“My yesterdays walk with me. They keep step, they are gray faces that peer over my shoulder”
Jaime Bean was a participant in the MITF Migdal HaEmek program last year. As she gets ready to lead a Birthright Israel trip this month, she reflects back on her time teaching in Israel.
As I prepare to lead a Birthright Israel trip this May, I have found myself thinking a lot about the 10 months I spent teaching English as a part of Masa Israel Teaching Fellows last year. Though it has been 9 months since I returned home, there is not a day that goes by when I do not think about my time in Israel. Whether it is talking to the best friends that I met or reflecting on what it was like to live half way around the world in a new country with a new culture and a new language, I carry this experience with me every day. Before I embarked on this incredible journey, there were many times where I doubted myself as to whether I could really do it or not. The idea of moving away from my family and friends to teach in an elementary school was daunting. Fortunately I have a strong support system within my friends and family who all encouraged me to chase my dream of living abroad, so before graduating from graduate school I applied to be a Masa Israel Teaching Fellow in the city of Migdal Ha’emek and was accepted.
I can confidently say that my year in Israel was one of the most formative, life-changing experiences I have had. The people that I met quickly became my new family and the work that I was doing was so meaningful that there was never a day that I did not want to be doing it. In addition to teaching in an elementary school, I also volunteered with my summer camp’s Israeli Camper Program. Every year, the summer camp that I spent 16 summers at brings Israeli teens to be campers at the Jewish summer camp in Michigan. While I was of course aware of the program, I never knew how much work and time the Israeli campers spent getting ready for their trip. I was able to help facilitate a group of campers where we talked about the cultural differences between Americans and Israelis, and we spent many hours discussing their expectations and trying to prepare them for this new experience. I loved being a part of this because in many ways it was similar to what I was experiencing myself. For many of the teens it was their first time away from their families and while it was only one month, it can be intimidating and challenging to be so far away, a feeling I knew too well.
Since returning to the United States I have realized that I cannot take the opportunities I had while in Israel, such as this one, for granted. When I made the difficult decision to move back to Michigan after finishing my program, one of my hopes was that I could find a job that would allow me to travel to Israel. My year on MITF made me fall in love with the land, the history, the culture and the people, and it was impossible to see myself in a job that had nothing to do with something I cared so much about: Judaism. Luckily I was able to find a job in the Jewish communal world and now go to Israel two times a year for work. If all of this has taught me anything it would be to follow my heart, to get out of my comfort zone as often as possible and to never take any experience for granted.