The Forward: Why Take a Gap Year? Ask Me or Malia Obama

The Forward: Why Take a Gap Year? Ask Me or Malia Obama

The Forward: Why Take a Gap Year? Ask Me or Malia Obama

December 5, 2016

By Allison Abrams, Young Judaea Year Course,


Although I did not grow up in the White House, Malia Obama and I are alike in that we both understand the merits of taking a gap year, which many students dream of doing – and few have the chutzpah to take on. We are both fortunate to have two college-educated, loving, and supportive parents who expected us to go to highly regarded universities after high school. I assume that for a while, we both expected it of ourselves, too. As grounded young women, we chose, however, to go on a gap year first.

I consider myself more independent and street-smart than the average American teenager: I grew up in Queens, commuted to high school in Manhattan by subway, and learned how to navigate the five boroughs on my own. I was more prepared than many of my peers to enroll in a program like Young Judaea Year Course in Israel, where we are given almost complete independence. When we are not in class or programming, our time is our own. The friends I have met through this program have been struggling with the transition since we arrived two months ago. I notice, for example, their anxiety about riding public buses, while I hop on and off all day.


Malia Obama


As an idealist-optimist with varied interests – including music, comedy, social justice, Israel, and Judaism – deciding on a single major in college seems a daunting task. It appears there are a thousand things I want to accomplish, and while high school may have broadened the scope of my interests, it didn’t help me hone in on a specific academic focus.


I am confident this year in Israel will reveal the cracks in these questions: What do I truly want to do with my life? How can I best apply my passions to make a positive impact on the world?


A gap year gives ambitious students like myself a full year of learning, experiencing, and volunteering to reflect upon where we want to leave our mark in life. I don’t believe that taking the traditional route straight to college after high school would have guaranteed me a more successful career, or happier life. I believe that learning outside the classroom on a gap year takes so many different shapes; I know I will be even more prepared for whatever career path I choose.


My dad went on the same gap year program in Israel when he was my age, and has always told me it was the “best year” of his life. He spent months living and working on Young Judaea’s Kibbutz Ketura, and he still uses the Hebrew he picked up. The people from his program remain his best friends.


I am nearly two months into my gap year experience, possible through the support of Masa Israel Journey, a project of The Jewish Agency for Israel and the Government of Israel, and I have not found myself doubting this choice for one moment. I am occasionally homesick for a New York bagel, but there is no part of me that wishes I had gone directly to college with the rest of my peers.


I have adopted the reference to a gap year as a “year on,” rather than a “year off.” Though it sounds cliché, I’ve begun to see the value of living in such a complex country as Israel. Every time I buy fruits at Machane Yehudah, the “Shuk,” or ask how much a Shabbat challah is in Hebrew, I feel more independent and self-sufficient and gain a better understanding of Israeli cultural norms.


As a city kid, I thought I was prepared for the Israeli mentality, but I’m not – because I hadn’t been immersed in it. I still get befuddled using my Rav-Kav (Israeli transit card). Having holiday and Shabbat meals with Israelis can be intimidating. I find myself being questioned bluntly, with hints of Hebrew sarcasm I am still trying to pick up on – to the amusement of my new Israeli friends. It is an education every single day, every single moment. It’s teaching me to have even more chutzpah.


In any foreign country, one must adjust habits to properly function. I am living on my own in Jerusalem, 5,000 miles away from my parents, leaving the nest early from a life of what I now have the perspective to see is relative privilege. I am learning how to interact with, and become, my version of an ‘Israeli,’ which will help me with the variety of people I will meet at Binghamton University and later in my career and adult life.


As for the relative risks of living in Jerusalem, this is an extremely new reality I am dealing with. My program’s Zionist and Israeli society classes are helping me understand what it means for various ethnic and religious groups to live within the complicated system of a Jewish Zionist government. Living here, I can see the situation with my own eyes and expand my consciousness of complex social and political issues. It is making me a more empathetic person, especially when discussing such a personal topic as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.


Living in Israel is reshaping and expanding my understanding of the conflict, the realities of an Israeli existence, and ultimately my own Jewish life – something that a year of lectures in an American classroom could never teach me.


Allison Abrams, 18, is a 2016 graduate of Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School for the Arts and grew up in Forest Hills, New York. She is currently spending a gap year in Israel and will attend SUNY Binghamton in fall 2017.


Originally publish in The Forward

Jewish Life: The Opportunity of a Lifetime

Jewish Life: The Opportunity of a Lifetime

Jewish Life: The Opportunity of a Lifetime

November 28, 2016

By Chandrea Serebro


Masa, the public-service organisation founded by the Prime Minister’s Office of the Government of Israel together with The Jewish Agency, has a myriad of projects offering South Africans the opportunity to spend some time in Israel. Gap year programmes, study abroad programmes, yeshiva programmes. But Masa also provides the opportunity for a stint at major high tech companies and exciting start-ups, doing real and amazing work. The Israel internship programme (which in SA falls under the Israel Centre’s JHB umbrella) gives budding professionals “hands-on opportunities” to work with some of the world’s most cutting-edge companies across Israel. It’s a chance “to spend a meaningful time in Israel”, not as a tourist or a kibbutznik, not as an out-of-pocket traveller trying to fund the next excursion, but rather to experience Israel like a real Israeli, as a professional, going to work each day, experiencing the after work leisure-time activities Israel has to offer, meeting friends, going out to eat, before doing it all again the next day – repeat. Might sound dreary, and like real-life has come knocking a little too soon, but when you think about the potential for that everyday grindstone to involve working as a newly qualified-but-green go-getter in the start-up nation of the world for an international high tech company or an on the pulse financial trading floor, I bet that endlessly repetitive groundhog day is looking up.


Ofer Gutman, Director of Marketing and Sales at Masa, calls it “The Journey”, an experience “beyond the bus”. You experience the business-side of living in Israel: the ups and the downs, the late for work, and even the kudos from the boss. But you experience all this in a position that you probably wouldn’t have gotten in the first five years of your career elsewhere, in the Jewish homeland, with the support and help that Masa offers you. And the progress they make gets attention both in Israel and back at home, wherever that may be, as the programme is being offered all over the Jewish world. “Living and working in a start-up nation, you are viewed as being one of the team – not someone just there to give the bad or menial tasks to,” explains participant Sam Kapp from New York, who wanted to explore Israeli society while gaining work experience. He’s getting an inside look at what it takes to build a successful start-up, working at a biotechnology software company in the heart of Tel Aviv. At present, he finds himself working on the technology to make a glowing plant (by combining the genome of a firefly with that of a plant) – “cool stuff”, he says, and while it might sound off-the-wall, only in Israel could one actually conceive of having this type of experience, in real life, fresh out-of-school. “They asked me what I want to get out of this (experience),” he explains, “and I told them I wanted to see how a start-up is run, and what you needed to do to build a successful company.” So, because he wanted an overview, he is interning at a company in marketing, getting a taste of just what goes on behind the scenes in every element of what makes a successful, exciting company tick, being “inspired every day by [his] colleagues’ passion for their work”. Who even knows, it might just be the next thing sold to some big international high-tech for billions.


Another participant, Jonathan Gerari from Denmark, with his Masters in Finance, chose to work at JP Commodities, a small commodities firm in Tel Aviv. There, he enjoys a lot of responsibility and can also get some insight into what actually goes on in every aspect of the business, which is why he has found the experience so enjoyable. He says, “It would take me five years to get this far in Denmark to achieve the same level of responsibility.” He was going to go home at the end of the internship, but he realised that in Israel, through this experience, he is learning more than he ever would elsewhere, which will enable him to hone his skills early in his career after which he hopes to become a specialist in his field. In addition to his internship, Jonathan has made close friends with other people who are abroad with Masa Israel Journey. This has made his experience “valuable and unforgettable” – an experience that “keeps surprising me”. Living in Israel and going to work every day with people who all have the “common goal of living and having a great time,” he says, “is living my life way above expectations.”


And it is slowly catching on with South Africans as a foot in the door to the international business world, which we might otherwise have been left out of. “It’s good for your CV, and you can work in a place you wouldn’t have been accepted to otherwise without having previous working experience,” says Tanya Izaki, Israel Programmes Coordinator at the Israel Centre JHB. Even though the internships are not paid, they are offered the opportunity to gain a lot of hands-on work experience, advance their career, and to live abroad. It is expensive, but once you’re over 21 you get an automatic $3000 scholarship from Masa, regardless of your financial situation, unique to this internship programme and which, depending on your financial situation, could be even higher. But still, the final cost could be about $2000-3000, plus your air ticket and spending money – which is no small sum, but the doors that it opens and the experience that it offers has blown the old work-and-travel London experience out of the water, and has given new graduates a reason to excel at what they do so they can find themselves miles ahead of the counterparts they leave behind. Tarryn Snoyman from Johannesburg wanted to do the Israel Teaching Fellows programme (the only programme that is almost fully-subsidised and even reimburses the air ticket) because she wanted to be exposed to a different teaching environment other than in South Africa. Sh describes it as both a stimulating and positively challenging experience for her. “I have enjoyed the personal and professional growth of the journey. Not only has this experience been focused on teaching English but I have been privileged enough to have been involved in many other initiatives that Masa offers, including a global leadership summit, a leadership shabbaton, and being part of the World Zionist Organisation fellowship track, all of which fostered personal and professional development though skills-based training.” Living in Israel, specifically Be’er Sheva which is one of Israel’s fastest growing cities with a large, vibrant student population, Tarryn has enjoyed the social and cultural scenes, which offer many opportunities for anyone to get involved in, from student events and initiatives to enjoying a buzzing, melting-pot of cultures, nightlife, and joining the Ben Gurion University’s international club.


The programmes run from five months up to a year, and many of the interns land their dream job and stay on to achieve greater things. And if you don’t find what you are looking for in the internships that they offer, there is always the opportunity to customise an internship in your field, helping you to find the perfect opportunity just for you. It’s a no-brainer, and just might be the key you were looking for to unlock the potential to be part of the next billion-dollar success story that Israel is so famous for producing. For more information contact Tanya Izaki at the Israel Centre JHB on 011 645 2560. For more on the Masa internship programme go to: and for more on the Israel teaching fellows programme go to:


Originally published in Jewish Life

8 Awesome Pics for 8 Awesome Gap Year Moments

<div class="masa-blog-title">8 Awesome Pics for 8 Awesome Gap Year Moments</div>

Aardvark Israel participant Mati Davis decided to think outside of the box when it came to college. A few months ago Mati, embarked on the journey of a lifetime when he decided to boost his future college career and take a gap year in Israel. 


Check out some of Mati and friends' gap year highlights below!



The Top 8 Beaches in Israel

<div class="masa-blog-title">The Top 8 Beaches in Israel</div>

Written by Andria Kaplan-Aylyarov


Yes, BRRR. The weather is cold outside and as you kindle the Hanukkah flames and spin that dreidel, warm yourself up and imagine you’re under the Tel Aviv sun, soaking up the rays on one of these beaches.

…Because seriously, where else would you rather be?


1. Banana Beach
Located on the southernmost edge near Jaffa this beach is home to Friday night drum circles, hula hooping-bikini wearing girls, endless games of Matkot and sunbather after sunbather. Think of it as a Bohemian paradise right next to Tel Aviv.


2. Gordon Beach, Frishman Beach, Bograshov Beach
Welcome to beach-mania. These three beaches offer endless white sand, beautiful people and the perfect dose of sunshine. Located right in the center of Tel Aviv these beaches offer a great getaway with tons of bars and restaurants. Each beach is the perfect place to catch the addicting Tel Aviv sunset plus, there’s a Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream stand at Gordon Beach. #YUM

3. Trumpeldor Beach
Walking down the beach in Tel Aviv you’ll spot an unusual statue and you know you’ve arrived at Trumpeldor Beach. This is a quieter beach amongst its neighbors since there are no facilities or lifeguards.

4. Jerusalem Beach
Formerly known as Geula Beach, Jerusalem Beach is located right off Allenby Street and near the very well-known Opera Tower building. You’ll find falafel shops and bodegas everywhere, so don’t worry about packing snacks for the day. It’s not touristy and is the perfect spot to meet all your friends for a relaxing beach day.

5. Tel Baruch Beach
Tel Baruch Beach may be one of Israel’s cleanest beaches. Fully equipped with green lawns, outdoor workout area, and seaside café it’s the perfect escape from a long week of classes or a big night out. 

6. Metzitzim Beach
If you wake up early enough on a Friday or Saturday morning,  take a stroll down Namal Tel Aviv, and  grab a coffee while you check out Metzitzim Beach. It’s more family oriented but offers three volleyball courts and an outdoor workout area. If that’s not your thing, however, keep walking north and you’ll catch twenty-something Israelis sipping Goldstar and hanging out.

7. The Surfer’s Beach at the Hilton Hof HaGolshim
Besides beautiful people watching all day long check out The Surfer’s Beach and prepare to be amazed at the skill, the surf, and the boys. It’s a hot spot to kayak or learn how to paddle board too!


8. Coral Reef Beach(Red Sea):
Okay, so this beach isn't in Tel Aviv but it's a sun worshipper's paradise. You can go from sand to snorkel to world-class resort within minutes. The best part? There's a good chance your Masa program already has a trip to Eilat planned. #GetReady

Andria Kaplan Aylyarov is a Masa Israel Alumna and content marketing specialist for Masa Israel Journey. She loves a good glass of white wine and wishes she was 85-years-old and living in Boca, but she currently resides in New York.


To learn more about Masa Israel and the programs we offer, click here. 


How To: Convince Your Family to Send You on a Gap Year

<div class="masa-blog-title">How To: Convince Your Family to Send You on a Gap Year</div>

Our families want what’s best for us, but sometimes they don’t know what’s best for us. At a certain point, we start deciding what’s best for us and it may take some convincing to get the fam on board. 

Show your parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and the whole clan the benefits of taking a gap year with these four blog posts:



Happy Thanksgiving from Masa Israel Journey!

<div class="masa-blog-title">Happy Thanksgiving from Masa Israel Journey!</div>

Masa Israel participants from the Masa-GLI Global Leadership Summit celebrate Thanksgiving from Israel thanking those who inspired them to take their journey and become today's leaders:



Masa Israel Thanksgiving Video

Masa Israel participants from the Masa GLI Global Leadership Summit celebrate Thanksgiving from Israel thanking those who inspired them to take their journey and become today's leaders! Watch and share! #Thanksgiving #MyMasa #Leadership #Thanksgiving2016 Masa Tlalim Career Israel BINA Center for Jewish Identity and Hebrew Culture Destination Israel The Jewish Agency for Israel

Posted by Masa Israel Journey on Wednesday, November 23, 2016



Jewish Journal: Election Night 2016: The Sights and Sounds in Los Angeles and Israel

Jewish Journal: Election Night 2016: The Sights and Sounds in Los Angeles and Israel

November 10, 2016

By Orit Arfa, Contributing Writer


11:41 a.m. PST (9:41 p.m. local time), Abraham’s Hostel, Tel Aviv


“Let’s make America great again!” shouts an 18-year-old Texan, standing near the DJ booth as three screens hover above the dance floor of the Abraham Hostel.


Tonight, Masa Israel Journey, which brings young adults to study, intern and volunteer in Israel for several months, united participants through an election viewing event expected to go until 2 a.m. local time (4 p.m. in Los Angeles). Another participant repeats Trump’s campaign slogan.


“I don’t know who’s being sarcastic anymore,” says 24-year-old Michigan native Josh Linden, currently teaching English in Israel. He cast his absentee vote for Clinton. “I haven’t met anyone here voting for him yet but I haven’t been asking.” (The Texan, by the way, voted for Clinton.)


As a DJ tried to rev up the crowd with some hip-hop, with results still hours away, most of the people were lounging around, schmoozing over beer, or playing pool or table soccer. None seemed too worried about the United States, either way.


Maybe their comfort playing “Israeli” for the past two months has contributed to a feeling of detachment in the air. And while Abraham Hostel is so named for being a place that fosters peace among people, the crowd doesn’t seem to need the reconciliatory touch. Judging from a straw poll, Sara Eisen, the program’s chief communications officer, said most of the participants are Clinton supporters. But she attributes their laid-back attitude tonight to the nature of the program.


“I think, in general, people come to Israel to grow and to expand and to change — minds are wider,” she said.


Max Moser, 27, of Los Angeles and currently a fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, didn’t want to reveal his choice.


“I’m not excited about the election like most Americans,” he said. “I feel like there’s really a lack of leadership in the United States government.”


Does this make him more inclined to make aliyah? Israel’s newest holiday, Aliyah Day, celebrating immigration to Israel, fell on Nov. 8.


“I’m considering aliyah but not because of the national election, at all.”


Originally published in the Jewish Journal

Northside Neighbor: Weber School Celebrates Israel with Lessons, Travel

Northside Neighbor: Weber School Celebrates Israel with Lessons, Travel

November 16, 2016

By Ross Williams


The hallways of The Weber School in Sandy Springs were decorated in blue and white Israeli flags last week in celebration of Israel Appreciation Week.

“At The Weber School we are committed to providing students with the information and educational environment necessary to empower them to think about and discuss Israel in the most knowledgeable and thoughtful manner,” said Rabbi Edward Harwitz, Weber’s head of school. “Israel Awareness Week is one of the opportunities provided to students at Weber for meaningful and deep Israel engagement.”


The event saw Jewish Book Award-winning author Daniel Gordis speak to students and parents about the history of Israel. His latest book, “Israel: a Concise History of a Nation Reborn,” aims to provide an accessible version of the nation’s history.


“Israel is a story of a homeless people that kept a dream alive for millennia, of a people’s redemption from the edge of the abyss, of a nation forging a future when none seemed possible,” Gordis wrote in his introduction.


Rachel Zebrak hopes students will do more than just read about Israel. She is Weber’s Israel experience coordinator, and she hosted an event for students who are interested in spending a gap year in that country.


A gap year is when high school graduates take a year off before starting college. It is often a time to gain work experience, volunteer or travel.


Zebrak said competitive colleges may find students who have taken the year off to be more appealing applicants.


“They actually go as far as to say they look for candidates that have taken a gap year, as they make much better students,” she said. “They’ve had a year to kind of sow their wild oats. They’re much more serious now about their studies. They might have found during this gap year what they really want to do career-wise.”


Zebrak said one way students might find their calling in Israel is through internships. She said internships in Israel are quite hands-on; students who want to go into medicine might choose to ride along with Magen David Adom, the Israeli Red Cross.


Weber cooperates with Masa Israel Journey, an organization founded by the Israeli government, to provide young Jews from various countries with the opportunity to visit and study in Israel.


The gap year fair was attended by representatives from various organizations including Tel Aviv University, Young Judea and Ben Gurion University.


Originally published in Northside Neighbor

The Jerusalem Post: One Year That is Changing My Life

The Jerusalem Post: One Year That is Changing My Life

November 16, 2016

By Jordana Wise, Aardvark Israel participant


Living in Israel made me feel so much happier, and I felt such a strong connection between myself and this country.

When I was 15 I spent the spring semester of tenth grade in Jerusalem. Sometime during those four months, I decided that after graduating from high school I was going to serve in the Israel Defense Forces and make aliya.


Living in Israel made me feel so much happier, and I felt such a strong connection between myself and this country. Every story I heard about someone who made aliya (moved to Israel) inspired me and I wanted to see myself follow that path.


I came home to Queens and told my parents my plans. They immediately accepted the idea, were incredibly supportive and encouraged me to do whatever makes me happy. I spent every day wishing I was back in Israel, barely able to wait for that day to arrive. I decided that the best way to start was to spend a gap year in Israel. I could experience Israel in a way that I never had before and truly be a part of Israeli culture.


Masa Israel Journey offers a variety of gap-year programs in collaboration with The Jewish Agency for Israel and the government of Israel that cater to different students’ goals in Israel; I decided upon Aardvark because it would allow me to explore Israel in my own way. I choose where I volunteer, what classes I take, and participate in activities based on my personal interests.



A MEANINGFUL experience in Israel is a must for the Diaspora (photo credit: REUTERS) 


Two months into the program and I can’t imagine being on a college campus instead. In this short time I have learned how to live independently, explored Jerusalem, picked up a lot of Hebrew and made new lifelong friends. Every day is filled with volunteering, tiyulim (trips), classes about Israel and Judaism, and of course, loads of fun.


I am soon to begin a program called Marva in which I will live on an Israeli army base for eight weeks, like a real soldier. This particular feature of Aardvark and other Masa programs will be very helpful as I prepare for my future career in the IDF.


I am hopeful this experience will lead me to becoming a stronger and more capable leader.


Going on a Masa program has allowed me to slowly ease myself into living on my own in Israel and getting used to a new lifestyle as I develop a stronger, global perspective on the world around me and deepen my connection to my Judaism.


Gap-year programs aren’t only good for people like me who want to make aliya, however. This type of transformative, immersive experience is also ideal for people who want to experience Israel in a whole new way for a significant amount of time, whether to volunteer, intern, study or just have a unique personal building experience before college.


MOST OF my Jewish-American peers have gone straight off to college, many without even thinking twice about participating in a gap-year program.


But I believe that spending a substantial amount of time living on my own in Israel has helped me build a stronger connection between myself and the Land of Israel as well as with the Israeli people.


Through all of its programs, Masa Israel helps future olim plant their feet in Israel and also creates a way for Diaspora Jews to strengthen the bond with their Israeli brethren. Not only is it important to maintain this connection on an individual level, but as a community it is also crucial for Diaspora Jews to treat Israel as a necessity to our Jewish identities.


By sending thousands of young people to Israel for long-term programs every year, Masa programs have massively contributed to the movement of people who are dedicated to keeping this bond alive and making it stronger.


The author is currently participating in Aardvark Israel, a gap-year program through Masa Israel Journey.


Originally published in The Jerusalem Post

72 Hours with Masa

<div class="masa-blog-title">72 Hours with Masa </div>

The Hebrew word Masa translated to English literally means journey and the staff of Masa have spent the last 72 hours on an epic one. Our Masa North America team landed in Washington D.C. on Sunday for the GA, the Business Development team is leading a delegation of top U.S. university professionals through the startup nation and 200 Masa participants have begun the Masa GLI Global Leadership Summit in Jerusalem.

You may be thinking, wow, one company in so many places but for Masa, it’s the norm. Check out the images below for a closer view of our staff, participants and most of all the good vibes from the last 72 hours!


Masa GLI Leadership Summit Gala:




2016 North American Career Development Delegation:


Masa North America at the GA:


To stay up-to-date with Masa Israel Journey, follow us on Facebook and Instagram @MasaIsrael!