Masa Israel Journey Blog

Published : April 08, 2014
While living in Israel, Masa participants engage in all facets of Israeli society. This is one intern's take on the nature of the Israeli policy.
By Celina Nieman, Israel Government Fellows
It is Friday at three in the afternoon in Har Hatzofim, Jerusalem. I’ve missed the last bus into the city. For the sake of religion and tradition, a public service has been shut down. The entire country is now deprived of affordable and reliable regularly scheduled transportation for twenty-five hours.
As part of a ten month fellowship program sponsored by Masa Israel in conjunction with the Menachem Begin Heritage Center, I live in the university residences located on the French Hill, while interning in a governmental ministry. The other Fellows and I work and partake in seminars during the week, and have Friday and Saturday to explore the country and relax.
However, once I miss that last bus, this is no longer possible. From Friday afternoon onwards a student’s entire weekly budget can be spent on those two days on taxis, car rentals, shared minivans and accommodation until Saturday. 
 It is not a secret that Israel’s democracy is plagued by difficulties that seem unresolvable, especially when they arise from the need to protect the state from the constant danger it is exposed to, not only in terms of verbal threats but also physical reality. 
But when it comes to an aspect that at a first glance does not seem to threaten the safety of the state, such as basic public transportation on Shabbat, then the debate is even more complex, because emotions, tradition and religion all come into play. The answer is, as I was bluntly told from a right wing member of Knesset, "we want a Jewish State" (or as we say in Latin America, "Saint The-discussion-is-over”). 
After six months of living in Israel, I can say that my whole experience has been affected by the constant impossibility of mobility during the weekends. I therefore ask myself:
How is it possible that the lack of such crucial public services has remained the status quo?
The United Nations HABITAT Forum is taking place this year in the city of Medellin, Colombia. The city has earned it. Among other developments, they have created an integrative transportation system that includes cable cars, metro, public bicycles and even escalators for cities on hillsides. 
In 2013 the Wall Street Journal crowned Medellín as the “Innovative City of the Year.” The key: accessibility. A clear path towards development, by enhancing the inhabitant’s potential of mobility. Meanwhile, once a week, Israel lies on the antipodes.
I am not advocating for open shops, or even regular public services on Shabbat. Only a minimum so that citizens, residents, and tourists will not lose their capacity to move further than a walking distance every week for twenty-five hours. 
Religion, even one as rich, interesting and flourishing as Judaism, is yet a system of beliefs, which cannot be logically evaluated. Therefore it is not moral to impose and force it onto others; neither its costs nor its benefits.
The Jewish/democratic dichotomy promotes, as another Member of the Knesset told us once, the misconception that this society needs to decide between one of them: 
Either this country embodies Judaism and all the rich tradition, idiosyncrasy and knowledge that come with a two thousand year-old nation, -making democracy the dark wolf of progress that comes to take our uniqueness and values away-; or Israel stands on the foundation of democracy, protecting equality, humanist values, and universal moral parameters, in which case religion becomes the medieval, irrational belief system that only pushes us back on the path of history.
 I do not think that the Jewish state needs to choose one of the two options; instead I trust in its ability to transform and enrich itself by taking and leaving the elements from each that would best suit the needs of the nation.
Public transportation is one of those items long since forgotten by national pundits, but it should not have been. It is necessary that basic public services remain considered as a right to those who need them and not as a disputed subject.
This problem must be addressed with celerity. Not for the sake of progress, or of democracy, but because it is a logical, fair and feasible way to concretely improve the lives of many residents.
Sometimes the key is in the definition of the problem. Facing this matter as a Jewish vs. democratic dilemma is a mistake. For as a state, the question of common sense and practical quality of life, should always come first.
Celina Nieman of Argentina is currently spending ten months living in Jerusalem and interning at the Israeli Ministry of Social Affairs, as a part of Masa Israel Journey's Israel Government Fellows program.
Published : April 03, 2014
Earlier this month, Russ Finkelstein wrote about keeping alumni engaged and involved by offering career services. Before we can tap into alumni communities for fundraising and volunteer requests, he argues, we have to provide them something of value, something that they want.
At Masa Israel we wholeheartedly agree, and have been experimenting in the professional development space for the past year. This year, we piloted individualized professional guidance for a select group of current participants through our Masa Works program, in partnership with the Jewish Family Services of Columbus. We also developed a long-term fellowship program to build pipelines for Israel program alumni to enter careers at Hillel. 
At the same time, we know our thousands of alumni are dispersed around the world, and can rarely take advantage of in-person, in-depth career development opportunities. Just like Lisa Colton wrote back in January about building an online alumni ecosystem, we have recognized the need to create a more robust virtual network where we can move beyond the “likes” and start more conversations.
Last week, we made our first attempt to meaningfully connect those two strategies. On April 2nd, Masa Israel Journey hosted an online career expo for current participants and alumni of immersive experiences in Israel. The idea stemmed from of our continuing efforts to enable Israel program participants and alumni to leverage their cross-cultural, immersive experiences in Israel for success in their desired field—both professionally and as leaders in their home communities. By running a virtual event, we hoped to reach a wider audience of participants and alumni than we’d previously been able to.
This sort of event has grown in popularity for university alumni associations, but as far as we know, ours was the first event of its kind in the Jewish community. We were fortunate to connect with a robust platform, Brazen Careerist, which has facilitated numerous events like these for university alumni networks and professional associations.
“Organizations of all types are turning to virtual events to connect their audiences with employers or with each other on a global scale,” Ryan Healy, Brazen Careerist’s co-founder & COO, told me recently. “Five or 10 years ago, virtual events were considered hokey or weird, but today it’s a totally different story. The combination of people being connected 24/7 and technology maturing to a point that has made virtual events both easy to use and affordable has led to a huge increase in job seekers and employers, alike. It’s a very exciting time for anyone who wants to engage a global audience."  
Our experiment paid off—over 200 Masa Israel program alumni and participants logged on over the course of the three-hour fair and were able to chat one-on-one with any of 24 different employers. Even better, the individuals who attended represented a broad cross-section of professional sectors, types of Israel programs, and length since their time in Israel (from mere months to over 20 years ago). Not only were we able to provide a valuable service to our alumni community, we managed to “reawaken” many individuals who had not engaged with us in recent years by providing a service they valued.
It certainly helped that the companies and organizations who agreed to participate were top-notch: Hillel International, Repair the World, Jewish Federations of North America, BBYO, AIPAC, RAVSAK, J Street, Nefesh B'Nefesh, AVODAH: The Jewish Service Corps, Union for Reform Judaism, Teach for America, JDC Entwine, AIDS Walk New York and Los Angeles, Tevel B'Tzedek, Acquis Consulting Group, EY (formerly Ernst & Young), Wells Fargo Securities and several others committed to spending those three hours chatting with members of our community looking for ways to channel their Israel experience into their profession.
Based on an analysis of traffic in the employer booths, Jewish communal organizations, particularly Israel-focused ones, were more sought-after. This makes sense, given that over 47% of our alumni consistently express the desire to pursue work or careers in the Jewish community, and our fair was framed in the context of translating the Israel experience to a meaningful career. 
“It's important to stay involved with Masa, and Israel things as a whole, now that I'm home,” shared Barrett Deitz of Austin, Texas, who recently returned from his Masa Israel program and participated in the Career Expo. “At first, I didn’t want to work in the Jewish community. After coming home from my Masa Israel program, I absolutely do. I won't feel fulfilled until my employer cares about the same things I do, i.e. Israel and the Jewish community.”
The event also served a dual purpose of helping Jewish organizations identify younger talent who they might not notice through the traditional recruitment process, a point discussed last year by Masa Israel’s immediate past North American director. 
After we first conceptualized the fair, we underwent an intense process of not only recruiting major Jewish organizations to participate as employers, but mobilizing them around the idea of experimenting in new forums. Hillel, the Schusterman Philanthropic Network, and BBYO were key partners in injecting momentum into the employer recruitment process. Those initial discussions have blossomed into an ongoing dialogue about our shared goals for providing innovative and valuable professional development opportunities to our respective networks. 
Diane Klein, Senior Director of Human Resources at BBYO, told me, “The job fair was terrific! We interacted with many talented and energetic individuals and have numerous possible candidates who we will schedule follow-up meetings with. The technology was great and very easy to use. This is certainly a forum we can build upon.”
This reaction was echoed by many employers with whom I have followed up so far, and speaks to the imperative to use this pilot event in the service of the wider Jewish community. Similar opportunities in the future can be modeled for even larger groups of young adults like Hillel students, BBYO and other youth group alumni, and Birthright returnees, in addition to our own growing alumni network. I envision the Jewish community offering not only job fairs, but Israel program fairs, online networking events, global volunteer fairs, and even community engagement fairs. 
Simultaneously, we plan on doubling down on digital, interactive events for the Masa Israel community as a way to engage a larger portion of our alumni—especially those that can’t or prefer not to engage with our local, in-person programming. Our next experiment in May will be a networking event on the same platform as the career fair, during which participants and alumni will be able to connect with each other according to interests and geography in order to build a stronger community and chat with other alumni who can help them navigate their career or lay leadership trajectory in the Jewish world or elsewhere.
The energetic conversation about alumni engagement these past few months inspired us to try something new for the Masa Israel community, but the real spark came at the nexus of multiple ideas—for us it was professional development and online community-building. For others, the golden combination will likely look different, and involve very different tools.
As Jewish organizations grapple with the challenge of adapting to new paradigms relating to technology and community-building, I hope we will all continue sharing both our successes and challenges as we internally experiment with new ideas for our constituents. We may just find that some of the most innovative ideas are not actually new, but are rather smart combinations of program elements that have already proven successful in their own right.

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