Johannah Jolson & ENTI

Masa programme name: Masul Ishi
Date: June 2013-April 2014
Duration: 10 months
Accomodation: Dimona (Negev), Ramat Aviv (Merkaz), Carmiel (Galil), Tel Aviv (Merkaz)
What she was doing: Volunteering at the Matnas in Dimona, learning Hebrew, going on day trips and other programme activities and volunteering at Kishorit (a UJIA project in the Galil).
Why she decided to do a Masa programme: I was doing a performing contract in hotels in the Dead Sea and Eilat and felt like there was more to get out of my time here – I wanted to really experience the real Israel, rather than the tourist version I was getting from my experience in working in the luxury hotels.  So I finished the contract there and embarked on a Masa programme – which was totally the right decision.

The number one question I get asked almost every day by Israelis is “Why did you make Aliyah?”

I’m sorry if you’ll expect this to be a story of a young woman who, for many years, had dreamed and planned a big move to the Holyland and how coming here fulfilled my lifelong aspirations.  I’m sorry if this will disappoint you, but I’m not that girl.

I came over here for a few months and just sort of stayed.  I ran out of reasons not to make Aliyah.

It all started in December 2012 with the UJIA Birthright trip (tour operated by Israel Experts) – which I basically went on because I’d broken up with my boyfriend, fancied travelling a bit – and it was a free trip.  However, that trip turned out to be a life changing 10 days that sparked a totally unexpected revelation of my previously non-existent Jewish identity, and the catalyst for the beginning of my search to find a way to come back for a slightly longer period of time.  For travel purposes, you understand.

A professional actress and singer who was kind of a bit fed up with the London audition circuit, I started to look for performing work in Israel and found possibly the only job there was and has been since – a British show performing in hotels in the Dead Sea resorts and Eilat.  It seemed a bit like fate, and although not necessarily a career move for me, it definitely seemed like a great opportunity to explore more of Israel so I jumped at it.

However, a few months into the contract, I began to feel like I wasn’t quite getting what I’d hoped from the experience – I wanted to see the real Israel, rather than the shiny tourist version we were presenting in the luxury hotels.  And so I subsequently embarked on my MASA Israel Journey – the Maslul Ishi iTrack programme.

My MASA programme was everything I’d hoped for – the second life changing experience; it was a flexible programme which meant that I had the freedom to choose what I wanted to do and have the support of my amazing madrich (Shai Bar-Ephraim) and fellow participants.  I did everything on my programme; I lived in the South, North and Tel Aviv.  I learned Hebrew.  I went on daytrips and explored the country top to bottom.  I particularly got a lot out of spending three months volunteering at Kishorit, a kibbutz in the Galil for adults with special needs – a project that UJIA supports.  I grew so much as a person in that 10 months and most importantly I really tasted what it was like to live here in Israel – before making the decision to make Aliyah for real.

Towards the end of my time on the programme, I attended the Masa Leadership Summit, which was the third life changing experience for me in this story:


It was here that I had the seed of the idea to launch what is now English National Theatre of Israel – the first professional Israeli English-language theatre organisation.

Luckily for me, at the Leadership Summit we had the opportunity to apply for a PresenTense Accelerator Programme, which took a handful of successful participants on board and helped them with launching social ventures.  It was invaluable for me in helping me to develop the foundations of English National Theatre of Israel.

​By chance, at the same conference, I met with another Masa participant – Clayton Fox – with whom we decided to mount what would become the inaugral ENTI production, An Iliad.

That was over a year ago and in the meantime, I’ve moved back to Tel Aviv, made Aliyah and ENTI has gone from strength to strength; what started as just a few garbled thoughts at the Masa Leadership Summit has now grown into a team of 14 wonderful people (and counting!) with great skills working together on the project.

An Iliad, our first of many projects, was such a success that we are producing it again in September 2015 – this time, for an extended tour.​

ENTI’s three goals are: to present high-quality English-language theatre throughout Israel, to support English-language learning for all through empowering outreach projects and to become ambassadors for theatre artists in Israel on a global level – always ensuring that our projects are in line with our Artistic Policy of programming works that have a specific relevance to Israel.

To any young person considering coming to Israel for any period of time, I really cannot recommend Masa highly enough.

My life is totally unrecognisable to three years ago.

I’ll admit it was part ignorance and partly that I just hadn’t been exposed to this part of my family heritage.

I always remember going through the suggested packing list the night before my Birthright trip, and having to google “suitable clothes for Shabbat”.  At that moment, I couldn’t point to Israel on a map, had never been to synagogue except for my grandparents’ funerals and I certainly didn’t know a word of Hebrew.

I now live in undeniably one of the most interesting countries in the world, I have an amazing network of friends and have found purpose in my work-life.  I live two minutes from the sea.  I eat fresh fruit and veg every day.  I have met friends and made connections with people from all over the world.  I lead an exceptionally international lifestyle – travelling a lot with work, I’m always jetting off somewhere – but what is amazing and totally unexpected is that I now have such a strong sense of home here.

Some say “home is where the heart is”, but for me “home is the place where we become a grown up”.  The place we learn to stand on our own two feet for real, to problem-solve, to navigate unfamiliar situations.

That place for me is Israel.  And I am so grateful to all the organisations and individuals that guided me on my journey… My own “Masa”.

For more information about English National Theatre of Israel, like the Facebook page, and follow on Twitter/Instagram.

You can also follow more of Johannah’s Israeli and international adventures through her Instagram.

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For more information on this, and other programmes, please visit www.MasaIsrael.org/find-program, or keep in touch on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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