Marissa Steinhofer, 23, is not best friends with Miley Cyrus.
Yes, the pop star who played “Hannah Montana” is from Franklin, Tennessee, which is in the United States, which is where Steinhofer is from. But, really, that doesn’t mean they hang out.
As Steinhofer was getting over this first hurdle of explanation while teaching children English in Israel, she came to realize her students were fascinated with America.
“I feel like a celebrity every day when I go to school,” said Steinhofer, who is mid-way through a ten-month teaching stint in Ashdod, Israel. “The kids are so excited to see me every day.”
Steinhofer grew up in Wauwatosa and then moved to Shorewood and attended high school there. She spent many summers at Olin-Sang-Ruby Union Institute, the Reform Jewish camp in Oconomowoc. She attended University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee, double-majoring in Jewish studies and communication. She was president of Hillel Milwaukee before graduating in May of 2014.
All of that has led her to this moment: She’s in a classroom at Retamim School in Israel, looking at her watch. She’s waiting for a small group of her Israeli students, ranging from 3rd to 6th grade, to stop talking. They see her eyeing her watch. They trail off and stop.
When that happens, she has everyone sit in silence for exactly as long as she timed them talking. “See, this wasn’t very fun,” she says, “so let’s not do this again.”
Though she’s got to control the class, she loves her job and the kids are great, she said.
“They want to learn English,” she said. “They want to put in the effort. They’re excited.”
Her role is to teach typical Israeli students as part of the Masa Israel’s Teaching Fellows program. The program is a 10-month teaching and volunteer fellowship in which college graduates teach English to Israeli children. More information is available at IsraelTeachingFellows.org.
Steinhofer is using weekends to travel around Israel, to see Israeli and American friends from camp and elsewhere.
Steinhofer is well aware of the litany of attacks in Israel. “A lot of what’s happening right now in Israel is in Jerusalem, Ashdod’s pretty far from that,” she said. “You go about your life. I guess you could kind of compare it to shootings in America in a way. Yeah, something might happen but you can’t just stop living. But I’m definitely more aware. I pay attention more. I look around more.”
Steinhofer can see herself working in the Jewish community after she’s done with her 10 months.
“I don’t want to make aliyah,” she said. “I love Milwaukee but I’m planning on applying to jobs all over the country. Milwaukee will always be my home.”
· On her first Israeli wedding: “First thing that I learned was that gifts aren’t a thing here. Everyone brings money to the wedding and writes on the envelopes that were provided for us.”
· You know you’re in Israel when: “Winter means 60 degrees and big puffy winter jackets, hats, gloves, and scarves have all come out.”
· On a ceremony in October: “As the kids started singing this beautiful song to remember Rabin, it started to rain lightly. It was a beautiful moment like Yitzhak Rabin was listening and started crying because these kids were singing so beautifully.”
· Read more: EatPrayLoveIsrael.WordPress.com