The Jerusalem Post: Life After Birthright

The Jerusalem Post: Life After Birthright

The Jerusalem Post: Life After Birthright

September 1, 2016

By David Brinn


Under the banner of IACT, Jewish organizations int he US are coming together to engage university students before, during and after their trip to Israel.

"Almost all of the IACT coordinators have been inspired to pursue a path of Israel activism following a Birthright experience of their own. Many of them have returned to Israel multiple times, with some having served in the IDF, studied at Israeli universities and even made aliya. 'I spent last semester in Israel as a MASA intern at Yad Vashem,' said Hannah Salzburg, a beginning IACT coordinator at the University of Vermont and a 2014 Birthright alumnus. 'I could have stayed in Israel and been happy, but I came back to the US because I wanted to fulfill my soul – by making other people love, appreciate and respect Israel.'"


Read the full article in The Jerusalem Post

jWeekly: Jewish Life on Campus: Beyond BDS

jWeekly: Jewish Life on Campus: Beyond BDS

September 1, 2016

Three Views


When Jewish life at universities makes the news, it’s almost always about Israel-related controversies. But there’s more to Jewish campus life than that. As the fall semester gets underway, we asked Hillels around the Bay Area to weigh in.

"Because we have to be adaptive and resilient in a hostile climate, our students form sophisticated, passionate connections to Israel. We send many students to Israel on Birthright, Masa and Onward programs, connecting them with internships and educational opportunities, and empowering some to make aliyah."


Read the full article in jWeekly.

From Gap Year Student to Aspiring Neuroscientist: Meet Lily Ayoun

<div class="masa-blog-title">From Gap Year Student to Aspiring Neuroscientist: Meet Lily Ayoun</div>

Being born as an Israeli meant that growing up, my connection to the land was already there. It felt special in my American private schools to be seen by others as an Israeli. The identifier carried an air of exoticness and mystery. And in my ultra-religious elementary school, even awe. But although Israeli by birth, I had lived in America since I was two years old. I felt connected to the land of Israel and its history, largely due to my religious education, but very disconnected from the people and the culture, the "reality" of Israel, so to speak. It was not until I went to the Rothberg International School at The Hebrew University on a gap program through Masa Israel, that I felt that I could begin to understand the society and my place in it.


As a college freshman, I lived on my own for the first time, explored Jerusalem, went on tiyulim and Shabbatots with fellow students all over the country, and took incredible courses that shaped my life to this day.


Instead of the highest level of Ulpan, I chose to take a course taught in Hebrew on Israeli music. I was introduced to a lot of cultural aspects of Israeli society this way, since so many songs contain elements of protest and politics in them. I remember presenting for the first time in Hebrew about the rise of Israeli rap. After sitting in Ulpan for so long, and listening to the instructor, I was surprised to see that my spoken Hebrew had improved so much. I also took a course on modern Jewish history which opened my eyes to the events surrounding the founding of the State, in a way that none of my private school courses ever did. I took a course comparing the Jewish Bible to the New Testament to the Koran. It was absolutely riveting and enlightening, especially since I had very little exposure to the latter two books. 


And lastly, Rothberg is where I took my first neuroscience course. The course set me on the path to major in neuroscience in college, and today, five years later, I am back at The Hebrew University doing research in a lab and preparing to start my Master's degree. 


I cannot picture my life without the program; it profoundly shaped my personal and professional goals and empowered me to envision a real life for myself in Israel. After graduating college in May 2015, I staffed my first Birthright trip and moved back to Jerusalem right after. This summer I staffed another trip and was able to reflect on how far I've come as a new member of Israeli society. I think that my acclimation has been easier due to all that I learned from living here on the Masa Israel program five years ago. I feel like my life has come full circle, and that I am finally where I belong. 


This blog was written by Lily Ayoun, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem Gap Year Alumna '10


Quiz: What Israeli Food Matches Your Personality?

The Times of Israel: The Gap Year Investment in Israel

The Times of Israel: The Gap Year Investment in Israel

August 11, 2016

By Liran Avisar, CEO Masa Israel Journey


For at least a generation, there has been broad consensus on the linear trajectory of education for young people in North America. After graduating high school, college is often considered the natural and only next step.


Yet more and more, individuals and families are realizing that going straight to college is not a one-size-fits-all experience. In the halls of academia and in high schools alike, administrators increasingly recognize value in providing students access to immersive, transformational experiences before they make consequential — and expensive — decisions about their futures. Just as higher education itself is a major investment toward a successful future, so too is dedicating time during this brief and influential period in life to discovering one’s passions, values and perspective. As with any big investment, completing one’s due diligence beforehand should be the expectation, not the exception.


Gap year programs come in a variety of formats. Some students opt for domestic experiences, working or volunteering at home, while others set off for an organized year abroad. In both cases, studies have shown that students who invest in a gap year experience have higher GPAs, are more engaged with campus activities, and are 75% more likely to report being “happy” or “extremely satisfied” with their post-college careers.


Many international gap year programs provide the chance to volunteer or intern while only practicing living independently. The more proactive participants may learn to cook their own meals, coexist with roommates, or glean a few fragments from a new country and culture. The Masa Israel experience, on the other hand, not only empowers its young people to become fully immersed in their local communities, it connects them with a global network of peers they would likely never meet otherwise, who are equally eager to engage in an exchange of culture and ideas.



Israel is home to an abundance of languages, religions and communities. And on top of that, Israel’s longstanding custom of hosting international guests for extended amounts of time makes its cultural capital uniquely accessible. The expectation that young people from around the world can come here to expand their worldviews, build life skills and discover or refine their interests is weaved into the fabric of Israeli institutions, and the opportunities afforded to gap year participants reflect that.


In Israel, young people are exposed to an intense multiculturalism only found in the backseat of Tel Aviv taxis and the ancient stone walkways of Jerusalem, not to mention the smaller Israeli towns in the north and south of the country. And similarly, on Masa Israel experiences, it’s the interactions with thousands of other participants from all over Europe, South America, Australia and elsewhere that make the journey so transformational. Our subsidized, individually tailored programs allow students the opportunity to specialize in their unique interests, gain valuable work experience, and grow as independent young adults. Service and study opportunities provide daily structure, while internship opportunities for our gap year participants in Israel are unparalleled.


The truth is, most post-high school internships, no matter where they take place, offer few opportunities beyond fetching coffee, printing and stapling, and organizing Excel spreadsheets. But internships for our gap year students allow them to build real professional skills and tap into actual networks. Because of the mandatory conscription policy, Israelis expect 18-year-olds to be able to handle significant responsibilities, and thus the society is much more dynamic and flexible when it comes to giving young people the benefit of the doubt in a workplace. Additionally, Israel is a global hub for technology and innovation, and it is virtually impossible to avoid the optimistic, entrepreneurial spirit that exists in every sector.



From behind the scenes of one of the leading organizations for gap year opportunities, I’ve seen first-hand how a student’s taking the time to develop his or her identity before entering the formal structure of college can profoundly enrich personal and professional growth. So, if spending time in Israel in the gap between high school and higher education has not been recognized by American students as an essential investment opportunity, it should be.


Originally published in The Times of Israel.

Cleveland Jewish News: Financial assistance available for gap years

Cleveland Jewish News: Financial assistance available for gap years

August 5, 2016

By Carlo Wolff


Another possible source of money is Masa Israel, an Israeli program that can supplement other gap year resources. A high school student interested in a gap year can apply to Masa Israel for “financial aid above what the normal amount would be,” she said. “They definitely should apply to the program that they’re going on to see if there’s financial aid from the program.”

This one time on my Masa Israel program…

<div class="masa-blog-title">This one time on my Masa Israel program…</div>

Video: Cash Cab episode recently  re-aired on Mako


Sometimes living in Israel I encounter things that really jog my memory. Every colorful scene, aromatic walk through the streets, or even just surfing my social media feeds (Thank you #ThrowBackThursday!) reminds me of a good time from my Masa Israel experience. 


That is what happened this morning. I opened my Facebook feed to see a suggested video from Mako, a popular Israeli television station. The video was an episode of Cash Cab—in this game show meets transportation service participants have the chance to win money by answering trivia questions on the ride to their destination. I love to test my trivia knowledge, so I pressed play only to see four familiar faces. There they were -- David (Los Angeles), Thalia (Argentina), Dov (France), and Grant (Texas) — friends of mine from my time as a Masa participant on Destination Israel’s Tel Aviv Internship Experience.




In the episode they tell the cab driver to take them to beachside club, Clara, and that was the ticket to this trip down memory lane. Clara? Yea, I remember that night! Our whole program was there for a party. When you’re on the program these people become your family so going out to something together was a common occurrence. We were all waiting in line for various groups of us to arrive (you can’t fit 30 people in one cab) when the four of them walk up with huge smiles on their faces, yelling and laughing with excitement.


“What’s up guys? What took you so long?”


“We just won 4,500 shekel! We were on Israeli Cash Cab!”


Needless to say, this was a good omen for the night. We had a great time dancing the night away with the sea breeze keeping things cool; a nice break from working hard at our internships. And of course, we made memories to last us a lifetime.


Written by Amy Albertson


The Jewish Chronicle: Community Jew'colades

The Jewish Chronicle: Community Jew'colades

The Jewish Chronicle: Community Jew'colades

July 21, 2016

Masa Israel Journey's new Director of Partnerhips in the United States, Jessica Schapiro was featured in her hometown's Jewish newspaper!

It's That Time of Year Again: Shalom U'Lehitraot

<div class="masa-blog-title">It's That Time of Year Again: Shalom U'Lehitraot</div>

Masa Israel Journey and its alumni across the United States are holding their biannual Shalom U’Lehitraot (Hello and Goodbye) Parties in August.


As recent returnees say hello, they can expect a warm welcome into a local network of Jewish young adults, united by their shared Masa Israel experiences. Alumni will be happy to share their advice for successful transition back into life stateside.


While future participants say goodbye before heading to Israel, they will have the opportunity to answer all of their last minute questions and get the local scoop from Masa Israel alumni who lived it like a local before them.


Meanwhile, veteran Masa alumni will reunite to catch up, reminisce about Israel and find out about the exciting local and national opportunities that the Masa Israel alumni network has in store for the coming year.


Find a party near you"


Twin Cities - Thursday, August 18

New York - Sunday, August 21

Washington DC - Thursday, August 25

Lost Angeles - TBD


Want to host a Shalom U'Lehitraot party in your city?

Email to get the party started.




Meet the U.S. Regionals

<div class="masa-blog-title">Meet the U.S. Regionals</div>

Masa Israel's Regionals Managers and Representatives are the face of Masa in their communities. Whether advising local young people on program options, building partnerships with local organizations or helping alumni plan events, they are one-stop shops from anything and everything Masa:


alt="Jacob Allen"

Jacob Allen

Detroit, MI


Jacob is the Israel & Overseas Associate at the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit. His portfolio includes scholarships, the Israeli Camper Program, Partnership2Gether with the Central Galilee Region and, or course, recruiting for Masa.


Born and raised in the Detroit metropolitan area, Jacob holds a B.A. in International Studies with a concentration in Comparative Culture and Identity, and Hebrew and Judaic Cultural Studies from the University of Michigan. He is passionate about enhancing the relationships between Israel and the Metro Detroit Jewish community.


alt="Mirit Balkan"

Mirit Balkan

Cleveland, OH


Mirit is the I-connect Manager at the Jewish Federation of Cleveland, connecting local young adults to Israel programs, like Masa. Since January 2011, Mirit has established herself as the "to go" person for local community members looking for long term Israel experiences. Working with Jewish educators, Israel Fellows on campus, students and their parents are just part of her portfolio.


Born and raised in Israel, Mirit served as a sharp shooter sniper in the IDF. She holds an MA in Interdisciplinary Democracy and a certificate in Peace Building and Conflict Studies. Before moving to Cleveland, Mirit worked at Walt Disney World, The Gilo Center for Citizenship, Democracy and Civic Education at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and the Yithak Rabin Center in Tel Aviv. Mirit and her husband Yaron have three children Aya, 3; Romi, 8; and Ori, 10.


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alt="Ariel Biel"

Ariel Biel

Minneapolis, MN

Ariel is a Program Specialist in the Israel Center of the Minneapolis Jewish Federation, assisting 18-30 year olds on finding the right Israel program, to have transformational experiences in Israel- studying, interning, and/or volunteering.


While earning a B.A. in Child Psychology, with a minor in Hebrew, from the University of Minnesota, Ariel served as a Community Advisor, a Hebrew teaching assistant. and an Ambassador for Hillel. Her passion for being in Israel was kindled by her first visit, on Birthright. After graduation, Ariel participated in the pilot year of Masa Israel Teaching Fellows, teaching English to elementary school children and volunteering with at-risk junior high and high school students at an agricultural boarding school in Rishon LeZion. She returned to Minnesota where she worked as a Jewish educator and helped start the Twin Cities Masa Israel Alumni Group.


alt="Roxanna Donay"

Roxanna Donay

Los Angeles, CA


Roxanna (though everyone calls her Roxy) is the Program Director for Israel Experiences & Post-Programs at the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.


Born and raised in sunny southern California. Roxy caught the travel bug after her first trip to Israel as a teenager and has been collecting stamps on her passport ever since. After her gap year on the Nativ College Leadership Program in Israel, Roxy went on to study Psychology and Human Development at the University of California, Davis. Since graduating she has spent many years working and volunteering for various Jewish organizations such as Hillel, Camp Ramah, United Synagogue Youth, and the Builders of Jewish Education. She is passionate about Israel and helping people find the right Israel experience for them.



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alt="Guy Lowicz"

Guy Lowicz

New York, NY

Guy is the regional representative for Masa in the New York metropolitan area. He came to Masa after interning for Hillel because he saw the work at Masa as his way of representing his country, Israel.


Born and raised in Israel, after completing his IDF service, Guy left Israel and started jumping around the globe. After backpacking in South America, working in aviation security in Hong Kong, and studying International Affairs at The George Washingtong University, he settled in New York to start recruiting for Masa. Before working at Masa, Guy bartended for 12 years, on 3 different continents. Although he has traveled to more than 15 countries, now he can barely stand taking the NYC subway.


alt="Marisa Ouchowski"

Marisa Obuchowski

Baltimore, MD


Marisa is the Israel and Overseas Engagement Associate at The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, where she is very excited to engage local young adults and connect them with Israel and overseas opportunities. 


She holds a BFA in Graphic Design and Computer Imaging from Ohio Wesleyan University. After college, Marisa traveled on Birthright where she fell in love with the sites, people, and culture of Israel, and three weeks later she returned to Israel with WUJS Tel Aviv, program of MasaAfter returning to Baltimore, she worked as a graphic designer and marketing manager for a Jewish day school and as a part-time swim coach at the local JCC. As an alumna of Birthright and Masa, she understands the meaningful impact of peer-travel and immersive Israel programs and looks forward to providing others with the same transformative experiences.


alt="We're Hiring in Chicago! Apply Now."