Pursuing Sustainable Tikkun Olam in India and Israel
by Miriam Wasser, participant in Masa Israel's LIFE program
I applied to Masa Israel’s LIFE, a nine-month service-learning program based in Israel and India, because I wanted to do meaningful work with sustainable results. Two years after graduating from Connecticut College with a degree in Government, I wanted to throw my energy into worthy causes and local communities that would ultimately contribute to a global change. In order to improve the world, I believe that we must interact with, work with, and get to know people, places, and ideas that are different from our own.
In my time living in India and Israel, I have taken part in internships that have given me access to organizations, people, and opportunities that I otherwise would never have gotten. I don’t get coffee and make copies for my supervisors; I go into the field, work with experts, and write reports that they not only read, but that are taken seriously and used within the organization.
In Hyderabad, I interned at an NGO called Aide et Action that established schools in the area for the children of migrant and bonded laborers. My project involved interviewing mothers, children, and teachers—often in the middle of a loud, dangerous construction site or dumpsite—and then turning their stories into creative monologues and essays. The work was emotionally trying and at times a logistical nightmare. Translation problems or office politics often seemed like insurmountable barriers. Gender roles were especially hard to overcome. But, sometimes I realized that I was the barrier; I needed to change.
Currently, I am living in Jerusalem, where I am developing the curriculum for a six-week senior citizen's creative nonfiction writing course. In my class, which I will begin teaching in mid-May, participants will explore the concept of an Ethical Legacy, experiment with writing their own in a few different styles, and workshop each other's pieces.
Part of what has made my work possible in Israel and India has been LIFE’s focus on Adaptive Leadership, which teaches how to mobilize others—your supervisor, your co-workers, and yourself in a world of uncertainty—in order to tackle tough challenges and thrive. Putting this theory into action is empowering. Seven months into the LIFE program, I feel more confident about leaving my comfort zone and taking risks. I am amazed not only at what I have accomplished—but that I have been able to accomplish it.
Though I have never been a very religious person, I have always been attracted to the Jewish concepts of Tikkun Olam, the drive to make the world a better place, community, and the celebration of thinking deeply and asking questions. In Israel and India, my peers and I have grappled with questions like, “What does it mean to make social change?” and “What are we going to do about it?” We employ Jewish values to actively become better people with the goal of making the world a better place.
With only a few months left in Jerusalem, I know that we are well on our way.
To learn more about the LIFE program, visit: http://www.lifeprogram.org/