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How lockdown unlocked opportunities in Israel

Being able to succeed in a new environment taught me that I can make a life for myself anywhere.

Billboard ads of Masa Journey Israel Fellows, 2020-21. Credit: Courtesy.
Billboard ads of Masa Journey Israel Fellows, 2020-21. Credit: Courtesy.
Amy Shohet
Amy Shohet

Coronavirus promised a lackluster sophomore year of college until it presented an exciting opportunity. At a time when millions were stuck at home, including me, the pandemic unexpectedly enabled me to travel to Israel for a long-term experience with Masa Israel Journey, an organization founded by the Jewish Agency and government of Israel.

I played lacrosse all through high school and now I play at Dartmouth College. This fall, I had been planning to rent a house in New Hampshire with eight of my friends and teammates, where I would do my remote schoolwork, work out with my friends and maybe get to go hiking. Lacrosse hardly featured on my schedule; due to the pandemic, the team would seldom practice, let alone play. I resigned myself to a dull semester.

Then, MacEllen McDonough, an Israel Women’s National Team player, reached out to me and told me about the Israel Lacrosse Masa Gap program. I could spend a few months living in Israel; practicing, playing and training, as well as coaching Israeli youth teams. Israel wasn’t in lockdown at the time, although newcomers to the country had to quarantine for two weeks. Ordinarily, as a student-athlete, traveling abroad during a school semester would have been unlikely, but since all my classes were remote and lacrosse practice was out, the decision practically made itself. I had the rare opportunity to explore a new country, learn more about my Judaism and myself, and spend more time immersed in the sport I love, all while continuing my studies.

Why write my final paper on the living-room sofa when I could write it half a kilometer from the Mediterranean Sea?

I had never been to Israel before and was a little nervous about the initial 14-day bidud (“quarantine”) in my new apartment with people I had just met. But it ended up being a blessing of sorts. Quarantine has isolated so many people, relegating most communication to virtual space, so I embraced the little community it granted me. Those two weeks transformed eight strangers into a family unit. By the end, we all knew who tended to sleep in and who needed reminders to do the dishes. We shared “family dinners” every evening and got to know each other well. I’m grateful to have gained this new group—people who might have been just casual acquaintances if circumstances hadn’t forced us all together.

My time in Israel enriched me in many ways. I enjoyed teaching young Israeli children the best techniques for catching, cradling and scooping, and learning enough Hebrew to do it in their native tongue. Off the field, my Masa program helped prepare a full schedule of lectures and cultural experiences, and we traveled the country whenever COVID regulations permitted. Managing my schoolwork sometimes posed a challenge since the seven-hour time difference complicated communications, but I learned to budget my time and make tradeoffs to keep up my grades. The occasional late night seemed a small price for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make something great out of a potentially humdrum semester.

Spending time in Israel also empowered me on a personal level. For one thing, I learned to relinquish control. Before this trip, I scheduled my days pretty strictly. Transplanting myself in a foreign country—one where I didn’t speak a bit of the language—was terrifying but liberating. I learned to enter without expectation, keep an open mind and make the best out of whatever the fluctuating lockdown situation threw at me. Moving in with total strangers? No problem! Restaurants shuttered? We could cook or order in.

Being able to succeed in a new environment taught me that I can make a life for myself anywhere. And more than that, I learned that no matter where I am, no matter what language I’m speaking, I can make an impact. I have a voice, and wherever I choose to invest my efforts, I will see results and make a positive difference.

The coronavirus has hurt millions of livelihoods and taken countless lives. As we weather these last few months before a vaccine ushers in some sort of normalcy, I reflect on the gifts this time has given me: fruitful months living and growing in Israel. The pandemic will hopefully pass, its painful memory will lose its edge, but the relationships, experiences and self-development I gained will continue to enhance my life.

Amy Shohet is a Masa alum of the Israel Lacrosse Masa Gap program and a goalkeeper for Dartmouth lacrosse.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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