Israel has ONE Master of Arts program in Creative Writing and it's worth two in the UK!
FAIR WARNING: Your English is at risk if you spend time in Israel!
If you’re looking to study abroad, Israel is typically not a top choice to learn English. According to one estimate, about 85% Israelis understand/ speak English to some extent, out of which only 2% are native English speakers. What that means is that you are very likely to interact with non-traditional English rife with multicultural influences. Additionally, as in any country, there is a degree of Israeli-fication of English and you hear gems like ‘I’ll collect you from the bus stop’, ‘let me organize my picnic bag’, and you might as well not bother correcting someone calling binary ‘beenaari’ (they already know!). However, if approached with the right mindset, it may prove to be the most enriching exercise and will force you to rediscover your own voice.
But then again, MA in Creative Writing is not a language but rather a CRAFT course. And when it comes to creative literary output, you will find Israel to have pretty high standards, not ignoring the fact that so much of its existence today is derived from long standing texts.
The Creative Writing Program at Bar Ilan University was renamed as Shaindy Rudoff Graduate Program to honor the founder of the first such program in English in the country. Bar Ilan University is one of the largest, multi-disciplinary public research universities in Israel.
It is a two-year long (can be extended to three years), THESIS- program, which offers a range of highly rewarding courses including year long specializations in short stories or novels.
Despite the large number of students in Bar Ilan, it has a pretty good record of responding to personal requests for customisations in programs. An essential hack in Israel is to ask for it, if you need something. However, the point of mentioning that was to state that the structure is likely going to look a bit different for everyone depending on whether they have previously studied English (if not, then you do some Hashlamot or prerequisites) or whether you’re Jewish or not (there are some Jewish courses that are not mandatory for Non Jews), etc.
However, by and large, this program takes place over two years with a combination of semester and year long courses. These include seminar courses (where the teacher teaches and you submit assignments/ give exams) or Workshop Courses (where you learn, but also submit your written pieces and receive feedback from your peers).
A Masters Level Seminar Course called Life Writing taught by Prof. Ilana Blumberg in fact gave the necessary impetus for this blog.
This program is very popular among English writers in Israel. By the nature of the country and its adult education system, one is likely to find a wide variety in terms of age, socio-cultural background and standards of English in class. However, the diversity in sensibilities is a true test of your writing.
Creative Writing is not exactly a ‘Return on Investment’ kind of degree. But that shouldn't discourage one from studying abroad or put unreasonable financial pressure to pursue it. Now, the world's top-ranked Creative writing programs are found in the USA and UK. The average cost of such a course in the US is $9,111 for state residents and $30,900 for out-of-state students for the academic year 2021-2022. Meanwhile, for example, the one-year full time Creative Writing Program at the University of Birmingham for foreign students is priced at £21,960.
In comparison, the Shaindy Rudoff program for Creative Writing in Israel is heavily state-subsidized at around £4,775 per year, with options to get some scholarship or work for your tuition.
It is conducted by a good mix of scholars and published authors, making it academically inclined as well as vocational. There is an impressive range of academic and cultural background among the faculty. At the time of writing this post, Marcela Sulak, author of author of five collections of poetry, was director of the program. Meanwhile the Creative Fiction track is headed by Evan Fallenberg, a prolific author and educationist who also founded and was faculty co-director of the Vermont College of Fine Arts International MFA in Creative Writing & Literary Translation, USA.
WELL-PACED OVER TWO YEARS WITH A THESIS
As aforementioned, Creative Writing is a craft. Whether you're learning it for personal satisfaction or for professional application, it requires deep learning and rigorous practice. Two years is a good amount of time to really absorb the training and be able to implement it in one's own work and develop a portfolio. The cherry on the cake is the thesis, where the faculty takes special care to provide you a mentor best suited for your project.
You’re expected to be on campus two- three days a week and can take the rest of the week for self study and to work on your own pursuits.
GENERAL ATMOSPHERE AND FLEXIBILITY
The creative writing process is different for each person. The faculty, being writers themselves acknowledge that and are at liberty to provide some flexibility. Another great feature of the Israeli academic society is honesty. It is amazing how far honesty can get you here. When you speak your truth, you will find that people are eager to move things to help you achieve your goals. Whether it is accepting your request to do your assignment a bit differently in a way that suits you better or changing word limits, for example. The structure itself is quite conducive to the writing process (except for some periods where maybe the coursework gets in the way of writing) but even so, there is scope for customization whenever needed.
SAFE SPACE TO EXPLORE YOUR VOICE
Israel is home to some of the most extreme voices that coexist with each other. It is built on uncomfortable narratives and a lot of what would be 'best avoided' in other cultures is quite often spoken very openly in this society. It is a pretty good place to experiment with topics you are writing about and to be unapologetic for your thoughts. It is a slightly rebellious crowd that can take it as well as it gives and expects no one to change their words to be palatable. There is a strange liberation in shunning docility which definitely the creative writer will benefit from.
INSPIRATION IN THE COUNTRY
Israel is quite mature in how it promotes social sciences in the country which makes it quite rich in inspiration for writers. The social media craze hasn’t quite gripped the country and reading is still quite popular. Everyone here is very aware and you're likely to get pointed and uncensored answers, so conversations are stimulating. And on top of that, being a small country, it is very easily motorable and one can enjoy diverse (and complex!) geography, culture, demography, history, religion, and much more, quite easily.
Israel does not permit Students on an A2 visa to work and this program is without fellowship. So you may have to work remotely, which after spending hours on your laptop for coursework can be very undesirable, and also may take away from your ‘experience abroad’ or simply be without an income. It may be possible to plead your case to the Ministry of Interiors, but no guarantees on how that might go. So, yes Israel is an expensive country and can be a bit difficult if you’re not well taken care of financially.
There may be requirements for General Courses and there are not that many options among courses taught in English. However, trust the right one to show up when needed just as Introduction to Website Promotion by Dr.Shuki Wulfus did while this website was under development.