03 May A Homecoming to Israel through Masa
Born and raised in a close-knit Jewish community in Johannesburg, South Africa, Ortal, 23, whose parents are Israeli, was searching for purpose after a difficult year personally in 2019. She found it in Masa Israel Teaching Fellows (MITF).
“Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined myself wanting to live in Israel, I was always more fixated on going to the States,” recalled Ortal. “But with 2019 being a hard year for me, I started yearning to go to Israel, a place where I’d really feel at home. I was on the hunt for ideas and when I came across MITF online, and it was perfect for me.”
Ortal is currently based in Bat Yam. She teaches English to Hanassi School students through Zoom (she was briefly able to teach in-person) and plans fun activities to get the kids excited about using English, also running small reading groups to improve their comprehension and speaking skills. In addition, Ortal volunteers at Bat Yam College a few hours a month, helping young adults with English.
“MITF offers participants the opportunity to interact on a deep level with Israeli children and people and be immersed in Israeli society, making for an authentic and connective experience,” Ortal said. “As much as we’re here to assist and impact the lives of others, the people we encounter definitely have an impact on participants. MITF allows you to develop personally while also exploring Israel and our Jewish heritage.”
What makes being a Fellow in Bat Yam even more special to Ortal is the fact that her mom grew up there. When her mother lived in the city, Ortal’s grandmother had a good friend in Bat Yam who they would see almost weekly, with Ortal’s mom even going to visit her for tea on her own. Ortal had heard about this woman her whole life and knew that she still lived in Bat Yam, now in an old age home, not too far from where Ortal was, but she’d never met her — until recently.
“In early February, I received a call from my mom telling me to go downstairs and say hello to someone. Confused, I grabbed my mask and followed her instructions,” recounted Ortal. “Downstairs, my grandmother’s best friend greeted me. She’d just been vaccinated and invited me to come to tea, once I’d gotten both doses of the vaccine, just as my mother used to. And what she said next really touched me… She said, I am not coming to her like a visitor, I am to come to her like family.”
In her free time, Ortal has enjoyed exploring Tel Aviv and hitting the beach, as well as visiting family and friends. While frequent lockdowns limited her ability to explore more expansively, she’s still managed to find interesting places and go on adventures. She’s also been participating in the Masa Leadership and Impact Center Tracks Fellowship, gaining a better understanding of Israel and herself through educational and insightful sessions.
And Ortal’s overall MITF experience has spurred her desire to move to Israel permanently.
“MITF is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and I think anyone who does the program feels fortunate to be able to spend almost a year in Israel living like a local,” said Ortal. “After being in Israel for all these months, I really feel at home and can’t even think of leaving. Being a Fellow has also made me realize how much I need to work in a profession where I am helping people. I am now planning to make Aliyah, hoping to stay and work here in the Tel Aviv area.”