It can be hard to douse someone else’s inner flames. But, as they often do, Masa Israel comes through with the water.
I have drafted this post several times. Real life, though, tends to get in the way. Days of chasing around the little ones hinders posting. So I hope these words suffice for the inevitable delay in writing this that has been due to working crazy hours.
After returning from the Masa Israel alumni delegation at AJC’s ACCESS Summit (see my post “Masa Israel Alumni Descend On D.C.”) back in June, I stayed in touch with Motek. In July, he told me he would be attending a Masa Israel alumni shabbaton in Connecticut. This shabbaton had not been as advertised as the one the year before (see my post “Masa Israel’s Still Got It”), so this was the first I had heard about it. He told me to sign up after he sent me the information and I did. Motek and I had been working on me flying out to visit him out in the Midwest for a few days in August, so after getting final confirmation details in late August from Masa about the shabbaton and doing some rearranging with my flights, I was off to the Midwest for four nights and three days before heading to the shabbaton.
Unfortunately, my trip to see Motek had been nothing short of a disaster. On my last day out in the Midwest, the flight to North Carolina had been reasonably uneventful. It was only at the airport on our way to New York that Motek’s lies came bubbling to the surface. My chest felt like it was on fire and I could barely breathe. But I suppose I shouldn’t have been shocked; he was yet another guy who was nothing more than a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Still, I did wonder how the trip I had so painstakingly planned fell apart so quickly.
I switched my seat on the plane so that a young couple could sit together. After settling into the new middle seat and seeing my seatmates both asleep, my eyes began to blur and I couldn’t see the seat in front of me. I kept using my right hand to swipe away the tears and then put on my sunglasses. I had to force myself to breathe slower and to get my heartbeat back under control. It would not do anyone at the shabbaton any good if I couldn’t form my words. The young couple whom I switched seats with had bought me a nip of vodka, so my nerves calmed down considerably.
After disembarking the flight and wandering around La Guardia for a bit, Motek and I made our way to the bus that would take us to the Hilton in Stamford. I dozed off the entire ride and tried to let the sounds of my iPod soothe my soul. After arriving at the hotel and fetching our bags from under the bus, I and the other passengers headed into the hotel. We were bombarded by swarms of children and their family members; evidently there was some Orthodox family reunion happening that weekend. I made my way past the kids, registered with the right Masa people and then headed to lunch in one of the meeting rooms. After filling up my plate, I bumped into Rachel and Allie, two of my favorite Masa alumni. After hugging me and saying how excited and stunned they were to see me (as I hadn’t written any Facebook statuses about the shabbaton), they frowned at me deeply and their mouths curled downwards like an emoji. They noticed that my eyes were red and how my cheeks were covered in angry splotches. While I had tried to put on the façade of a powerful persona, they could see the frail and hurt girl who lurked beneath.
I told them we could talk after I sat down to eat. I slumped down in my chair while I absently poked my fork into my food. I kept getting greetings from more familiar faces and while I did groan to myself because I looked as awful as I felt, I knew I had to open up and get some clarity on my situation. And, as it always is with my Masa loves, I didn’t even need to think twice before speaking. In my heart, telling the people who have always been there for me, in America or Israel, was not just the right thing to do, but exactly what I needed. And while showing up to this shabbaton while looking like a puppy died was not my intention, those fears went away and the joyous camaraderie I always share with these people was just as great as it always has been over the years.
After lunch was over, it was off for discussions about the alumni community, working on a new logo for Masa alumni and prepping for Shabbat. I don’t remember much about the dinner, minus trying to stay awake since I had been up since 2:30 AM that morning. After having dinner, the group came together for Oneg, where we gave brief introductions and had to say something random about ourselves. The laughter overflowed in the room, making me able to smirk, even if just for a little bit.
It was pretty early when I walked through the door of my hotel room after Oneg. I was exhausted — emotionally and physically — and all I wanted to do was get into my pajamas and head to bed. I got to talking to my roommate, Michelle, a recent Israel Teaching Fellow alumna. Michelle had been in Netanya for the past year, so we spoke about the city we used to call home and she updated me on a number of things. She also told me about one of my former students and that his teachers told her he had improved his English…“because of what [I] taught him.” As an educator, I could not have imagined hearing anything more wonderful. Despite this knowledge, sleep did not come easily. Whenever I closed my eyes, I could see Motek’s face. The deafening silence in the room did not allow me any escape from the thoughts racing through my mind. Thankfully, after some tossing and turning, my mind and body started to settle. Thinking of pleasant thoughts like how much I appreciate the rest of my Masa comrades helped to alleviate the pain of the morning. With that comforting reassurance in my head, I finally managed to sleep.
When I woke up the next morning, the sun was streaming through the window. With the light of day approaching, I could honestly say I was feeling much better than the day before. Things just seemed less nerve-wracking and far less scary in the sunlight. They always do.
After putting on my face and having a hearty breakfast, the group split up into smaller groups to learn about different Jewish youth organizations, spent some time doing Kidush and Nishnush, crafting our personal Israel stories and then went to lunch. After filling our bellies, the group went to a discussion by Ariel Halevi called the Five Principles of Persuasion, followed by two breakout sessions of our choice between community building, recruitment and fundraising/donor relations. Dinner came afterwards, followed by Havdala and the most hilarious karaoke session I could have imagined. Allie and I danced while gorging on ice cream and enjoying the open bar. I had convinced her to come and sing Donna Summer’s “She Works Hard For The Money,” because I do work hard for my clients in order to pay for my expenses. Karaoke shut down before we got a chance to sing, but the fact that she was willing to stand in front of all those people with me only reinforced why I love her so much. After heading upstairs, sleep came easily.
The final day of the shabbaton was quick. I put on my face and cleared out my room before having breakfast. Some of the group had already left early, so we had a much smaller group to attend a presentation by JScreen, an organization that provides genetic tests to individuals who want to eradicate the chance of passing on harmful diseases that run in the Jewish community. After the presentation, we went to a discussion on what materials we thought Masa could create for both participants and alumni and then had reflection time. Lunch was to-go, so after a few more chats with my comrades and grabbing my bags, Rachel and I headed to the train station. We chatted for a bit before she headed back to D.C. and I took a train back to Boston. Naturally, being the most reliable babysitter in Massachusetts, I immediately left to go and babysit near my hometown the second I stepped off the train. I hadn’t seen the kids since 2014 and being their only non-family member babysitter, I was happy to see the kids I’ve been watching over the past few years. I gave their parents Masa playing cards and mints because while they—and the majority of my clients—are not Jewish, they still supported me going to Israel to teach children and even took me back after being away for so long.
I didn’t get to rest when I got back to my apartment. I had an early morning flight to Nantucket in order to be with one of the families I babysit for since their nanny was away. In between that, I was switching rooms with one of my roommates who was moving out, so I had to move as many things as I could before attempting to sleep. Although I was exhausted after not sleeping well, the family I was with in Nantucket more than made up for it with their hospitality. I had more fun on a working vacation that I did with Motek. While in Nantucket, I did get to talk about Masa and how important it was to be able to be with the people who have given me so much and that being able to have “girl time” with my girlfriends at the shabbaton at least made me feel better after my balagan of my trip out to the Midwest. Everyone whom I told at the shabbaton about my situation backed me up, reaffirming the love I continue to possess for my Masa comrades.
The second to last day in Nantucket, I headed to the beach in Siasconset. I looked out towards the ocean and remembered how back in Israel, I would head to the beach in Netanya whenever the world began to close in on me. I used to draw in the sand there and this time around was no exception.
After heading back to the main part of town, I took one last look at the ocean before I turned my back and slipped away. It was time for me to return to reality. I just hoped I could do it this time. Of course, knowing the love I had in my heart from my Masa comrades made moving on from my inner anguish easier.
When it comes to Masa, there isn’t much I can say that isn’t already plainly known. I love Masa. I just want the world to remember and to know that I have been blessed by Masa ever since I first heard about them back in 2012. My feelings for Masa are not hyperbole; they are the truth. I was a lost soul, floundering in the ocean until my Birthrighters, whom would lead me to Masa, entered my life. Ever since Masa has been in my life, I have begun to live. They are a source of knowledge, helpful and continue to allow me to meet young Jews from around the world. I am extremely humbled and honored to call myself a Masa alum. And I will spend my days trying to prove that I deserve the happiness that they bring me.
Back in late September, I went to a Masa alumni meeting in Boston. It was a small gathering at Benny’s house; Benny is an alum of ITF-Be’er Sheva and we met up several times while in Israel due to having the same program organizer. I was babysitting that day, but since I didn’t want to miss the meeting, I brought the baby with me. Although there were only a few people at the meeting, everyone helped to pitch in with the baby and Benny was kind enough to get me dishes so I could feed the little one. At least they all got to see me be the best babysitter in Massachusetts and I was so happy that even though these alumni had zero obligations to help me with the baby, they still did. It really is so hard for me to put into words how much I appreciate these people. I still struggle to show them how much I cherish and love them and how lucky I am to have met so many great people through Masa.
I am going to Australia for the first time in the beginning of November and I will be attending my cousin Matt’s wedding. This is the place I originally wanted to study abroad in (not England), but my father had said no. Now, being twenty-six and making my own money, I am doing something I was never allowed to do before. At the shabbaton, I asked Morgan, a former member of ITF and a girl whose face is plastered all over Masa’s promotional materials, if I could stay with her for a day before my flight to Sydney since she lives in California and I am flying out of Los Angeles. Even though I had just met her, she agreed after I asked her about it over Facebook. I am so thankful to break up my flying time, get over the initial jet lag and to see some of California for the first time. I have no doubt it will be a great time because I have learned that I have always fit together with my Masa comrades like puzzle pieces. Every time I see them, they teach me something new. It can be as simple as learning a new word in Hebrew or as deep as learning how to plaster on a smile when it’s difficult.
The Masa world always does so much for me. The beautiful thing is that most of the time, they don’t even realize it; they just do it. That’s the kind of people they are. Sometimes I have to remind myself to repay their continuing generosity, but I am working on it.
I promise I’ll try harder.