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 4th 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.    

A Spotlight on MITF Fellow Katia Rozhdestvenska

Spotlight MITF Katia Rozhdestvenska

Meet Katia Rozhdestvenska

Although Katia Rozhdestvenska had visited Israel five times since graduating high school, she wanted to return this year as an MITF fellow because it would give her a chance to get to know Israeli life in a deeper and more intimate way. 

“I wanted to see and understand the Israeli school system, and if I could possibly fit into it somehow. I also wanted to know Israel from more than just a tourist perspective. I wanted to know it from the inside and deeply connect to the land, people, culture,” Katia said.

Katia, 23, was interested in being in Jerusalem in particular. “This city is on fire spiritually and culturally. There is so much to see and learn and do,” she said.

Katia hails from Plano Texas and graduated from the University of Texas at Dallas with a major in child development and education. She also earned her early childcare through sixth grade teaching certification. Katia has experience coaching gymnastics and substitute teaching at a Jewish day school in Dallas.

At the Harel School in Jerusalem’s Ramot Bet neighborhood, Katia teaches students in third through sixth grade and has been paired with a wonderful teacher. 

“My host teacher is so loving to the students, other teachers, and me. She cares for me like a big sister, which is such a blessing since I don’t have any family in Israel. My school has also been so incredibly welcoming and appreciative of my coming. It’s a really warm environment to work in,” Katia said.

She is grateful for the opportunity to bring her own ideas into the classroom. “It takes initiative, but it’s really what you make of it,” she said.

The long commute to and from her apartment in the German Colony (which she shares with eight other women from the program) to the school is Ramot can be challenging, but Katia uses the time constructively by listening to podcasts.

Katia grew up with little Jewish observance, but since high school she has grown closer to Jewish practices and taken an interest in spirituality. For her, being in Jerusalem is a gift. It’s a unique city where she can continue on her journey and “surround myself with people who are so turned on to spiritually-infused living,” as she put it.

Shabbat is a special time and the highlight of Katia’s week. Each Shabbat, she and her  roommates have at least one meal at home together. It’s a potluck, where everyone brings a dish.. For other meals, she and her friends can get connected to hosts families. 

Weekday evenings are also busy for Katia, as she likes to take advantage of the variety of classes and events that are offered around the city. She also hangs out with her roommates and other MITF fellows for movie nights and coffee dates.

A serious musician, Katia brought her violin with her to Israel and tries to find time to play — including for the students at her school. For her,  playing violin is “meditative and grounding.”

Katia has made a concerted effort in the last few years to learn Hebrew, using apps and self-study programs. Being in Jerusalem with MITF has given her a big push to improve her language skills, both through the MITF ulpan program and by using Hebrew in her daily life as she moves about the city. 

While Katia puts in the work to improve her Hebrew, she will soon be helping not only the children at the Harel School with their English. She will soon begin volunteering at the Lone Soldier Center, helping interested soldiers improve their English skills, as well.

A Spotlight on MITF Fellow Sara Rudolph

Spotlight on MITF Fellow Sara Rudolph

Meet Sara Rudolph

“Getting to share a classroom and co-teach with an Israeli English teacher has been an amazing experience. I’ve learned so much and grown as an educator in so many ways,” said Sara Rudolph.

MITF with Ramah Israel was the perfect match for Sara’s interest in spending a year in Israel while utilizing her bachelors degree in early childhood and childhood education from SUNY Cortland. 

From East Meadow, NY, Sara was assigned to a small school in the East Pisgat Ze’ev area of Jerusalem. She brings to the position her experience working last year full-time as a permanent substitute teacher in an elementary school, as well as teaching kindergarten and first grade Hebrew school.

Sara, 24, is pleased to be able to interact with every student in her school here in Jerusalem. “I teach every student in the building — first through sixth grades,  including first and fourth grade special education,” she shared proudly.

According to Sara, every aspect of her job excites her, but most of all she enjoys seeing how much her students are not only improving their English skills but also growing in confidence. 

“The first few weeks the kids were shy and afraid to speak to me. Now every morning I look forward to the kids running up to me give me hugs, saying ‘good morning,’ asking ‘how are you?’ and eager to engage in conversation with me,” Sara said.

The only drawback so far has been the language barrier she has encountered in interactions with school faculty and administration. “When I have an idea of a project I want to do with the kids, I can’t express it in my own way to my principal. I have to explain it to my co-teacher who then has to ask for me,” she said.

This, however, has not stopped Sara from implementing her creative ideas, some of which she recently shared with other fellows at an MITF workshop. 

Despite having completed her Hebrew school education all the way through 12th grade at her local Reform temple, Sara did not come away able to speak Hebrew. Being in Israel this year has helped her strengthen her Jewish identity, and learning to speak Hebrew has a big part of that.

“With the ulpan MITF provides, I’ve had so much fun learning the Hebrew language. My Hebrew speaking skills have grown so much and I can now order my coffee in Hebrew with confidence!” Sara said.

This skill has come in handy, as Sara enjoys spending time with other MITF fellows, often hanging out at cafes in the Baka neighborhood, where she shares an apartment with seven roommates. Other favorite spots are the Mahane Yehuda market, downtown, and the Old City. Making pizza from scratch for Shabbat dinners spent together is also a highlight for Sara.

Sara has brought her love of movies and music with her to Israel. Having grown up going to the cinema every weekend, she was excited to go to her first movie in Israel. A flutist for the last 14 years, and now learning to play the ukulele, Sara was thrilled to experience a live music performance here.

“I’ve been to one concert so far in Israel and even though I didn’t understand any of the words, it was so much fun and one of my favorite nights in Israel so far!” she said. 

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.