By Roxanna Donay, Nativ College Leadership Program alumna
Me (right) and a friend from Nativ
(Credit: Roxanna Donay)
“I’m not going home; I’m leaving home.”
With tears streaming down my face, these were the words I uttered as my El AL flight took off from Ben Gurion airport after my incredible gap year experience in Israel.
I had just spent nine months in my newfound home away from home, and as I headed to college, my life was changed forever. On the Nativ College Leadership Program in Israel, a program of Masa Israel Journey, I spent one semester studying and earning academic credits at the Rothberg International School at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and one semester teaching English and volunteering in Yerucham (a small town in the south of Israel). I was able to further my education and gain real life experience — a combination that many other 18-year-olds enter college without.
Me (center) and my Nativ friends in Jerusalem
(Credit: Rosanna Donay)
Like any typical college student, I was waking myself up, eating breakfast, getting to class on time (usually), writing papers, and studying for finals — only I was doing it all in Israel. I was living independently from my parents in a foreign country where I was given the space and the structure to succeed. What my 18-year-old self didn’t know was that I would soon be paying it forward. Upon graduating from college, I started a new adventure and began working at The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles with Masa Israel Journey (a project of The Jewish Agency for Israel and the Government of Israel) helping hundreds of others embark on their own journeys in Israel.
Spending a long period of time in Israel means that people truly become a part of the Israeli communities in which they live, and as a result, understand what’s at stake when it comes to the continuity of the Jewish people. Masa Israel provides and connects young adults (ages 18-30) from around the world with leading immersive international experiences in Israel designed to enrich their personal and professional growth. Such experiences facilitate the next generation of young Jewish leaders — whether it’s a gap year program like mine, studying abroad, volunteering, teaching English, interning, or earning a graduate degree, these experiences have profound impacts on the participants/young adults.
But what I didn't realize until I returned to Los Angeles was that the journey doesn’t stop in Israel. The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles has built an incredible young adult network where Masa Israel alumni can engage with our local community upon return. Through Young Adults Los Angeles (YALA), the Community Leadership Institute (CLI), Federation volunteer days and more, we each find our niche through social events, professional networking opportunities, leadership seminars, and social action.
Credit: Roxanna Donay
The preexisting infrastructure within the Federation system led to a natural partnership between Federation and Masa in order to reach LA’s Jewish community and to recruit potential participants as well as engage alumni. Together, alumni here in LA are continuing to foster the connections to each other, Israel and the larger Jewish community that were planted while in Israel, and utilizing them to strengthen our Jewish community. I have the opportunity to work within the Federation infrastructure to grow Masa’s presence in Los Angeles as a part of a larger effort to reach and connect with young Jews seeking transformative experiences that will forever impact their lives and help them determine their own sense of Jewish identity. I know my own life has been forever transformed, and I am excited to help introduce this impactful experience to others in Los Angeles.
Over the last eight years, I have truly come to appreciate the powerful effect of my gap year in Israel on my life, professionally and personally. Not only did I gain an incredible sense of independence and world knowledge at a young age, but I was also able to turn my experience into a career. My work at The Jewish Federation allows me to help so many others discover life-changing opportunities that Israel has to offer.
A native of Los Angeles, Roxanna Donay is the Program Director of Israel Experiences and Post Programming at The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. A graduate of Cleveland High School and University of California, Davis, Roxanna spent the 2007-2008 school year on the Nativ College Leadership program, a gap year program of Masa Israel Journey.
By Amy Albertson
It is very common for young Jews to take a Gap Year in Israel after they graduate high school and before they begin college. These Gap Year Programs can range from a year at Yeshiva or Seminary to pre-university programs at top Israeli Universities, and each comes with the exciting experience of living in Israel and forming life-long friendships with other people your age. What could be better?
For Ethan Weiss, a 19-year-old New Jersey native, a Gap Year in Israel before college sounded like and amazing idea. However, Ethan decided that Yeshiva or other traditional Gap Year programs were not exactly what he was looking for. Instead he found Destination Israel’s Tel Aviv Internship Experience—a 5 month professional development program in Tel Aviv.
Ethan decided to do a double session--staying in Israel for 10 months instead of 5--and is interning at the Tel Aviv startup Any.Do.
Briefly, can you tell us about Any.Do?
Any.Do is a task management application for your mobile devices or on your computer. It allows you to create to-do lists and manage personal or business tasks. We’ve received Apple's Intuitive Touch Award and Android's Best App of 2012 and have millions of users.
And what exactly are you doing as an Intern here?
Well, I kind of do a little of everything, but in general I have been helping out with Q&A, some social media and online marketing , and a lot with Customer Success. That’s customer support from both the defensive and offensive. An alumni of the program, Sarah Stewart, is also working here so together we’ve been developing the internship for future participants.
It sounds like you’re doing a lot. How is it being at a startup?
I am doing a lot, but I am learning as much as I am doing. That is one of the best things about the startup environment. If you are motivated and creative, anyone can do anything. You just have to ask. I interact directly with the CEO or the CFO, and anyone else in the company I want to. I saw something that I thought the product team should implement and they ended up adding it to the road map. It’s really awesome to know that I’m doing real and important tasks and that I have a lot of opportunity to learn and develop.
You’re only 19 and most people your age are in traditional Gap Year programs. What made you decide to do this instead?
I know I will eventually go to college and get a degree but I wanted to get some real life, professional experience first. With all I’m learning and the experience I’m gaining I will have a better idea of what I want to study. I didn’t want to end up being one of those college students who changes their major 5 times and ends up in college for 7 years.
And what made you choose to do this on a Masa Program?
I wanted to come to Israel and this was a great opportunity to do it. I am at a great internship and I’m living in Tel Aviv. My program has great enrichments that we do each week. They’ve really opened my eyes to a lot of new things in Israel. It is a lot of fun.
Do you ever have trouble being younger than most of the other participants in your program?
Honestly, no. I can see how some people might, but I enjoy learning a lot from them. They have professional experience and have mostly already finished college so they have a lot of insight to offer me.
Back to Israel: How is it living here?
I really love living in Israel. There is a very hospitable, social culture. I enjoy how it is so easy to meet people and make friends here. You can just talk to anyone on the street!
As you can see, Ethan may not be having the average Gap Year, but he is definitely having a valuable experience. From professional growth in the startup environment to personal growth from the other participants in his program, Ethan is having the Journey of a lifetime.
Prepa Progress Tel Aviv
- Main Subject: Gap Year (Programs)
- Intensive Hebrew Language
- 8.5 Months
- The Israel Experience- Educational Tourism Services Co. LTD
- Program appears on grant application as:
- Prepa Progress Tel Aviv
- Not Included
- Program Contact Information:
- Arie Abitbol
- (p):972 2 621 6543
- Program Dates:
- October 25,2017 - July 09,2018, TEL AVIV - YAFO, $17090 Apply to this program
Masa Israel alumnae giving back to the world. #InternationalWomensDay">Masa Israel alumnae giving back to the world. #InternationalWomensDay
In honor of International Women’s Day, we decided to highlight our fellow Masa Israel alumnae and their amazing accomplishments. Here at Masa we know our participants have the potential to not only make a difference in their own lives, but in the lives of others. Giving back is the focus this month and it’s the perfect time to mention a few alumnae who have done just that.
1. Kayci Merritté, Yahel Social Change Program 2014-2015 Alumna
“After my Masa Israel experience, I returned to my hometown of St. Louis to serve as an AmeriCorps member assisting in refugee resettlement. Once-a-week I pick up new arrivals from all of the world – Congo, Iraq, Cuba, the list goes on – from the airport and bring them to their new homes. Throughout the rest of my week, I help these new residents of my city access the medical care that they need. I’m not sure I would have applied for this position if it were not for my experiences in Ramat Eliyahu.”
2. Jamie Gold, Masa Israel Teaching Fellows 2012-2013 Alumna
“As a result of her Masa Israel Teaching Fellows experience, Jamie chose to pursue a career in Jewish education. Upon returning to Los Angeles, Jamie moved into the Moishe House in West L.A. and enrolled in the DeLeT program at Hebrew Union College. “Masa Israel Teaching Fellows is the only reason I was picked for the HUC program,” Jamie says. She believes it gave her the necessary Israel and teaching experiences to be a top-notch Jewish educator.”
3. Rachel Pope, MSIH 2011 alumna
“Rachel is completing a two year fellowship in Malawi. She is learning how to repair obstetric fistulas and working with the next generation of Malawian residents at the newly created Malawian OB/GYN residency program. Rachel is currently living in Lilongwe, Malawi and working for the government hospital, Kamuzu Central.”
4. Ashleigh Talberth, Pardes Insitute of Jewish Studies 2014-2015 Alumna
“A serial green-tech entrepreneur, Ashleigh has pioneered initiatives for a broad range of leading companies, startups, and institutions for over 12 years. She currently consults for emerging companies primarily in California and Israel, the world's leading green-tech and startup hot spots.” ("Israelcagreentech." Israelcagreentech. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 Mar. 2016.)
eJewish Philanthropy: We Don’t Need a ‘Jewish Peace Corps’, We Already Have One">eJewish Philanthropy: We Don’t Need a ‘Jewish Peace Corps’, We Already Have One
By Tamar Zilbershatz, Director of Gap and Service Programs
We don’t need a ‘Jewish Peace Corps’, we already have one in Israel and around the world.
Instead of creating yet another organization or institution to compete for Jewish millennials’ attention, the Jewish world must leverage and promote the plethora of existing Peace Corps-like opportunities that are offered and subsidized around the world and particularly in Israel. It is extremely important to myself and my colleagues that you and your readers know about all of the service-learning opportunities available to them in Israel. And not just that, but that thousands of Jewish millennials are engaging with Israel not out of anger, but out of a genuine desire for personal growth and professional development.
Service to Israel is integral to helping participants of long-term Israel programs to truly experience Israel for all of its beauty and complexity. In exposing them to the challenges and issues facing Israeli society, service and volunteer projects foster participants’ personal connections to the land, the State and its people. They see Israel for themselves, ask difficult questions, form educated and nuanced opinions and learn to navigate uncertainty.
Every immersive Israel experience includes social action and community service components, as well as Jewish studies. Whether studying abroad in Be’er Sheva, learning at a yeshiva in Jerusalem or interning at a start-up in Tel Aviv, each participant of a 2-10 month Israel program has a meaningful and eye-opening service experience that informs his or Jewish identity and relationship with Israel.
More specifically, gap year and post-college service-learning programs encompass a significant segment of the vast programmatic offerings available in Israel. As I write this piece – and right now, as you read it – more than 1,500 Jewish millennials are living and learning the values of tikkun olam in Israel. They are working directly with disadvantaged Jews and impoverished Israeli Arabs, as well as African refugees and asylum seekers – in both central Israel and the periphery.
Youth movement and non-denominational gap year students are Diaspora Jews from around the world who come to Israel for a year of service and self-discovery after graduating high school. They live, volunteer and study in a few different cities throughout their year in Israel, including underprivileged communities like Bat Yam, Yerucham, Kfar Chasidim, and others.
College-educated individuals work in underserved elementary and middle schools across Israel, helping Israeli teachers to improve students’ English learning outcomes. They serve Bedouin communities in Rahat and Be’er Sheva and Israeli Arabs in Lod, as well as Ethiopian, former Soviet Union, and other immigrant communities throughout Israel.
Other service-learning programs like Solidarity of Nations – Achvat Amim, the Yahel Social Change program, Tikkun Olam in Tel Aviv-Jaffa and Israel Corps – Project TEN are specifically built around the issues of human rights, social justice and environmental activism. Diaspora Jewish participants of these programs work with local nonprofit organizations in various cities and communities. They also engage in renewed dialogue surrounding Zionism in the 21st century with their Israeli peers.
For Jews at risk around the world, heavily subsidized Israel programs provide those interested in making Aliyah with a soft-landing. From developing a foundational knowledge of the Hebrew language, to networking and relationship-building, to getting a foot in the door in one’s industry of choice or field of study, long-term Israel experiences serve as a pre-Aliyah immersion for thousands of Jews from places like Ukraine. For those who do not make Aliyah, they return home with extensive leadership skills and experiences and a built-in global network of global Jewish leaders.
Post-program research shows that alumni of immersive Israel programs of all ages, who come from across the Jewish spectrum, emerge more connected to their people and more invested in their Jewish identity. They are three times more attached to Israel and twice as engaged and informed about Israel than their peers. Empowered by a transformative, independent experience, alumni volunteer with Israel advocacy groups almost three times more than people who do not participate in similar programs and are 100% more likely to take a leadership role inside or outside the Jewish community.
Although long-term Israel programs are not the same scale as the Peace Corps, or maybe Yossi Beilin’s vision, a wide array of existing programs offer Jewish young adults numerous to take part in inter-racial, inter-religious and international humanitarian work in Israel.
So before we jump to write off the existing landscape of Israel engagement, perhaps we should take a closer look at the impact currently taking shape.
Tamar Zilbershatz serves as Masa Israel Journey’s Director of Gap and Service Programs. You can learn more about Masa Israel Journey’s volunteer programs by visiting MasaIsrael.org, IsraelTeachingFellows.org and PostCollege.MasaIsrael.org.
Originally published on eJewish Philanthropy.
By Yehudit Werchow, Director of Education
Jan Lievens' "The Feast of Esther" (Via Wiki Media Commons)
"וַיֹּאמֶר מָרְדֳּכַי לְהָשִׁיב אֶל אֶסְתֵּר אַל תְּדַמִּי בְנַפְשֵׁךְ לְהִמָּלֵט בֵּית הַמֶּלֶךְ מִכָּל הַיְּהוּדִים. כִּי אִם הַחֲרֵשׁ תַּחֲרִישִׁי בָּעֵת הַזֹּאת רֶוַח וְהַצָּלָה יַעֲמוֹד לַיְּהוּדִים מִמָּקוֹם אַחֵר וְאַתְּ וּבֵית אָבִיךְ תֹּאבֵדוּ וּמִי יוֹדֵעַ אִם לְעֵת כָּזֹא הִגַּעַתְּ לַמַּלְכוּת." (מגלית אסתר פרק ד)
“And Mordechai told the palace messenger: Tell Esther – don’t think about your own wellbeing at a time when the lives of all Jews are in the balance. Because if you are silent now, salvation will surely come to the Jews from another source anyway, and your legacy, and your father’s, will be lost to history. Who knows if this is the entire reason you were made Queen?” (the Scroll of Esther, Chapter 4)
In this excerpt from the Book of Esther, Mordechai, Jewish leader and a relative of the newly-chosen young queen, asks Esther to do something bold: Advocate for her hated People, even as she has kept her nationality to herself until this point.
Edwin Longsden Long's "Esther Haram" (Via Wiki Media Commons)
How many times have we found ourselves struggling, avoiding, or resisting action? At times it could be because we are not sure if we understand the motivation behind the action or its purpose, sometimes it’s because we feel that the call for action is external or that the timing is not ideal.
There are times when our resistance emerges from our fears of change, disapproval, insecurities (are we talented enough, strong enough, safe, resourceful) or from our fear of being successful, from letting our talent be present and seen.
Esther, just like many of us, is, before approaching the King on behalf of her People, which she had kept secret, facing her own moment of inner struggle and transformation. In her case, the call for action is coming from Mordechai. It seems that at first, she struggles with it. Perhaps it’s because of the scope of the act, the circumstances, which are understandably intimidating and obviously threatening.
Aert de Gelder's "Esther and Mordechai writing the second letter of Purim" (Via Wiki Media Commons)
Yet, she embraces the call and acts on it with courage and beauty, giving of herself, using her emotional intelligence for the greater good.
Calls for action don’t necessarily need to come from within, and this doesn’t mean that these are any less legitimate. It feels like Esther connected with her inner truth and motivations to act and these powerful sources empowered and liberated her from the paralyzing fears driving her to act so courageously and resourcefully, to come to a place of giving.
Purim and the Megilla are invitations to reunite our personal and collective deepest values, motivations and strengths. Invitations to give back to our family and friends, to Israel, our own communities and the Jewish people. Let’s embrace these invitations and grow with them.
This Purim, join the Masa Israel community and show the world where you’re living and giving:
Download the sign here, write your city on the map and share your picture using #MasaGives.
Welcome to the Masa Israel family, Meara Razon Ashtivker
Meara joins us from the hi-tech sector, where she served as C.O.O. at Boomset, an innovative event-tech company, managing sales and marketing and spearheading global partnerships. Prior to joining Boomset, Meara held the position of V.P. of community outreach for Jspace.com where she created and executed a marketing plan, as well as planned and produced mass-attended events.
True to our mission, Meara has lived it like a local, having spent significant time living, working and studying in Israel. After receiving her B.A. from the University of Hartford, she was selected to participate in the Otzma program. In the years following, she moved to Miami to work with Young Judaea and returned to Israel to work for the Jewish Agency for Israel. Meara received an M.A. in non-profit management from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem while working for Beit Hatfutsot.
Meara served as the board chair for Dor Chadash and sat on the board of directors of the American Zionist Movement and the Moatza in New York.
In her new position as Masa Israel’s North American COO, where she will be managing the national recruitment and marketing efforts in the US.
She plans on expanding her vast global and local partner network, industry insight and international know-how to continue to bring an increasing number of young Jews to Israel in order to impact the futures of both.
We wish her, and us, much success! Welcome to the Masa Israel family, Meara.
In honor of Presidents' Day, we're challenging you to see how much you know about U.S. and Israeli Presidents:
Valentine's Day may not be a Jewish holiday, but we can't stop ourselves from kvelling over all of these beautiful alumni couples who met in Israel: