BY OLIVER TWAIN
As a student at the University of Oregon, I moved home in March to finish the term virtually. If I’m being honest, I didn’t love taking my courses from home.
I had been to Israel on the Alexander Muss program for a semester during my junior year in high school. One of my friends from that program called and said that Jewish National Fund was going to have a similar program for freshmen and sophomores in college who wanted to take the fall as a gap term. After finding out a little more about the program, I swiftly made a decision and was on a plane to Israel the next month.
The Frontier program was focused on volunteering; we also had a couple of classes on the Jewish people’s history and a Hebrew class to complete the experience. There were three main geographical areas (south, north and central) where we lived and worked. After quarantining for two weeks at our home base in Hod Hasharon, we went to the south and stayed in Be’er Sheva at Ben Gurion University. While we were there, we volunteered on a couple of farms doing agricultural work. I also laid the foundation for a house on one of the farms. Besides the farm work, I got to paint a playground at a school and the inside of a refugee center. From there, we went to the north and stayed at Moshav Ben Ami. My volunteer experience involved packing up food and necessities for families that needed it at a center in Akko. Finally, we finished up in Hod Hasharon, and I worked at a food pantry in Lod.
Besides the volunteering, we went on a variety of hikes and excursions as we walked through Israel’s history. Highlights for me were learning more about the Eritrean Women’s Center for immigrants in Tel Aviv and volunteering there to assemble packages of toys, furniture and food for the women and their families. I loved being in the north, where we rode mountain bikes through a nature reserve (Agamon HaHula), drove jeeps in the Golan and visited an abandoned Syrian intelligence center where Eli Cohen had been based. I had a few exciting experiences in Jerusalem, which included wandering into an empty Holy Church of Sepulchre, joining a rally when the American election results were announced and visiting the Knesset where Miki Zohar (the Coalition leader) talked to us. I also made some fun memories zipping around on a scooter in Tel Aviv.
Of course, the best part of the trip was meeting and having the experience with 20 other people my age from across the United States who all attend different colleges.
I’ve been asked many times, “what about COVID-19?” COVID is definitely a factor in Israel. Just like here, we had to wear masks, stay sanitized and limit our gatherings to the people in our group. That said, we met with farmers, speakers and nonprofit leaders who took the same precautions.
After being in Israel two years prior, it was hard to see the toll that the pandemic has taken across the country. Walking through Tsfat and seeing the empty artisan shops, not being able to see some of our close family friends who live there and noticing the restaurants that have had to shut down was heartbreaking. That said, Israel is Israel and as always, the nation will persevere. I’m already looking forward to the next time I can walk the streets and be in a country that I call home.
WANT AN ISRAEL EXPERIENCE?
Masa Israel Journey is accepting young adults for spring 2021 programs. Masa Journey offers immersive experiences for young diaspora Jews; it lasts two to 12 months and includes study, volunteering and career development programs. Masa offers a wide range of programs through a network of partners. For more information visit www.masaisrael.org.
One Masa partner is the Alexander Muss Institute for Israel Education (AMIIE-JNF), which will offer a Spring Semester (Jan. 26-May 27, 2021) of Frontier Israel for college freshmen and sophomores currently enrolled in U.S. academic institutions. Frontier Israel is designed to provide a real life, modern day pioneering experience. For more information, contact Marni Heller at 212-879-9305 ext. 485 or visit amhsi.org/programs/frontier-israel.
The Jewish Federation of Greater Portland offers Chai Israel scholarships for high school, summer or gap year programs in Israel. Gap year scholarships are for high school graduates who have not yet started college. For more information, contact Rachel Nelson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 503-892-7415.