University of Haifa alumna Elana Weil addressed 400 Building Future Leadership participants in Jerusalem, including Israeli President Shimon Peres and Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky.
Shalom. My name is Elana and as a Masa and Building Future Leadership alumna, I would first and most importantly like to say, תודה! Thank you! Thank you, Masa. Thank you President Shimon Peres…for your dedication to us, the next generation of Jewish leaders. And I want to thank all of you, my fellow peers, who made the important decision to come to Israel on a Masa program, to come to the Building Future Leadership Seminar to invest in yourselves, and in the future of the Jewish people.
I was asked to speak to you today, about how Masa and BFL were so critical in setting me on an exciting path of Jewish leadership and Israel advocacy.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, recognized a need to strengthen the bond between Diaspora Jews and Israeli Jews: “Yesh li chalom” he said.
In English: “I have a dream, that all Jewish youngsters spend at least one year of their lives in Israel. A vision, where thousands of young people come on an independent voyage for a life-shaping year. …I believe that every one of the thousands of youngsters joining the “journey” will enrich his humanitarian, Jewish and professional experience…[and] will strengthen the community he comes from.”
By dedicating five to ten months of our lives living in Israel, we are among the thousands of Masa participants, helping Sharon’s dream come true.
I am so grateful for Sharon’s vision – without it, I would not be who I am today. My Masa experience strengthened my affinity with Israel, and that is a gift. By immersing myself in day-to-day life here, I grew to feel in my heart that I belong here…that this is my home.
I embarked on my Masa Israel Journey two years ago to study abroad at Haifa University. Everyday was a chance to soak up new knowledge and push myself to new limits. My Hebrew skills improved in Ulpan. I learned about the history of Israel in my classes I hiked the Negev and the Golan. I volunteered teaching English to children who had immigrated to Israel from Ethiopia.
When a Masa representative came to the Haifa campus to present Building Future Leadership, I jumped at the opportunity to participate – I saw it as an avenue to becoming a stronger and more effective advocate for Israel.
Deligitimization and demonization of the Jewish State are spreading at an alarming rate. I did not serve in the IDF, therefore, as a Jew living outside of Israel, I wholeheartedly believe it is my duty to be vigilant, and educated, to protect, defend, and promote peace for Israel however I can.
Through the BFL seminars, tours, discussions and debates with my peers, I was challenged and grew tremendously. Masa brought in well-respected figures most people would pay hundreds of dollars to hear speak. I connected with other Jews like myself from around the world. My BFL peers and I had so much fun together. We developed a sense of community and long-lasting bond around our shared passion for Israel.
I returned home from Israel inspired to continue contributing to the State of Israel and the Jewish people. And thanks to BFL, I was equipped with the tools I needed to do this effectively.
As a senior at The University of Arizona, I served as the Masa Israel Engagement intern, in addition to undertaking a Hillel Fellowship for Advancing Campus Engagement. I sought the mentorship of visiting Professor, Asher Susser, a key intellectual contributor to the Israel-Jordan peace agreement. I continued my work in Hasbarah, Israel advocacy, by working closely with AIPAC, CAMERA, and Christians United For Israel.
Working hard as a young Jewish leader opened doors to opportunities I never dreamed of. My fellow Israel activists and I were invited to conferences in St. Louis, New Orleans, Las Vegas, Washington D.C., and now Jerusalem. We were inspired by the speeches of great leaders: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Vice President Joe Biden, President Obama, President Shimon Peres and many more. We had the fortune of meeting Tzipi Livni and Natan Sharansky as well. These remarkable experiences only increased our motivation to continue working tirelessly to bring about positive change for the Jewish people.
After graduating college last May, although my involvement on campus came to a close, my involvement and leadership development in my new city of Boston, was just beginning. In my spare time outside of work, I continue to educate myself about Israeli current events, volunteer as a lay-leader for AIPAC and serve as the Boston Masa/Jewish Federation Fellow. By the way, if any of you are moving to Boston, please come and talk to me this week. I would love to meet you!
I am proud to be Jewish. Proud to be a Zionist. I LOVE this country. I admire its founders. I want to share with you a quotation I find impeccably well suited for this special plenary of the Building Future Leadership Seminar. Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, one of my greatest heroes, (may his memory be a blessing), once said:
“Here, in the land of Israel, we returned and built a nation. Here, in the land of Israel, we established a state. The land of prophets, which bequeathed to the world the values of morality, law and justice, was after two thousand years, restored to its lawful owners – the members of the Jewish people. On its land, we have built an exceptional national home and state.”
The “we” Rabin referred to, were young Jewish idealists with a vision, who played a critical role in building the very Israel we know today. Decades ago, they, were very much like us! Passionate, dedicated, proactive young Jews who answered the call to lead, without looking back. Many, just like us, were born outside of the land of Israel. Including, President Shimon Peres, who we are honored to have with us today. President Peres, you give us guidance and inspiration. We are in profound gratitude for the sacrifices you have made and the gifts you have given to the State of Israel and to the Jewish people.
The brave founders of the State of Israel are now passing on the torch of leadership to our generation. Building Future Leadership, the flagship of Masa, was established for this very reason. You were chosen for BFL, because you were recognized as the most promising Jewish leaders of tomorrow, with unbound potential.
My sincere hope for each of you, is to believe in yourselves as the leaders of tomorrow. Absorb as much as you can over these next days. When you return to your home communities, apply what you learned through your creative and entrepreneurial initiatives, and you will make a difference.
President Peres recently addressed our generation in his powerful new video, Be My Friend For Peace on Facebook. He says to us:
“I call upon you not just to guess what tomorrow will look like, but to pave the way for its arrival.”
Let us heed the President’s call! We are vital partners in shaping a bright future for Israel, the Jewish People, and the entire world. The responsibility rests on us to stand up, be leaders, and make a positive change. That is why we are here. Am Yisrael Chai. Todah Rabah.