A Spotlight on MITF Fellow Aliana Baskin

Aliana Baskin

Meet Aliana Baskin

“I love getting up every morning knowing that I have a purpose of teaching children English,” said MITF fellow Aliana Baskin.

This year with MITF is Aliana’s third time in Israel, and she is enjoying every minute of it. As someone who has always been interested in helping others, Aliana was confident that MITF would be a great fit. 

“It was actually my aunt who sent me the notice about this opportunity. She knew I was looking for ways I could continue to help people by empowering and inspiring others,” she said.

After graduating from the University of Arizona with a degree in social work, Aliana was a member of AmeriCorps, working in a women’s shelter. She also interned with the Arizona Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence. In addition, she had a job assisting people obtain healthcare and realize their rights under the insurance plans. 

Teaching English to students in 2nd through 6th grade at the Amital School in Jerusalem’s Har Choma neighborhood has cemented Aliana’s interest in pursuing a helping profession. “I had hoped that I would be able to figure out what I want to do with my life, and I have. I now know that I want to go back for my masters to become a licensed social worker,” she said.

Aliana, who grew up in various parts of California and went to Camp Ramah in California since age 13. She attended a Conservative synagogue with her family, observed Shabbat and holidays, and attended an intensive Hebrew school program from the ages of six to 14. These were certainly factors in her choosing to apply to MITF with Ramah Israel.

Aliana, 23, loves living in Jerusalem for the year, saying, “It is a place that brings me peace in my heart.” She shares a large apartment in the German Colony neighborhood with nine other women from the program, with whom she has become close. The women host Shabbat dinners, and six from the group went to the beach in Ashdod together.  

Recently, Aliana participated in the MASA leadership conference. “I gained a lot of knowledge about how to be an effective leader” she said about the event.

Aliana may have her sights set on starting graduate school, but in the meantime, she is very much enjoying her time with MITF with Ramah Israel. “I love being in Israel and feel so privileged to take part in this opportunity,” she said. 

A Spotlight on MITF Fellow Emanuel Colón

Emanuel Colon

Meet Emanuel Colón

“It is amazing to have students who at the beginning of the school year didn’t know the English alphabet and today they are reading full words. They make me a proud teacher and make all of the hard work worth it,” said MITF fellow Emanuel Colón.

Emanuel, 22, teaches students in 3rd through 6th grades at the Noam Banim School, an all-boys religious elementary school in Ramot in northern Jerusalem. Emanuel is excited about the English section he opened in the school’s library, from which students can check out books to practice their English reading. 

“My boys were excited to check out books so that they could read English in their homes. Once they finish reading a book they bring it back to school and check out another to take home. Today they are readers, tomorrow they will be leaders,” Emanuel said proudly. 

With this his seventh time in Israel, Emanuel is feeling quite at home in the country and is considering staying on and making aliyah. He loves Jerusalem and is glad to be living in a shared apartment in Jerusalem’s Katamon neighborhood. He finds there aren’t as many native English speakers (or Anglos, as they are called in Israel) in the area, so he has many opportunities to use his Hebrew while interacting with neighbors and local merchants. 

Improving his Hebrew is a focus for Emanuel this year. However, his lack of fluency in the language does not get in the way of connecting with his students. “The students and I figure out what’s to communicate and understand each other, let that be by hand motions, acting it out, or asking “Rabbi Google” (Google translate),” he said.

Emanuel, whose Sephardic Jewish family hails from Puerto Rico, grew up in Worcester, in central Massachusetts. He attended Worcester State University, earning a degree in criminal justice law with a concentration in ethnic studies and minor in Spanish. In parallel to his studies, Emanuel worked as a resident assistant (RA) on campus, a teacher at synagogue Hebrew schools, and as a counselor at an after school program at the local JCC. Emanuel also loves to dance and was part of a competitive Latin dance team.

A religiously observant lifestyle is an important part of Emanuel’s identity. He always keeps his head covered and wears tzizit (a fringed religious undergarment). He also keeps Shabbat and kashrut on a regular basis. At the same time, Emanuel takes a pluralistic and inclusive outlook toward Judaism. 

“There are many ways to be Jewish and we can learn from one another. It is important to affirm the plurality of religious expression within Judaism. The goal is to maintain unity. God gave us the gift of Torah. The Torah is the only way to achieve real unity. I encourage others to find their own level of observance by adapting rituals from our Jewish tradition into their everyday life,” he said.

According to Emanuel, his Judaism inspires him to pursue values such as freedom, social justice, and equality — including gender equality.

“I am an Orthodox Jew who is committed to halacha (Jewish law), and at the same time very supportive and vocal about gender equality and religious freedom. I attend an Orthodox Partnership minyan that is working to expand the spiritual, ritual, and intellectual opportunities for women within the framework of halacha,” he said. 

For Emanuel, spending a year in Jerusalem with Ramah Israel teaching English was the right choice. “What an amazing opportunity,” he said.