I was looking for love on JSwipe and now I am teaching math in Israel


When Benjamin Cohen, 31, of Virginia entered the JSWIPE dating app about a year ago, he was looking for love, but fate had something else in mind, he found himself swiping right to an advertisement about an educational volunteering program in Israel. "The fun thing about ads is that they always like you back," he says with a laugh, "it's one of the only matches I got from this app, so I went with it and came to Israel to teach English and math and really fell in love with the country."

Cohen has been in Israel for several months teaching kids English at the Romema school in Haifa through the MITF (Masa Israel Teaching Fellows) program. The program hosts about 90 participants a year who volunteer as teachers and teaching assistants in different schools in Israel. The program is run by Israel Experience and is fully funded (3 nis million a year) by Masa - a joint venture between the Jewish Agency and the Israeli government, which underlies all the long-term educational programs of Diaspora Jews visiting Israel.

But this is not enough for Cohen, he wants to pass his love for mathematics and teaching to the next generation. To that end, he joined an accelerator program run by Israel Experience in collaboration with the communities in which they live to initiate social initiatives and engagement in the communities they live in.

Cohen decided to submit a proposal related to one of his passions - math - he approached the program with the idea of ​​setting up a math puzzle garden in the schoolyard. Math is a subject that some kids find challenging but can be made accessible through games. "Through the games, they can practice various topics, such as the multiplication table or fractions, while in recess. It is not intended to replace standard lessons in the classroom, but the goal is to get them to look at the topic as something fun - mixing fun and math. I see how the kids get excited when I teach them math with card games, so it's clear to me that they will be excited about all kinds of board games and other activities and projects I will hang on the walls in the yard," says Cohen.

For the construction of the garden, Cohen received 3,500 nis ($1,000), an amount that should cover the construction costs of the project. "If I need more funding I can always approach the Science Museum, the Ministry of Education or other NGOs in the field of education. I'm also willing to pay for it myself," Cohen said." I'm thinking of staying in Israel after July (after the volunteering program ends) to spread the word to any educational organization interested in teaching math in a different, more interactive way. I want them to see the results of this project and maybe even help open new ones,” he added.

Cohen's vision competed against dozens of other proposals that sought to have a positive impact on the community. All competitors were competing for a part of the 30,000 NIS prize. “We chose the ventures we thought would have the most influence on the community, and that the next generation of MITF volunteers will be able to continue these projects even after project initiator leaves," said Maor Lotan, the MITF Israel Experience Program Manager.


From PR to Food Rescue

May Hauer Simmonds, 28, from Ecuador, came to MITF after working in Public Relations in New York. "I came to Israel for the first time seven years ago through Taglit and fell in love since then I wanted to come back. When I heard about the Masa programs I was in between jobs and realized that it was now or never, so I went for it."

Hauer Simmonds volunteers as an English teacher at Neot Peres School in Haifa and is also active in the prevention of throwing food away, volunteering at the Robin Food restaurant in Haifa, which serves food to those in need. Her idea - that also won a grant - seeks to place a communal refrigerator in Haifa and will be stocked with fruits and vegetables donated by local businesses. Similar to ones that already exist in Tel Aviv and Be'er Sheva initiated by Omer Ronen. The communal will be available to people in need. This not only helps the needy but also avoids the waste of food.

"I hope it will work in Haifa as well as it does in Tel Aviv. We are supposed to get our first refrigerator in another two weeks and then we will start advertising on social media and any other way we can, "says Hauer Simmonds, "Businesses that donate fruits and vegetables they intend to throw away will receive a sticker indicating their contribution. We believe this will encourage the public to frequent these places because the business contributes to the community. "

Olga Shokurova

Olga Shokurova, 23, born in Ukraine and grew up in the US, also decided to get involved in providing food to the needy as part of the accelerator. Like many others, Shokurova fell in love with Israel on her Birthright journey. After completing her bachelor's degree in psychology she decided not to look for work in her field, but rather volunteer in Israel as an MITF teacher. "I teach in a primary school in Kiryat Eliezer in Haifa and noticed that quite a few children do not bring lunch from home and don’t eat anything until 2:30 pm. It was clear to me that this affects their concentration level and their academic achievements. "

Shokurova's venture aspires to connect the school with restaurants and cafes in the city that will provide sandwiches for 40 children who come to school without a meal. "We have already recruited a bakery that will provide bread and pastries, we are trying to find a hummus place who can provide hummus, and are also looking to find a restaurant that will help with cheeses for the sandwiches. We will try to make it as healthy as possible, "Shokurova says." In addition to that, we plan to plant a communal garden with the kids in the schoolyard and grow vegetables. This will not only empower them but also provide them with quality food."

Amos Hermon, CEO of Israel Experience, said that “the MITF program connects native English-speakers to young Israeli students in a very short period of time. The teaching fellows become an integral part of the community in the cities they volunteer in. The proof of this is the accelerator program which allows young MITF participants to understand their vision of improving the community they live in during the time they are in Israel. I urge the Education Ministry to double or triple the budget for this program. The results are priceless.

Read the original article in Hebrew

MITF with Israel Experience brings about 90 young native English speaking Jewish adults annually to Israel to volunteer and teach in schools. Some of the volunteers choose to create social endeavors that have positive effects on the communities they live in.