Josh Finn had two options after he graduated from college. He could matriculate into a graduate program right away. Or he could spend a year exploring Israel with Masa Israel Journey, Josh Finn had two options after he graduated from college. He could enroll in graduate school right away. Or he could spend a year exploring Israel with Masa Israel Journey, a joint project of the Federation-supported Jewish Agency for Israel and the Government of Israel designed for Jewish young adults.
“I knew I wanted more adventure in my life,” says Josh, now 24. “I wanted to become a sign language interpreter—in fact, I got into a program—but then I found out about Masa Israel Teaching Fellows. I applied, and the next thing I knew, I was moving to Israel.”
Masa Israel offers young Jews the opportunity to make a difference in Israel, and the educational and social support to help smooth the cross-cultural transition. Teaching Fellows is only one of Masa Israel’s more than 200 work, volunteer and study programs, and it’s one of countless invaluable Israel experiences supported by Federation’s new youth engagement initiative, JQuest.
Soon Josh found himself immersed in Israeli life, balancing 20 hours of teaching English to underprivileged students in Ashdod with four hours of ulpan (intensive Hebrew classes) a week.
At first, adjusting to life in Israel was a challenge. He struggled to communicate around the city and at school using only basic Hebrew. But gradually, he picked up enough of the language to get around comfortably. He also applied his new skills to his teaching, even starting a pen pal program connecting his sixth grade students with his American friends.
Josh’s students taught him more about Hebrew than he could have learned on his own, joking and exchanging common phrases and expressions. One even invited him home for a Moroccan-style Shabbat dinner with family. For a language enthusiast like Josh, it was a dream.
“Being away from home was hard,” he says, “but I really felt like an Israeli when I was there, and when my family got to come see me and hear me speak Hebrew.”
Another essential part of Josh’s Masa Israel experience was making new friends. Through a wide range of activities, from field trips and volunteering to visiting Bedouin tents, Josh bonded with his Masa Israel peers from a variety of backgrounds.
“It was great interacting with the people in my apartment—people who were Orthodox and Reform,” he says. “My roommate was from England, and I learned a lot about what Jewish life is like there. I also got to interact with families in the area.”
Today, Josh is getting ready to go back to school to follow his dream of becoming a sign language interpreter—only now, with a wealth of new knowledge and experience.
“My biggest goal was to finish the teaching program. I was so proud of myself,” he says.
And with such a bright future ahead, he’ll find plenty more to be proud of. Masa Israel was only the beginning.
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