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.

A Spotlight on MITF Fellow Sydney Lewis

Sydney Lewis MITF Fellow

Meet Sydney Lewis

“I’m so happy being here in Israel with MITF with Ramah Israel. I love being in Jerusalem, I love working with kids, and I love learning about Judaism and Israelis,” said Sydney Lewis.

Sydney, who recently graduated from Allegheny College in Meadville, Pennsylvania with a major in environmental studies and a double minor in political science and Spanish, is excited to spend this year deepening her Jewish identity, and also developing a greater sense of independence. 

“When I spent a semester abroad in Spain, I lived with a host family, but here in Jerusalem I am sharing an apartment in the Baka neighborhood with seven other women and needing to be more self-reliant,” Sydney said.

“This year with MITF is about exploring the world with less handholding, and being more independent and growing into myself,” she said.

For Sydney, 23, getting to know her apartment mates and other fellows on the program has been a great opportunity to make new friends. The diversity of the group — the fellows’ different Jewish and geographical backgrounds — has been a definite advantage of the program. She has enjoyed spending time with the other participants during MITF programming and activities, especially on the hikes at Kibbutz Ketura and Eilat, which have been favorites so far.

Sydney, who grew up mostly in Phoenix, Arizona, enjoys spending Shabbat in Jerusalem with her new friends. As someone who does not strictly observe Shabbat, she likes that there are a variety of options for how to spend the day of rest in Jerusalem. For instance, on a Friday night, after a traditional Shabbat dinner, she and friends often walk over to the First Station complex to hang out and have a drink. On Saturdays, Sydney enjoys soaking up the Shabbat atmosphere while picnicking at the nearby Train Track Park.

During the week, Sydney helps teach English to 3rd to 6th grade students at the TALI Bayit Vegan elementary school in the Kiryat Yovel neighborhood. With many years experience working at Temple Chai’s Hebrew school and the Valley of the Sun JCC summer day camp (both in Phoenix), Sydney was eager to again spend time with kids. So far, her work at the TALI school has been to support the English teacher by roaming around during classes and assisting students as needed. She also pulls some students out of class for extra support or enrichment.

“I’d been to Israel once before on a teen summer program and I know how to read Hebrew, but I came to Israel without any Hebrew speaking ability, so I was really nervous about the language barrier with the kids. However, we’ve managed to communicate somehow. We just communicate non-verbally when necessary. Though I do wish I could communicate more with them already,” Sydney said.

Sydney notices a definite improvement in her Hebrew speaking — thanks not only to Ramah’s Hebrew ulpan classes, but also the help she gets from all the friendly students at the TALI school. “It’s really exciting when I learn something in ulpan and then get to reinforce it while at school,” she said.

While Sydney continues to work on her Hebrew, it’s extremely gratifying for her to see her students improving their English quickly. “I’m helping to make a difference, and that feels great,” she said.

My Trek to Freedom: From Illness to the Promised Land

Masa Israel Teaching Fellow Manya Goldstein has begun to blog at the Times of Israel. We were extremely inspired by her very first blog post and had to share it here.

At times, we are gifted with experiences that shake us to our core and ultimately build us into the people we are meant to become. For me, this experience took the form of Postular Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS), an autonomic nervous system disorder I was diagnosed with just one month into my first year at Rutgers University. The autonomic nervous system is responsible for basically everything our bodies do without us thinking about it: heart rate, digestion, breathing and more. I had always taken these automatic functions for granted—until I couldn’t anymore.

Read the rest of this article at The Times of Israel.

A Spotlight on MITF Fellow Manya Goldstein

“I love the feeling of satisfaction when the kids grasp a lesson or stop me in the hallway to try telling me something in English. Just seeing how excited they are to work with me is a big motivator,” said Manya Goldstein about why she enjoys teaching English with Masa Israel Teaching Fellows (MITF) with Ramah Israel at the Noam School, a religious public school for boys in Jerusalem’s Pisgat Ze’ev neighborhood.

Manya, who hails from Jacksonville, Florida, decided to apply for MITF after spending last summer in Jerusalem studying at the Nishmat Center for Advanced Torah Study for Women. In addition to wanting to teach English through MITF, Manya, 22, wanted to have the experience of living in Israel for an entire year. This is her first long-term stay in Israel, after having done a five-week summer volunteer program here with the Orthodox youth group NCSY when she was 15. 

“MITF seemed like an extremely fulfilling way to experience Israel and give back to the country. By the end of the year, I want to feel like I have made a difference in the lives of my students,” Manya said. 

Manya graduated from Rutgers University in January 2019 with a major in journalism and a minor in political science. At Rutgers, she was active with the Orthodox Jewish community on campus, and she has had a number of jobs in the journalism and communications field. Following her diagnosis in the first semester of her freshman year with Postular Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS), an autonomic disorder that made everyday life extremely challenging with symptoms ranging from pre-fainting spells to extreme dizziness and fatigue, she became interested in entering the field of health communication to help people live healthy, flourishing lives. Manya’s published thesis on America’s processed food culture and chronic disease, has received over 66,000 views to date.

Manya is excited to be improving her Hebrew while in Israel. She’s learning from her MITF ulpan classes, and also from her students. “I started the program with beginner Hebrew and found it quite hard to communicate with the kids, who have very beginner English. But it’s turned out to be an incredibly special dynamic: the kids teach me Hebrew and I teach them English! I try to show them that it’s okay to be vulnerable and put yourself out there— that’s how we learn,” she said.

Living in an apartment in Jerusalem’s German Colony with nine other women has proved to be a lot of fun. The group enjoys hosting movie nights and Shabbat dinners together. In fact, Shabbat in Jerusalem has been a highlight.

“I definitely feel more spiritually connected here in Israel…My favorite time of the week is Friday evening when Shabbat starts and you can almost hear Jerusalem take a collective exhale. When you walk outside, everything seems so calm, slow, peaceful. It’s an incredible juxtaposition from the mad rush of the day,” she said.