Spotlight on MITF Fellow Nicole Schlesinger

Spotlight on MITF Fellow Nicole Schlesinger

Meet Nicole Schlesinger

“My favorite thing about MITF is the excitement of the children and their eagerness to learn and use English. Every day I come into school and the students ask if I will be working with them,” said Nicole Schlesinger.

Nicole joined MITF with Ramah Israel to get a firsthand experience of education in a different country. Nicole worked as a teacher for several years in New York before arriving in Jerusalem for the year. She has an MA in early childhood education and early childhood special education from Teachers College, Columbia University. Prior to that she attended Yeshiva University, where she earned an undergraduate degree in sociology, with a minor biology. Nicole has her teacher’s certification in both early childhood education and students with disabilities. She is currently working on a second master’s degree — in literacy at Hunter College — but took a leave of absence from it to participate in MITF.

Having visited Israel six times previously, Nicole was certain she wanted to be in Jerusalem this year. She also felt comfortable joining a program run by Ramah.

“I chose to do MITF with Ramah Israel for two reasons. The first is, it was very important for me to be in Jerusalem. Jerusalem was the only place I could envision myself living in; it is the capital of Israel and so diverse religiously. The second is, some of my siblings grew up going to Camp Ramah and one of them still does, so I understood Ramah as an organization,” said Nicole, who grew up in Sharon, Massachusetts. 

Nicole, 28, teaches 2nd through 6th grades at the Ofarim School in Jerusalem’s Homat Shmuel neighborhood. Sometimes she teaches entire classes, while other times she teaches smaller groups of students, or one-on-one. She loves it when students come up to her during breaks to practice their English with her. One student even asked to work one-on-one with Nicole on a weekly basis as a birthday present!

Although Nicole’s experience at the school has been positive over all, there have been some challenges. She speaks some Hebrew, but definitely not as fluently and quickly as her students.

“When the students speak, they speak really fast and I’ll have to ask them to speak slowly to be able to try to get the gist. Additionally, as an experienced teacher, there are cultural differences in the way teaching and planning are taught, which are things I have had to adjust to,” she said.

Nicole said her Hebrew, which she originally learned by attending Jewish day school for 12 years, is improving to the point where she finds herself speaking too much Hebrew — and not enough English — with her students.

Nicole grew up in a Modern Orthodox family. Although she doesn’t like to give herself any labels right now, she is still very much involved in the Modern Orthodox world and enjoys celebrating Shabbat and holidays with friends, family, and new acquaintances she has met in the local “Anglo” (English-speaking) community. Nicole lives in a shared apartment in the German Colony neighborhood, and appreciates the close proximity to a variety of synagogues. She heads on occasion to the Kotel, which is not too far a walking distance away.

Before arriving in Jerusalem, Nicole was a teacher in the New York City Department of Education. She worked with students in pre-K through 5th grade, teaching them English language arts, science, social studies, math, and social-emotional learning. She also developed individualized lessons for students with disabilities. Now she can add teaching English to Israeli students to her resume.


Spotlight on MITF Fellow Alexis DeBrock

Spotlight on MITF Fellow Alexis DeBrock

Meet Alexis DeBrock

“My grandparents never had the chance to visit Israel, and they were so proud when I told them I was moving here for a year. Something in my gut just told me I should take the risk and be adventurous. And so far I have no regrets,” said Alexis DeBrock.

At the halfway mark of MITF with Ramah Israel, Alexis can point to the ways in which she has learned and grown from the experience. “I learned so much about myself and gained a lot of confidence in myself and my skills. I feel I can translate many of the skills I’ve learned here to other parts of my life both professionally and socially,” she said.

Alexis, who hails from Seattle, Washington and earned a bachelor’s in medical anthropology and global health from the University of Washington, said she has had an amazing time teaching English. “I’ve learned that if I can connect with these students, while having a language barrier, then I know I can connect with anyone anywhere,” she said.

Alexis, 23, is teaching 2nd to 6th grade students at the Amital School in Jerusalem’s Har Homa neighborhood. Without a professional background in education, she found teaching somewhat challenging at first. However, she said that over time she has become very comfortable with the job and has found what best works for her and her students. She is especially pleased that she has succeeded in forming personal connections with all of her students. 

Living in Jerusalem has been a great experience for Alexis, who had visited Israel twice before this year. “I love living in Jerusalem. There’s honestly nowhere else in Israel I’d want to live for the year. There’s just so much history, culture, and exciting events always occurring,” she said.

At first she lived in a shared apartment in the Baka neighborhood, and now she lives in Katamon. She likes both neighborhoods, but finds the latter to be “more local” with fewer English-speakers. Living in Katamon gives her more of a chance to use the Hebrew she is learning.  “I just really wanted to live like a local and do something out of my comfort zone,” she said.

Alexis, who has a Jewish mother and Catholic father, was raised in Reform Judaism. Growing up, she was active in her synagogue’s religious school (as both a student and a madricha) and choir, and she celebrated all the major Jewish holidays. However, during college she was less connected to Jewish practice. 

“Since living in Israel, I’ve developed a stronger and deeper love for Israel and the people and culture here. I’ve realized for myself how important Judaism is to me, and how I’d like to incorporate Judaism into my life after this year is over. I’ve learned how much I love the concept of Shabbat and that I want to incorporate family meals on Friday into my future household. I also want to try and attend Shabbat services more often, as I’ve loved going every week here,” Alexis said.

An avid skier, hiker and gym-goer, Alexis appreciates how Shabbat has enabled her to have a day to slow down and rest. She often spends her Shabbatot with some of her new friends from MITF with Ramah Israel, including her best friend Natalie Rudolph. 

“I really enjoy Shabbat because almost everything is closed. It’s great, because I am such an active person, it forces me to relax. Shabbat is fabulous because it’s the one time during the week where I don’t need to set an alarm. Typically my best friend Natalie and I will either go for a run or long walk, hangout at Aroma on Hillel St., or watch a movie,” Alexis said.

After working successfully with her students this year, Alexis has decided that she would probably like to go into a profession that would allow her to work with children. She is thinking possibly of something in the healthcare field.

“I really feel as though this has been one of the best years of my life. This program has given me so much, socially and professionally — best friends, local friends, language, and a deeper connection to Israel and Judaism. I’ve also learned that if I can connect to students whose native language is different from mine, then I can take the skills I have learned anywhere life takes me and connect with anyone,” she said.

Spotlight on MITF Fellow Abigail Davis

Spotlight on MITF Abigail Davis

Meet Abigail Davis

I am grateful for all the experiences and friends I have. I look forward to continued growth and I don’t think I’ll ever get over my love of Jerusalem,” said Abigail Davis half-way through her MITF with Ramah year.

At the same time that Abigail is teaching in a school in the East Pisgat Ze’ev neighborhood through MITF, she is also pursuing a master’s degree with a focus in education at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Abigail has set goals for herself for both efforts. “I hope to be able to leave with a new knowledge from the degree I’m working on, and of Hebrew — because I’m trying my best to learn the language. And I hope to make an impact on at least some of the kids I’m teaching,” she said. 

Abigail, 23, grew up in Dunn, North Carolina. She arrived in Jerusalem after having earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Hofstra University in New York. She’s held down a number of part-time jobs in service and retail, and had a full-time position as a management trainee. Among her favorite hobbies and pastimes are watching Netflix, baking, painting, playing card games and board games, listening to music, and hanging out with friends.

Abigail has enjoyed making new friends on the program, especially among the seven women she lives with in an apartment in Jerusalem’s German Colony neighborhood. She usually enjoys Friday night and Shabbat lunch meals with the group. On occasion, she and a roommate will go to a host family for Shabbat dinner.

This year has been as much about Abigail’s own learning as that of her 4th-6th grade students. While she has worked hard to help improve the children’s English, she has also done her best to improve her Hebrew. Communicating with the kids has been challenging at times because of the language barrier.

“I knew a little bit of Hebrew, but not enough to have a conversation with. I didn’t know how to write in script and I could barely read Hebrew,” said Abigail, who had visited Israel twice before this year. 

“One of the first things I took upon myself when I landed in Israel for MITF is I taught myself how to write in script and it became very useful. From then to now, I would say my Hebrew has grown tremendously. I still can’t hold too much of a conversation, or more like I’m still shy when it comes to speaking Hebrew,” she said.

Abigail attributes her decision to apply for MITF to her growing interest in Jewish practice and affiliation. “When I went off to college, I joined Hillel and Chabad, which influenced me to come to Israel. I am proud of who I am becoming. I want to keep up my practices here, like keeping kosher and having Shabbat,” she said.

For Abigail, this year has been one of both personal and professional growth — and the two go hand in hand. She’s gained much from her interactions with MITF staff and colleagues, and also with her students. 

“Honestly, I enjoy being around the kids. I especially enjoy it when I can see the enthusiasm in them when they are learning. They’re also great ego-boosters!” she said.