PHOTO: Rather than spend another year of college online, Jesse Rothstein (in mask) headed for Israel on a Masa Journey. Here he joins other Masa participants at the Kotel (Western Wall).
BY JESSE ROTHSTEIN
When I was sent home from Chapman University in Orange, Calif., in March 2020, we were in the midst of a global pandemic with no end in sight. I spent the online portion of the school year worried that it would still be like this in the fall. And of course, it was.
I had to weigh my options. Should I go back to school? That would mean staying at home and taking more courses online. I was not ready to spend another year at home after getting my first taste of independence. I would have to figure out another plan for my year. That’s when I realized I should live with my older brother Jonah in Israel.
Flying across the world wasn’t as simple as it used to be. I started to look into Masa-approved programs that could get me a visa to get into the country. I found Destination Israel, a program that would find me an internship in Tel Aviv. I could live with my brother in Herzliya and take a short commute into the city. It was perfect. I made all the plans and left America at the end of October. My COVID summer had ended, and a new chapter began.
On arrival, I was required to quarantine for the first two weeks, during which I really began to bond with my “program-mates.” Although we were all from vastly different parts of America and all doing completely different internships, we instantly clicked. It was like making friends at summer camp. We all shared a Jewish experience that shapes how we view the world. My favorite moments are from the two Shabbat dinners during our quarantine. I’m used to my parents taking charge of the food and the blessings, but this time I wanted to participate. Things feel completely different when you choose to do them yourself.
I was tasked with saying kiddush (the blessing over the wine) as I was the only one with the words memorized. I felt more connected to my Judaism than I had in years. I realized that wherever I go, as long as there are Jews, I have a family. The rest of quarantine went by quickly, and soon I was free. I packed up my things and took a taxi to my new apartment. My brother greeted me on the sidewalk and helped me unpack. I was finally where I had been dreaming about for the past several months. After not seeing my older brother for years at a time, I was spending time with him every day. I had freedom to go to the market and buy fresh food, lie on the beach and watch the sunset, or sit in my room and play guitar on my bed. And that’s when I wasn’t at my internship.
The main focus of my program is an internship in Tel Aviv, the city where my maternal grandmother spent her young adulthood. Now I am in the very place she talked about. Walking through the streets gives me a stronger connection to my family and myself. Every Sunday and Thursday, I take an hour bus into the city. It’s a good time to think and listen to music. I also have time to look at the beautiful city I am spending so much time in. It’s completely different than what I’m used to in Portland. Flags of many countries and religions are waved proudly at every street corner. Delicious smells from restaurants and fresh fruit stands drift into the bus. Art covers almost every surface. It’s one of those places people from across the world travel to, and now I know why. Although I was born on the other side of the planet, I feel like I belong.
The past few months have helped me understand that everyone has to travel to really experience life. We are all content living in the bubbles we create for ourselves, forgetting that it isn’t what true life is. We need to have new experiences, meet new people, try new foods and live a little outside of our comfort zone every once in a while. It’s the only way to know what you might be missing. The world is huge and full of amazing things. The only person who can help you see it is you.