JG | During my free time, I enjoy travelling the world via Google Earth, planning how I would capture each of the different landscapes. I am fascinated with Japan and would enjoy a trip to the countrysides of Tokyo, Samurai sword in tow.
PowerPoint Slides for WUJS.PPTX
End Speech- Fall 2011
Wow! I can't believe we've reached this week of the program! I remember your first day and week of the program- your very beginning of wujs...
You guys all came from different backgrounds- different backgrounds of Jewishness and connections to Israel, you guys are also from various different countries and there's a big range of ages too with-in the group... I think all these differences made our wujs family so special... and you know what I loved so much about our wujs family- it's that no matter what differences that you come with- differences of backgrounds, or, above all that- differences of opinions, views, thoughts, and emotions- we all excepted each other as part of the group, with big warmth and love, just as any members of family do.
It's amazing to see in each one of you your speciality and uniqueness. Underneath the surface lies allot of depth in each one of you, and holding that depth there's allot of modesty. Seeing all of that uniqueness, depth, speciality, and modesty really touched my heart and I feel that before giving you as a counselor, I received from each one of you too... Whether it's something from your personality, from your inner- world, or from a friendship that I feel that I've developed with you... and this is where I want to thank each one of you for also being my friends... I feel that there was a point in the program that a switch was made and from being only your madricha I became your friends and madricha, and I think that it was special that at times that I had to be strict but half an hour later I was back to being your friend again...
And now I want to get to the most important thing that I want to say to all of you- I think that most important and what touched me that most is seeing in each one of you that spark of yours- that Jewish or Israel spark in you that drawed you to come and spend this time in Israel, on our wujs program...
I know that there are many different reasons and goals for a wujs participant to come and spend time in Israel and be on the program- some know they want to make alliyah and being on the program is a good first step to living here in Israel,, some want to check it out here- if it's a place for them or not, some have been having Israel in the back of their minds for some years and now found the opportunity to come, and there some more reasons to it... but I think that the biggest reason and goal out of all and I think this one is a common one to you all and it's the source for you all coming here- is wanting to take the opportunity to come here- and learn, discover, grow, connect, and develop yourself in- terms of your Jewish and Israel identity- it's giving that small Jewish and Israel spark of yours an opportunity to grow and allow it to go in the direction that it's longing and desires so much... that spark is deep deep inside of you and I think that it's what drawed you to come here and spend these five months in Israel. Each one of you has enriched that spark of yours by searching your own identity in your own special and unique way- you've gone on trips through- out the land- felt and trod on it, you've learnt the language of the land, participated in seminars, ulpan, had discussions on hot topics- you've basically fed your soul with food that's it's been longing for. I saw that spark in each one of you.
I really hope that the time that you've spent here has warmed that spark of yours up and I want to wish each one of you to continue sanning that spark of yours , feed with it with food that it needs and wants so much, everyone in their own unique and special way, everyone to where the heart leads it to go to...
Lastly, I hope that each one of you, in your own way, and with the help of sanning that spark of yours- come back to Israel- whether it's to visit, stay, have a trip, or live here... what-ever suits you...
I know that some of you are already staying and I want to tell all of you- those of you who are staying and those of you who are going home and might be coming another time to Israel- that me, the rest of the staff, and many more Israelis' and Olim who live here, welcome you and always want you to know that you have a home here- I personally invite you to my home and I'm sure that others too.
Soon that you're leaving the program I'll be waiting for you to come back and visit and see how much that spark of yours grew and developed to your own unique Jewish and Israel oriented personality.
Good luck to all of you and I hope to keep in- touch!
Talmud, Berachot 29b:
"What is meant by a fixed task? - R. Jacob ben Idi said in the name of R. Oshaiah: Anyone whose prayer is like a heavy burden on him. The Rabbis say: Whoever does not say it in the manner of supplication. Rabbah and R. Joseph both say: Whoever is not able to insert something fresh in it. R. Zera said: I can insert something fresh, but I am afraid to do so for fear I should become confused."
I am honored that Shoshana asked me to speak at tonight's ceremony. I am also a bit amused that I am one of the participants summarizing her WUJS experience tonight. I am not going to stand up here and tell you how incredible these past 5 months have been. I'm not going to tell you what WUJS, MASA, Hadassah, or all of you might want to hear. But I do have some important things to share.
I came to Israel in search of something, as we all did. I wanted to discover who I am through the lenses of Torah. "Find myself," as many would say, implying that your self is lost. You see, when I came to Israel for the first time four years ago, I had this magical life-changing experience that caused me to fervently reconnect to my Jewish roots. I realized then that being Jewish was an innate part of my identity that would never go away - for better or for worse - but that I could therefore always rely on. I wanted to explore and refine that special gift. I thought that I had to keep doing something more, putting so much pressure on myself to be a better Jew, a more educated Jew, a more religious Jew, anything that made me feel grounded in my essence. I thought that by the end of this 5-month program I should be able to define who I am as easily as filling out a survey with only yes or no questions. I wanted to have a good answer when people asked me at a dinner party why I keep kosher and other simple matters. I wanted to find all of the answers to extremely complicated issues in my life and decide once and for all what I believe in, which mitzvot I observe and why, and what kind of Jew I want to be. I floated around all different ideas and communities, never feeling like I fit neatly into any of them. I was exasperated with uncertainty and questioning, and so my deadline to have it all figured out was February 12th, 2012.
And I thought coming to Israel would make things clearer???
Davka, yes. What better place to look than the Jewish homeland, the country I had visited twice before and fell into a passionate love affair with, thinking that being here would make everything perfect, that I would be free of all my baggage the minute the plane touched this holy ground, that I would come out of this experience a completely put-together, confident, unfaltering Jewish woman. I had this image of my future self speaking fluent Hebrew, pushing my way through the shuk like a real Israeli, being able to rattle off halakhot and bible verses, and knowing exactly who I am. I have to admit that I might have been hoping for an extended Birthright trip. A real fun, feel-good, inspirational, experience.
What actually happened?
I was freezing my butt off half the time in my ill-equipped Florida wardrobe, I stumbled through the few Hebrew words I realized I knew, nearly got stampeded countless times trying to get on a bus, and the more I learned, the more confused I became. I was far away from home during a family crisis, I pushed the boundaries of my comfort zone, and I've been harder on myself than ever. Not to mention the challenges of living on my own in a foreign country. I thought that the confidence I aimed for would come from meditating in the middle of the desert and serving God by following the rules, or from learning to keep kosher in the easiest place to do so, or from beginning to observe Shabbat, singing happy songs and having an entire dinner arranged for me every week the way it was in college. Instead, I sobbed and cursed God and experienced a huge amount of resistance to religious life. I felt desperately lonely and farther from home than ever in what is supposed to be my homeland. Furthermore, I have really lived up to the name of my people, Israel, which means "wrestling with God." I've gotten a taste of real life in this country, and it came as a bit of a shock. Yet, though it's been difficult, I have grown so much more than I could have imagined.
Before you start throwing rotten sabras at me, let me clarify that my experience here was not a bad one. What I'm saying is that it was extremely challenging for me. But one of the most important things I've learned on this program is that maybe there has to be a certain breakdown of things before there can be a rebirth. Had everything gone the way I had hoped, I would not have grown as much as I have. I gained the most from the moments in which I battled the very texts we are supposed to live by, accidently got lost in an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood wearing a mid-thigh length dress, and yes, realized that Israel is not perfect.
One of my teachers at Pardes once said that human beings make sense of the world by putting things into distinct categories. I wanted to put myself in a box, just like I was doing with the rest of the world. That way it's easier to process all of the difficult complexities inside of me rather than confronting and accepting them. I would often look at someone wearing a black hat and label him, "other," at an Arab and label him "opponent." At the "p'shat level" (yeshiva lingo) this place seems to have so many binaries: East or West, religious or secular, Ashkenazi or Sephardi, Israeli or Palestinian, Jew or non-Jew, citizen or foreigner, black or white... but I've learned that there is so much more. Yes, Jews have a set of very strict laws. We do this and we don't do that, ze-hu. At Pardes, in addition to learning some of the practicalities of those seemingly rigid and straightforward rules, I learned that things were not always - and perhaps are still not - that way. Our rabbis and sages, the very people who interpreted and wrote the laws, grappled for thousands of years with the same things I struggle with today! The entire Talmud is interpretations of interpretations and commentaries on commentaries. Somewhere over the course of the past 5 months, I found myself in the midst of all the confusion. Somewhere in between the machlokets (debates) between Rabbi Oshaiah and Rabbi Zera, between Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai, or between GOD and the people, I realized that I had never been lost. The person I wanted to be at the end of WUJS is the same person I always was and always will be, and that is good enough no matter what it is. It seems like kind of a no-brainer, but I needed to come here to figure it out, to let Israel teach me what I really needed to learn. Underneath all of the labels, the categories, and the supposed "answers," is my true core; I am Jewish. That's where I started this journey, and that's where I've come to full circle, but with a lot more knowledge. Now that I have the tools to continue my lifelong - not 5- month long - Jewish journey, I know how to make educated decisions about what I believe in and how I choose to live my life. The big answer is that I'm never going to have all of the answers, and I've finally started to come to peace with that. However I choose to express my Jewish identity is beseder gamor, and I've given myself permission to change my mind and to allow fluidity. I have learned how to listen to my instincts about what feels right to me and what doesn't, based on the very principles that are so valued and encouraged in our tradition - you know, arguing, questioning, disagreeing, and yes - wrestling.
I'd like to end with another quote from something I studied in one of my classes at Pardes. It's from Orot HaTeshuva, a work by Rav Kook, the first chief Rabbi of Israel.
"When one forgets the essence of one's own soul, when one distracts his mind from attending to the substantive content of his own inner life, everything becomes confused and uncertain. The primary step, which immediately sheds light on a darkened zone, is for the person to return to himself, to the root of his soul, and from there to the Soul of all souls."
Coming to Israel has been quite a journey for me. I won't lie, I too was looking to "find myself" as I'm sure everyone else here was as well. But like other participants have already noted, I've realized during my time here that I was never actually lost. Bare with me on this metaphor - but I think instead of having this pre-conceived notion of coming to Israel and expecting to blossom like a flower, perhaps one should come here expecting to be a tree - each experience helps your trunk grow a little thicker and each revelation helps you sprout a new branch reaching upward toward who you want to be. I came here knowing exactly what I wanted - a once in a lifetime experience, living in another country, absorbing another culture, trying out a new career path, meeting new people, and if I happen to have a spiritual epiphany than so be it. To quote Henry David Thoreau, "Do not worry if you have built your castles in the air. They are where they should be. Now put the foundations under them." I have loved every moment of this incredible trip because I set my castles in the air, I had dreams to achieve, and after the last five months I feel extremely accomplished.
After graduating college with a degree in art history, I was eager to explore the field of archaeology in Israel and see how I could apply an art historical perspective to a new and different discipline. I was fortunate enough to have a dual internship - working both at the Givati excavation in the City of David as well as researching artifacts at Hebrew University. At Givati, I was part of a team that worked to unearth an ancient palace, possibly from the Second Temple Period. I have learned much from Dr. Doron Ben-Ami and Yana Tzechanits, the directors of the dig, and I was constantly excited to see what could be learned in each discovery of a newly found stone or piece of pottery. You could say I really "dug" digging.
I also spent half the week working with the marble artifacts found from the ongoing excavation in Tiberias at Hebrew University under the direction of Islamic archaeologist Dr. Katia Cytryn-Silverman. I worked cataloguing the artifacts into the database as well as researching for comparable pieces found from other nearby digs to help learn the date and function of a piece. Through my internships I have had the incredible opportunity to study archaeology not only from an academic standpoint but also from the field. I got to witness the entire archaeological process - from finding an object in an excavation to learning its purpose and to its eventual publication in a journal.
So let me go over my original list, once in a lifetime experience? Check. Living in another country and absorbing the culture? Anyone who's been to the shuk on a Friday and still goes back has absorbed the culture, so check. Tried out a new career path? Check. Met new people? Absolutely - not only fellow WUJieS but many Israelis from my internships as well as many family members. Spiritual Epiphany? I can't say for sure that I've come to terms with understanding all the many facets of my religion and of G-d, but I feel that I'm more in touch with who I am as a Jew and the role that has and will play in my life. So to return to Thoreau, I made my castles and dreams in America and have created the beginnings of their foundations in Israel. All in all an amazing 5 months and I know I will bring the experiences and passions I've discovered in Israel with me into the next chapter of my life.
My name is Avital Andron and I am twenty-four years old. I grew up in Los Angeles California and moved to Jerusalem as a young child with my family. Four years passed, and my family once again journeyed to New Jersey where they have been living for the past seventeen years. I studied in Orthodox Jewish day schools and attended summer camps and programs in Israel. I spent my college years studying education in Chicago and lived in Evanston, Ill. After college, I knew that I wanted to return to live in Israel, so I decided to return to Israel on a Masa program.
I wanted to choose a Masa program that included an internship with an Israeli school. I wanted to learn Hebrew, intern in a Hebrew speaking environment, and travel around the country. That's when I found WUJS. I also knew in my back of my head that I wanted to be in Jerusalem. So I discovered WUJS Jerusalem! When considering the program, I mentioned to the staff that I wanted to intern in Special Education. They found me a special education kindergarten, which is walking distance to my apartment. The kindergaden focuses on children with developmental delays and other challenging learning differences. I am a full time intern and arrive early each day (except Tuesdays) to greet the children and leave at the end of the school day.
The most exciting thing in my Israel experience is having a familiarity with my surroundings, personal connections and understanding and using Hebrew every day at school and with others. These three components are vital when living in Israel. After so many times being in Israel, I can truly say that I feel comfortable living in Jerusalem. Since I have increasing knowledge of the language, I communicate with the staff and children in Hebrew that has improved my Hebrew dramatically.
The most special and exciting aspect of my internship is relating to each one of the children and providing them with opportunities of growth. This could be in ways of feeding a child, working with them individually or by speaking to them, which increases their language skills. In all these three areas, I benefit from the job that I do at Gan Tzpit. The gan provides me with challenging aspects and rewarding opportunities when interning. To sum up, this internship has provided me with resources of growth, learning and experimental education.
As I conclude, WUJS Jerusalem has introduced me to the " Israeli experience" of working, speaking Hebrew and living the daily life of living as an Israeli citizen. These three areas will increase my desires of making " allyiah".
To reach me please email me atAvitalandron@gmail.com
Here to see Jenna's daily blog
Learn more abouot Jenna's experience with WUJS Israel's Arts track:
Brandon Robinson, recent WUJS Israel participant
Portland, OR, 28 years old
What do you do when you're not in Israel?
I'm a freelance video producer and am putting the finishing touches on a short film. I directed, wrote, and acted in it in addition to composing the score. I'm in the process of submitting it to film festivals.
How did you decide to go on WUJS?
I had zero Jewish background or knowledge. Luckily, I found out about Birthright maybe a month before I became ineligible. One day before I turned 27, I landed in Israel. I really learned a lot on the trip that opened me up to the country. I fell in love with Israel and very much wanted to come back. It was just a matter of finding the right fit so I could live here as an artist. Then I discovered the WUJS Arts Track.
I understand something significant happened to you while on the program.
I made an artistic video while on WUJS, a time lapse of the country. The theme was "what makes a home a home." I had been thinking about this subject a lot, feeling so connected to this place and not understanding why, seeing that I'm not very religious and didn't know much about it before I came. Israel now feels like a second home to me and I wanted to explore it artistically. I took as many shots of the country as I could, several of them representing what you have to do to build a home and what about that place speaks to you.
The video just went viral. Somehow, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs found out about it and published it on their website. From there, a tour operator called Routes Travel got in touch with me, hoping to make a similar video for their company. Ironically, I went on Birthright with Routes so they had actually met me before. Long story short, I'll be heading back to Israel in early May to spend two months filming and producing.
You probably didn't expect coming on WUJS to lead to a job.
It's great. The travel company called me in for a meeting to see what we could do together and we agreed on the terms. They'll be paying me for a number of videos in the same style as the one I made while on WUJS. They liked my photography and wanted me to create something highlighting their tourism and what they offer.
I'm expecting to work on it through the end of July and I'll stay until I complete it. On top of that, I'm going to staff one of their Birthright trips which gets me a flight to Israel and back. I may extend the trip for myself, especially if this leads to more work .
So what was the best part about the WUJS program?
It was just amazing; I couldn't have asked for anything better. The arts track was perfectly geared to what I wanted to do and allowed me to spend six months making whatever art I wanted to make. I connected with a lot of helpful people, leading to my upcoming trip back. Just being able to travel around the country, going everywhere you can imagine was great. For what we got, I paid a miniscule amount of money. The museums, the trips...and the art director Ofra was irreplaceable.)
Do you know what your future plans are?
I am definitely open to possibilities. I plan on being in Israel for a year if not longer. I want to explore my options and see if I can find a niche in Israel. If it doesn't work, I can always go back to LA and freelance.