Reflections of a Five Month Participant

Five months ago, I started on what became an incredible adventure. When I signed up for Tikkun Olam, I kept getting asked; ‘What will you be doing in Israel?’, ‘Why do you want to go there?’, ‘Why can’t  you just work with kids in another state?’, ‘What do you want from this experience?’ All the questions were so overwhelming, I had left a great teaching job to take this opportunity and let me tell you it was the best decision of my life.

Sam with Track Coordinators & mentors Rakefet & Sarah

My time is this program was well spent. Every Sunday, I took classes on issues that Israel is facing, participated in a course that dug deeper into the Torah, and took a 3 hour course to learn Hebrew. Our Sundays, were full of group discussions and questions typically leading to everyone forming their own questions that we were all hoping to find answers to. On Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays, I was volunteering with five different programs. The best part of volunteering was that it was so individualized. My focus was on teaching and working with children but there were opportunities to work with refugees, elderly, and honestly anything you were interested in. The program coordinators either had connections to places or would help you find something that fit your interest. Mondays were split between Beit Holland and Lilach. Beit Holland is a kindergarten program for students with multiple disabilities. The staff was incredible and the children you just couldn’t help but fall in love with them all! Lilach was an afterschool program for at-risk and low-income families. I always looked forward to sitting around the table eating with all the kids, playing soccer, coloring, playing games, and especially going all out for their birthdays. On Tuesdays, I spent my mornings at Mikveh Israel. I really enjoyed teaching English to 11th and 12th graders with behavioral issues. It was a great challenge and in the process I learned so much from the staff and students. At night, I was making a quick outfit change to help out at Etgarim. This is an incredible bicycle program working with children and adults with physical, mental, and emotional disabilities. Every week, I met another amazing individual who touched my life. I loved riding on a tandem bike or riding along with someone through the paths to the beach. It was a great way to get to know one another and a way to build trust. On Thursdays, I volunteered at Beit Holland and spent my afternoons at Sexual Assault Center. For 4 months, I was tagging, organizing, and putting together clothes for a huge Bazaar with around 500 designers. This event was huge and was going to help raise money for the center. In the end it was so successful! On Wednesdays, we took classes that discussed Jewish identity, Zionism, and Israeli Society through Cinema. I always looked forward to Wednesdays because we also got the chance to do presentations on places we were volunteering at and could present on things that we were interested in.


On a visit to the Negev

My weekends were spent traveling around the country with or without the program. I went to Eilat, the Golan Heights, the Negev, the Judean Desert and many other great places! We even traveled with the group during the week to explore parts of Israel that we were learning about in our classes.

Overall, five months flew by but this program made it possible to accomplish so much in so little time. I was able to help children, really focus on my own Jewish identity and learn about all the conflicts and amazing things that are all taking place in this small country that we love so much! Tikkun Olam is a great program and after all my experiences, I am heading back to Boston to a teaching position in a 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade special education class. Tikkun Olam will always have a special place in my heart ❤

Sam & Eric at the egalitarian section of the Kotel during his first visit to Israel

Samantha has returned to Boston, Massachusetts to continue teaching. She will be starting at Memorial Elementary School, Special Ed. Teacher, a job she took a sabbatical from to come to Tikkun Olam. As she readjusts to life in the U.S., she is already adding touches of her deeper connection to Judaism and Israel to her life and home. She recently hung a beautiful Israel made mezuzah to the door of her and, boyfriend, Eric’s new apartment.

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Tikkun Olam at the 2013 Masa Leadership Summit

 (From L to R)  Back row: Carrie Collister, Zoë Baker, Elana White, Simi Adler, Jasmine Granas & Clayton Fox. Front Row: Shana Feld, Rachel Waldorf & Leah Rosenberg

(From L to R)
Back row: Carrie Collister, Zoë Baker, Elana White, Simi Adler, Jasmine Granas & Clayton Fox.
Front Row: Shana Feld, Rachel Waldorf & Leah Rosenbe

“Recognizing the complex and unsolidified relationship between the self and the collective, and the local and the global, the summit will be held in a true multi-cultural environment and will be a true celebration of Jewish peoplehood. Summit participants will be representing Jewish communities stretched all across North and South America, Eastern and Western Europe as well as Israel, for this year’s participants will be joined by 30 officers of the Israeli army.”  Masa’s Vision of the Leadership Summit

The Masa Leadership Summit is a five-day intensive learning opportunity that was open to all current post grad Masa participants. In the end only 200 young adults were selected from the pool of applicants. I think it goes to show the high quality of participants here at Tikkun Olam having such a high percentage of attendees from our comparatively small group. The goal is to help participants to successfully navigate the future of Jewish communities and to reach their global potential.

Below are the different experiences of current Tikkun Olam participants. I thank them all for be willing to share their stories with you.


The Leadership Summit was a valuable experience for me because it gave me access to numerous sessions and resources addressing being a Jewish leader in the modern world. For example, I attended talks about facilitation skills, how to create a vision for the future, as well as potential tangible next steps that I can take once my program ends. Being a part of this opportunity helped me realize that there are a number of paths I can take, and that it is important to stay proactive, especially in the frame of things I love to do.

Elana White, originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, recently graduated from UC Santa Cruz with a degree in Cognitive Science. She is a current participant of Tikkun Olam, interning at the Peres Center for Peace in the External Relations department as well as volunteering at an after school program called Kadima Yafo.


While being a member of Tikkun Olam has already had such an incredible impact on me, participating in the Summit gave me a new wave of energy. Being surrounded by 200 or so individuals all sharing a common love for Israel and Judaism, and dedicated towards creating positive change in the future reaffirmed the reason I chose to join a Masa program in the first place. As I listened to the daily speakers, and contributed to the deep discussions in the workshops it was so apparent that every participant there was invested not only to the Masa mission, but also to making a difference here and in their home communities. Throughout the seminar there was so much positive energy; friendships were being formed, ideas were being challenged it was such a unique atmosphere to be apart of. A specific workshop lead by one of the summit faculty members, and my home group leader, Yaffa Epstein, titled “Can the Jewish People Really Talk to Each Other? What gets in the way of real open communication in the Jewish community?” really stuck with me. Coming from a person who has had the privilege of experiencing several different sects of Judaism, an issue I have repeatedly seen is our inability to talk with each other. In this workshop we discussed the difference between agreeing with one another vs. communicating with each other. As Jews it is in our blood to argue, nonetheless it is still important to remember that our own perspectives and opinions should not be the thing preventing unity within the Jewish people.

Shana Feld, originally from the Denver, Colorado, is a recent graduate of The University of Texas at Austin where she graduated with a degree in Psychology/Sociology. She spends her volunteer time with Tikkun Olam, at Beit Holland, a preschool for children with special needs, Lilach, an after school center for impoverished,  at risk youth and The Florentine Elderly Center.  


A few weeks ago I attended Masa’s Leadership Seminar. Leadership is a topic that I have always been passionate for. Having the opportunity to not only learn more about leadership, but how to work on becoming a Jewish leader was something I was really looking forward to. One of the many things that really stuck with me after the seminar was this encouragement to challenge the way things are done and try new things. I left the seminar thinking about the future of Judaism and what my role was in keeping Judaism alive. I was also left with many questions. What stories will I tell the future generations of Jews? How can I share my Jewish values? What has worked for me and what has not worked for me in regards to being a successful individual? Between learning about how to make a memorable speech and hearing success stories of participants who now have start-up companies, I was asked to step out of my comfort box, and try something new! I have been asked to critically look at my strengths and values and figure out how these traits will influence my leadership. I have been asked to try a new method of fundraising for organizations I am involved with. I have been asked to take these experiences and share them with the people that I know and love. These are all things that I will keep with me for the rest of my life.

Rachel Waldorf, from Freehold, NJ, is a recent graduate of Rutgers University with a B.A. in Psychology and Jewish studies. A current participant of Tikkun Olam, she is lives in Yafo and volunteers at the Florentine Elderly Center, The Women’s Courtyard, and Ironi Zayin doing various activities from Zumba to arts and crafts and teaching English classes.

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Masa Delegation to the The Jewish Federations of North America’s General Assembly

I was lucky enough to be selected from the thousands of Masa participants, living and volunteering in Israel, to be one of 50 Masa delegates at The Jewish Federations of North America’s General Assembly[i]. This year’s GA[ii] was held in Jerusalem making it quite easy for the young leaders of tomorrow to attend. Below is a brief account my time in Jerusalem – November 7-12th.

Masa Delegation

Masa Delegation

As I stepped off the bus in Jerusalem, as the sun was setting on November 7th I was unsure what to expect from the next five days. I knew little about Federations, having spent my Jewish life is very small communities, one which had a small Federation I had never engaged with (or had not engaged with me depending how one looks at it) and then in a town that was home to one congregation. Would it feel like I was drinking the cool-aid, so to speak, if I feel in love with this institution of Jewish outreach and engagement? Only time would tell…..

The first two days were dedicated primarily to preparing the Masa delegation for the events we would be attending during the GA. I was not the only representative that was not entirely sure what a federation was and what exactly they did. To be honest, I knew they were some kind of community Jewish group that fundraised (and did something else) aka they like people with money; I saw it as, I don’t have money so they aren’t overly interested in dealing with me. During our prep time, we were introduced to Jewish Agency & Federation leaders to try to better understand their organizations and for them to meet and hear from current Masa participants. We also heard from a few heads of Federations in America. It was interesting to learn more about what goes on with Federations ranging from small to the largest in America. Although most have to focus to some extend on fundraising, they also focus on programs to improving the lives of Israelis, education both in and outside of Israel, Jewish Identity, elderly care around the world and ultimately being a second home for Jews in the communities.

One of our prep sessions was led by Robbie Gringras from Makom, an initiative of the Jewish Agency for Israel, which trains leaders and creates educational content to embrace the vibrant complexity of Israel: The People and the Place. Robbie was highly engaging as he spoke to us about the Makom matrix and the ways Makom is looking to change how young diaspora Jews see Israel (side note- I believe the matrix works well for anyone to see where they are at & for educational leaders for all levels work to bring people to a high res-inside place.)

Because of this initial time with Robbie, one of my favorite events was the MAKOM Global Jewish Forum- Moving Israel Education held the morning before the Opening Plenary. We spent a great deal of time examining the Matrix in the Plenary, through viewing interviews of high school students who attended Jewish Day School in the US and Australia in which they were asked about how they saw their Jewish Identity and its connection to Israel.

The MAKOM Matrix

The MAKOM Matrix

Driven from multiple angles; including not only the changes within Israel in recent decades, changes in Jewish identity, and the rate of information exchange, think Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Makom sees a need in for change to occur within Israel education. Makom is focusing on “reimagining the way we aim for our young people to relate to Israel.” Examining the Makom matrix with us beforehand, Robbie explained their most basic goal is to get people into the high-resolution/inside quadrant. Instead of seeing ones connection to Israel merely as outside (no affection for Israel) or inside (affection for Israel) they added the dimension of High resolution & Low resolution. Example –““Low-resolution” would suggest that green is green. “High-resolution” on the other hand, allows for green to break down into its component parts and become blue and yellow. And Hamas. And Environmental Issues. And Egged buses. And Maccabi Haifa soccer club. And and… The higher the resolution, the more knowledge, detail and nuance…” [iii] I know since my arrival in Israel and beginning Tikkun Olam, I have moved further into Hi-Res. Between my classes and day trips with Tikkun Olam, I have been gaining a better understanding of the complexity of Israel and her people. This way of looking at things really resounded with me and my goals for educating those around me and hopefully someday those in the congregation/federation/JCC/day school/Hillel that I work in.

The Grand Opening of the JFNA’s GA featured Israel’s current Prime Minter, Benjamin Netanyahu, and with that we were officially underway in our delegate responsibilities. The main events on Monday included an option to select from 20+ sessions held at three different times. I attended the following sessions; Crowdsourcing and Crowdfunding: Harnessing the Power of the People, 1967 versus 2013: How to Effectively Speak Out for Israel in a Changing World and Many Shades of Black: Insights into the Haredi World.  My goal was to get out of my comfort zone and attend sessions I wasn’t automatically drawn to, i.e. about issues I already knew a good amount about. I have to say, I think I accomplished this.  The next day was a fast paced, first visiting Hebrew Union College and then onto visiting a school with students enrolled in The Azrieli Institute for Educational Empowerment. We were then bused to the final event of the GA.

Carrie with Rabbi Rick Jacobs, current president of the URJ

Carrie with Rabbi Rick Jacobs, current president of the URJ

At the closing celebration, in Jerusalem’s Safra Square, we heard from Naftali Bennett, Natan Sharansky and Nir Barkat. Most in attendance then walked through Jerusalem’s Old City, in Jewish Unity to the Kotel.  The most moving part was walking down to Azart Yisrael, the temporary egalitarian section of the Kotel. Azart Yisrael is a bridge to a permanent solution to ensure all Jews can pray at the wall in a way that is meaningful to them. It was an amazing experience to pray here. I was lucky enough to run into Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President of the Union for Reform Judaism, standing in the section. By the end of day five I was relatively exhausted but going from dawn to dusk (usually much later) will do that to most young people.

Israeli President S. Peres as seen from our amazing seats in row 4!

Israeli President S. Peres as seen from our amazing seats in row 4!

Overall highlights included a scavenger hunt through the shuk with representatives from the Jewish Agency for Israel as well as some leaders of Federations from the US, seeing and hearing from; a Prime Minister, a President, an Israeli party leader, a leading Haredi journalist, a mayor, a US Ambassador, young leaders in the crowd sourcing & funding world as well as multiple EVPs and CEOs of North American Federations. It was also amazingly delightful to connect with other ‘High-Res’ Masa participants from around the world, with different ways of expressing their Judaism, now living in vastly different places in Israel. I learned much about Federations and about myself and how I can continue on my Jewish journey. I know that no matter where I end up, from Federation to Temple, JCC to Hillel, this GA will impact the work I do.

Lastly, I must give a huge shout out to both Yonatan Barkan, Masa’s Director of Academic Programs & Oded Fromovitz, Masa’s Director of External Relations, for keep us all in line for 5 days and handling our crap. Although they said we were amazing (mind you we are) keeping fifty 18-28+year olds accountable, semi-on time and most importantly, engaged is no easy task. And no they didn’t pay me to say this.

Horsing around with our fearless leader, Yonatan Barkan, Masa’s Director of Academic Programs.

Horsing around with our fearless leader, Yonatan Barkan, Masa’s Director of Academic Programs.

Final Note: Now I would not want anyone reading this to think no one at the GA spoke or expressed concerned about the Pew Study. To be frank I heard more hashing and rehashing of the Pew study then I care to share. The interesting thing is I don’t actually think we (the larger Jewish community as a whole) honestly learned anything we didn’t already know from Pew. I didn’t feel my time would be best focused on Pew and as I mentioned early I was attending session that would push me.



[i] The JFNA in its own words:

The Jewish Federations of North America represents 153 Jewish Federations and over 300 Network communities, which raise and distribute more than $3 billion annually for social welfare, social services and educational needs. The Federation movement, collectively among the top 10 charities on the continent, protects and enhances the well-being of Jews worldwide through the values of tikkun olam (repairing the world), tzedakah (charity and social justice) and Torah (Jewish learning).

[ii] The JFNA’s explanation of the GA:

The General Assembly (GA) is the premier annual North American Jewish conference, attracting Federation lay leaders and professionals as well as the leadership of The Jewish Federation of North America’s partner organizations and other important national Jewish organizations. It’s an event that inspires and engages current and emerging Jewish leaders, tackles the most critical issues of the day, and showcases the best of the Federation movement. The GA plenaries, forums and workshops feature top speakers from the political, business and non-profit realms.

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Peace is a Process

This week’s blog is written by Robert Venzia a native of  Hillborough, New Jersey & a current participant of Tikkun Olam, Co-Existence track. He is currently interning at The Peres Center for Peace- Sports department. He is working on their Twinned Schools Football project. Here he blogs about his experience at the project’s first training seminar.



This past weekend I attended my first joint training football camp. We had about forty high-school aged Israeli and Palestinian girls attending this camp at Kibbutz Dorot, very close to the Israeli border with Gaza. The program they are part of is called the Twinned Schools Program, which brings together girls of the same age group from one school in Israel and one school in Palestine to play sports (mostly football) together. The Israeli girls were from the city of Kiryat Gat and they had experienced Qassam Rocket fire over the past few years.  The Palestinian girls were from the city of Jericho in the West Bank.

Robert with two participants

Robert with two participants

The first thing that we did was introduction activities, which involved ice-breaker games to allow the girls to get to know each other. After the ice-breaker activity, we went to lunch and that is when I saw that I had a large hurdle to jump. The girls did not interact with each other; they only talked to the girls from their group. The Israelis only talked to the Israeli and the Palestinians only talked to the Palestinians. This was a bit disconcerting, because I had thought that the girls would come together and would interact and thus peace would be achieved. That was a pretty naïve thing to believe, because nothing in life worth accomplishing is ever that easy.

The one thing that the girls all seemed to enjoy was the music of Justin Bieber and football (soccer). When the girls began playing “Fair-play” football you could see that Nelson Mandela was right in a sense when he said, “Sport has the power to change the world…it has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than government in breaking down racial barriers.” The girls did not seem to care who was Palestinian or Israeli, they saw only their teammate, and they only wanted to win. When they scored, they hugged each other. The girls did not see race or religion, they only saw their teammate.  Mandela’s quote was proven partially correct in what I witnessed.  Sure, the girls before and after the football game did not interact much, but on the field they did.

The girls playing football

The girls playing football

Throughout the rest of the camp, we did Yoga together, a drawing activity, and played games together. The most excited the girls got, however, was when we played Bingo. On an aside, I never remember Bingo being a game that involved yelling and fierce competition, but that was the case with the girls. They were in teams of two, one Israeli and one Palestinian, and even though they did not speak the same language, I saw that they felt a connection.

Playing Bingo

Playing Bingo

This blog took me a while to write, because I was unsure of how to state the conclusion. I realize that my participation in the Twinned Schools Program will not get me a Nobel Peace Prize and that peace will not happen tomorrow due to my efforts. Human beings are not very patient, they want immediate results and thus cannot wait for change to slowly happen. My friend and former professor Sam Mustafa once told me, “peace is a ‘process.’ It’s not an end-state or a simple goal. It’s an ongoing relationship that requires constant action and maintenance. It’s not to be found in any treaty or agreement, but rather in a state of mind.” I believe that this is true, and programs like the Twinned Schools can make the dream of peace a reality.   You have to have trust in peace and the process of trust begins with getting to know someone. The personal connection is the most important in breaking down barriers. There is no problem with the process of peace starting with football, because it has to start somewhere. A month ago, on Yom Rabin, I asked what Rabin’s legacy was and I think I have now realized what it was. His legacy lives on in everyone who was inspired by him to achieve peace and do things, both large and small to make his dream, that he died for, a reality. I feel that this is why I came to Israel.

The Path to Peace

The Path to Peace

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Who am I ….

Who am I & how did I end up on Tikkun Olam, volunteering at the Daniel Centers.

I am a 28 year old, Wisconsinite, who for the past five years lived and worked in Georgia and Alabama. Why did I quit my job, pack up my stuff, drive cross country, leave all my worldly goods (including my 4 year old dog, Bella) in Wisconsin and move to Tel Aviv for ten months?  Let me tell you, it’s a great story!

After college I relocated to the south to join my fiancée. He had already started a career in Augusta, Georgia and I fell into work in Human Resources. I would spend the next few years coming to hate my job and myself (a little). The long and short of it was HR was not for me and neither was that relationship. After relocating with family friends to Dothan, Alabama in the summer of 2012, I decided it was time to find myself and figure out what I should be doing with my life; the million dollar question for most Twentysomethings these days. I spoke with my then current Rabbi in Alabama and my former Rabbi in Georgia; I knew they would both have good advice to offer.  After attending the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism’s Consultation on Conscience in Washington, DC and being advised/pushed by those two nice Rabbis, I got the itch to change. I didn’t love my job, my living situation was meant to be transitional and I needed to do something meaningful with my life.

I did two things after I got home from Washington, DC in the spring of 2012. First, I applied to one Student Relations/Greek Life graduate program. It was the only one I liked and I wasn’t going to waste my time or money pretending to like others. And then I used my trusty laptop to search Masa programs. I was lucky enough to have been on Kesher Birthright trip in the summer of 2011 and enjoyed the little glimpses I saw of a real country hidden under all that history and pizazz. Masa offers 90 programs for post college English speakers. (I had very, very little knowledge of Hebrew.) There are programs that focus on ecology, dance, receiving a master’s degree in a variety of fields, and general volunteer work with locations throughout Israel. I knew I was looking for more than a superficial experience, something with just one focus. I dove deeper and looked for a program that would allow me to have a meaningful volunteer experience plus gain career experience, one that would provide education about the past, present and future Israel, and a program that just might help me get to the path I was meant for. I came across Tikkun Olam in Tel Aviv-Jaffa.

Tikkun Olam offered three tracks, Social Action, Coexistence and Internship. With all, participants live communally in Jaffa or South Tel Aviv, spend study days focused on the issues that we encounter in our volunteering and attend classes on Jewish identity and Israeli culture. There are also monthly day tours where participants have an opportunity to meet first hand with the many different groups living in Israel and occasional overnight trips to explore the different regions of Israel. In addition, participants attend a Hebrew Ulpan for the first three weeks and continued language classes throughout the program. This seemed to be the perfect plan!

As you can guess, I was accepted into Tikkun Olam and relocated to Tel Aviv in September. I look forward to sharing my experiences with you.

Carrie with her flat mates at a Tikkun Olam Sukkot Celebration

Carrie with her flat mates at a Tikkun Olam Sukkot Celebration

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