eJewish Philanthropy: Thousands of Masa Israel Participants Gather for Welcome Event

eJewish Philanthropy: Thousands of Masa Israel Participants Gather for Welcome Event

November 2, 2016

Masa Dance Party

Masa Israel Journey 2016-2017 gap year participants start an impromptu dance party in the lobby of Jerusalem’s ICC, in preparation for Masa Israel’s annual welcome event; photo by Ran Biran.

Masa Israel Journey held its annual Welcome Event on Monday evening in Jerusalem.


Masa Opening Event

Participants (including interns, volunteers, and students) celebrated the transformative experiences that await them together; photo by Ran Biran.


The gathering serves to officially welcome thousands of the 12,000 18-30 year-olds who have recently arrived in Israel to participate in dozens of long-term Israel programs including gap years, study abroad, internships, teaching English to young students, and other post-college initiatives.


Masa Hatikva 6

Israeli reggae band Hatikva 6 on October 31, 2016, at Jerusalem’s ICC; photo by Ran Biran.


With Israeli TV personality Jason Danino Holt as emcee, participants were entertained by live music from Yemenite electronic folk band A-WA and Israeli reggae group Hatikva 6. American-Israeli comedian Benji Lovitt hosted a Jewish geography game show.


Masa Opening Event

Participants from the United States and Russia show off their national pride; photo by Ran Biran.


“We bring thousands of Masa Israel Journey program participants together at this pep rally-style event, so they can get a taste of the exciting journey they each have ahead of them,” said Masa Israel Journey CEO, Liran Avisar. “We want all of our participants to understand that they are now part of a community larger than themselves, and a network that goes far beyond the specific programs on which they are enrolled. Together, we will celebrate Israeli culture and get our participants excited about experiencing Masa Israel their way – “My Masa” – so they can make the most of the transformative time in Israel to come.”


Originally published in eJewish Philanthropy

The Forward: Why I'm Not Going to College This Year

The Forward: Why I'm Not Going to College This Year

The Forward: Why I'm Not Going to College This Year

November 4, 2016

By Noa Emas,Young Judaea Year Course


I just graduated high school with perfect grades, an acceptance letter to my number one university, and what I thought was a sense of what I wanted to do with my life. Yet, to the surprise of many, I am not attending college this year. While my friends were choosing their classes and buying textbooks, I packed my bags and got on a plane to Israel for a year.

In America, students are expected to go to high school, immediately enroll in college, find a job, and then settle down. That can leave little room for us to explore who we are and what we want from life. When are we supposed to learn about ourselves outside of a classroom? When we have a job and family, and it’s presumed we already know? I believe the best time is when we’re still growing, and when we can afford to spend time traveling and exploring.


When many people hear “gap year,” they unfortunately — and falsely — assume that the person didn’t get into college, has no drive, or just wants to relax and do nothing for a year. Even my dad was originally completely against the idea of a gap year. But these stereotypes couldn’t be further from the truth. I chose to take a year off between high school and college in order to broaden my understanding of the world, myself, and my connection to Israel as a young Jew.


About two years ago, I went on a month-long trip to Israel with my Jewish youth group. We traveled the country and learned all about our history. I fell in love with everything it had to offer. I got off the plane in America with a feeling of homesickness, and I realized I needed to go back.


I am currently on Young Judaea Year Course, a gap year program supported by Masa Israel Journey, The Jewish Agency for Israel, and the Government of Israel, through which I am spending half my year in Jerusalem taking classes about Judaism and Zionism, and the other half of my year in Bat Yam volunteering with local organizations.


Hiking in Israel

Credit: Pixiby


In Young Judaea’s words, “Year course isn’t a year off between high school and college — it’s a year on.” This program felt like the perfect fit for me, and, soon after I arrived in Israel two months ago, I was proven right. I may not be attending university, but I am learning more about myself and developing as a person — not just as a student. I have met people from every walk of life with every political and religious affiliation.


I am also experiencing living on my own. I have five roommates and together, we have to make a budget, shop for groceries, cook our meals, clean the apartment, make sure any maintenance issue is dealt with, and go to the doctor’s office a few blocks away when we don’t feel well. All of these are things I wouldn’t have to deal with in a college dorm, and now I am prepared to live in a dorm or apartment with the knowledge and confidence of how to manage everything.


The stigma about gap years must be broken down. We need to allow young people to find out what they want from life, and with the variety of gap year programs out there, every individual has the opportunity to find the one that’s right for them. Spending a year exploring one’s sense of self, one’s goals, one’s reason for being will save money, time, and the stress and pressure of seeking to figure out the same things in college, which often isn’t the right environment to develop such conclusions.


By allowing myself to not rush into college, I will attend university next fall with a better understanding of how the real world operates and how I fit into that world. My journey has only just begun, and I already know the rest of the year will impact who I am for the rest of my life.


Noa Emas graduated from Fullerton Union High School in Fullerton, earlier this year, and will attend Johnson and Wales University in Providence in fall 2017, to major in Baking and Pastry Arts and Business Management. She keeps a blog detailing her gap year at https://noasisraeladventures.wordpress.com/ and can be reached via email.


The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Forward.


Originally published in the Forward

The Jerusalem Post: Masa Program to Bring 13,000 Jewish Youth to Israel in Coming Year

The Jerusalem Post: Masa Program to Bring 13,000 Jewish Youth to Israel in Coming Year

October 13, 2016

By Lidar Gravé-Lazi


Some 13,000 Jewish youth are expected to come to Israel this coming year to participate in Masa, the organization announced on Thursday.

Benjamin Netanyahu takes a selfie with Masa participants.

Benjamin Netanyahu takes a selfie with Masa participants.

(Photo Credit: REUTERS)


The program provides Jewish youth the opportunity to participate in over 250 immersive Israel programs ranging in length from six months to a year, which include internships, study abroad programs, and volunteer opportunities. These experiences aim to give participants practical academic or work experience while strengthening their connection to Israel.


The Masa program is set to officially launch on October 31st during a ceremony in Jerusalem with the participation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Natan Sharansky, head of the Jewish Agency.


“The youth arrive to Israel to participate in a wide range of Masa programs, from government, to economy and culture, hi-tech, teaching English, medicine and more,” Liran Avisar-Ben Horin, CEO of Masa said.


She noted that in addition Masa provides participants with tools to engage in hasbara (public diplomacy) for Israel, turning those who take part into informal ambassadors for Israel to the world.


“Every year they show that the year they spend in Israel – working, volunteering and being exposed the multi-layered and complex Israeli society – becomes the most meaningful in their lives,” she said.


According to a recent survey conducted by Midgam Institute and released by Masa, some 87% of Masa participants said they intend to actively work towards strengthening Israel’s image in the world, while 81% of participants said their vision of Israel “changed for the positive” because of participating in the project.


Slightly more than half, 58% of respondents, said they would “certainly” act against the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement.


Since its founding in 2004 by the Prime Minister’s Office and the Jewish Agency, over 120,000 young Jews from around the world have participated in Masa programs.



Originally published in The Jerusalem Post

eJewish Philanthropy: Fostering Long-Term Engagement with Israel is Simpler Than You Might Think

eJewish Philanthropy: Fostering Long-Term Engagement with Israel is Simpler Than You Might Think

eJewish Philanthropy: Fostering Long-Term Engagement with Israel is Simpler Than You Might Think

September 11, 2016

By Liran Avisar, CEO of Masa Israel Journey  


For all the Jewish day schools, summer camps, trips to Israel, anti-BDS conferences, and campus advocacy trainings, the American Jewish community continues to grapple with how to successfully foster long-term Israel engagement among the next generation of Jewish leaders. In recent years, countless resources from all corners of the community have been devoted to helping form or reinforce lasting bonds between young Jews and the State of Israel. And yet, from a political, spiritual, cultural and public relations perspective, most communal stakeholders remain mystified as to how to make Israel matter for millennials in the long run.

At the risk of stating the obvious, there is one proven solution to creating a solid foundation for a lifetime of engagement: spending months living, studying and working in Israel.


Over the course of 12 years leading the field of top immersive international experiences in Israel, we have learned some important lessons. Namely, that the firsthand encounter with day-to-day life in Israel, which can only be attained by being on the ground for a sustained, continuous amount of time, makes all the difference to our 120,000 alumni around the world.


When we look at what distinguishes loosely affiliated American Jews who understand what’s at stake when it comes to Israel’s future from their similarly affiliated peers, we consistently return to the fact that those “in the know” have spent a substantive amount of time experiencing Israel.


Our participants immerse themselves in their local communities in Israel, and as a result, spend time getting to know Israelis and end up caring more about the well-being of the State of Israel. Masa Israel Journey’s “off the bus” experiences empower individuals to embark on unique journeys that enrich their personal and professional growth, and create durable connections to Israel.


Israel is made up of a diverse mixture of communities: religious and secular, native-born and immigrant, Jewish and Arab, urban start-up and rural agriculture. Working with and among these populations for a significant time; learning and living Israel’s complex landscape, both past and present; and developing one’s own narrative belonging to this place and its people – one’s own People – is more valuable than any single injection of information or dose of emotion meant to immunize against Jewish and Israel apathy.


The courage to be “from somewhere” and to stand for something is no longer a given on Western campuses and beyond. This confidence is gained by participants learning, firsthand, that the whole Israel story is as multidimensional as the passengers on a Tel Aviv bus. It is gained by giving participants the understanding that they can navigate uncertainty, because they’ve now seen a whole society do so and thrive.


A recent study conducted by the Midgam Institute, an independent Israeli research and consulting firm, found that engaging in Israel through a Masa Israel experience fosters a level of depth which has concrete results. In surveying 1,480 Masa participants and alumni, it found that 91 percent of participants agree that the most effective way to strengthen the relationship between Israel and Diaspora Jews is by spending a significant period of time living in Israel. Additionally, 82% said they think Israel’s reality is far more positive than its media image abroad, 79% said they are likely to visit Israel again, and 87% said they intend to take action to improve Israel’s image in their home country by being more active on campus, on social media, at demonstrations, and through donations.


Those who have participated in Masa Israel programs are more likely to take an interest in news regarding Israeli current events, to listen to Israeli music and podcasts about Israel, and to read Israeli books. The data suggests that young people need to develop a connection to Israel and Israelis in order to make their love for the country last, and that only happens when they get the chance to have their own unique journey there.


A major part of the reason we are able to successfully create the kinds of immersive experiences that lead to these lasting relationships with Israel, is because Israelis are an integral part of the story. Sustained exposure to long-term program participants gives Israelis the chance to interact with them in a wide range of contexts, and, of course, the reverse is also true – participants get to know Israelis in an authentic way. Our experiences bring Israelis and participants face to face while working together in the office, shopping in the supermarket on Friday afternoon, relaxing on the beach on weekends, and using public transit on a daily basis.


As a result, the same Midgam survey mentioned above found that out of 503 Israelis interviewed, two thirds said Masa experiences reflect the reality of daily life in Israel. Additionally, 94% agreed that “strengthening the connection with Diaspora Jewry is vital for Israel’s strength.”


The truth is, there is no single political viewpoint or cultural lens that can motivate young people to care about Israel. There’s no single approach or narrative for making it matter to everyone, and that is the intrinsic beauty in the situation: individuals find their way to connect to Israel by finding out here what matters to them, and where they can matter to Israel.


Giving young Jews the extended opportunity to experience and discover Israel for themselves is the best way to ensure the next generation will be invested in Israel’s future, with individual passion for a collective purpose.


Liran Avisar is the CEO of Masa Israel Journey, the leader of immersive international experiences in Israel, including gap year programs, study abroad, service-learning and career development opportunities. Masa Israel Journey is a joint project of the Government of Israel and The Jewish Agency.


Originally published in eJewish Philanthropy


Habonim Dror - Shnat - Tlalim

Program Description


Workshop - Tlalim

Program Description

Meet Maya Pollack: Masa Israel Gap Year Alumna

<div class="masa-blog-title">Meet Maya Pollack: Masa Israel Gap Year Alumna</div>

Over Passover break this past year in Israel, I was watching the movie, "Tangled" and eating ice cream. I wasn't paying attention because my ice cream was really tasty, until I heard this sentence, "I've been looking out a window for 18 years. What if it's not what I dreamed it would be"?


I realized that that is a fear that I had before going on Netzer Olami's gap year program through Masa Israel. I have quotes from my 9th-grade angst teenage diary saying, "I hate high school. I can't wait to go to Israel on my gap year.”


So apparently, by 15 I had already decided to go on a gap year.


Anyways, this year is something that I had been anticipating and building up in my head for over five years. What if it weren't everything I thought it would be? What if it was a waste of time?


Now I'm not going to lie to you, the first week of my gap year, I thought that that fear had come true. I remember sitting in a circle doing a program at Beit Shmuel, in Jerusalem, thinking, "How embarrassing would it be if I went home now? Would plane flights be expensive"?


I'm not sure what it was, but something wouldn't let me truly acknowledge how I felt. I think I was probably in denial because I wanted it to work out so much. And I'm glad I was in denial. Because after giving it a little time, I realized that this journey was one that I was meant to go on.

Maya with her parents in Jerusalem. 


Every one of the 255 some odd days that I lived in Israel, I learned something new because of the people I lived with and because of the amazing country. Through Netzer Olami, I learned how to communicate effectively, love unconditionally, how to get angry and then move on, how to sing with all my heart, and how to feed my endless hunger for knowledge.


Speaking of knowledge, one of my main goals for my gap year was to learn more about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which I was able to meet during my Gap Year. In high school, I was the only Jewish person in my school and because of this, I became the unofficial representative of all things Israel and Jewish. Everyone asked me questions and more questions and at that particular time I felt I couldn’t answer them to the best of my ability. However, thanks to the events hosted by Masa Israel during my Gap Year I am confident to answer all questions regarding Israel now.

There was one event that I know sparked my interest; it was our trip to Gush Etzion where we spoke to a Palestinian and a Jewish Settler.


While asking these gentlemen questions, I realized that this was what I came to do. I came to Israel to learn about the country that I loved. I left that event feeling like I was definitely on the path that my heart wanted me to go on.

Photo: Maya Pollack


From the experience I’ve had on my Gap Year, I am now studying Middle Eastern politics and am currently involved in making a documentary about Israel on college campuses and how it is portrayed.


Written by Masa Pollack, Masa Israel Gap Year Alumna


Jewish Journal: College Scholarships and Aid Money are Out there, if You Know Where to Look

Jewish Journal: College Scholarships and Aid Money are Out there, if You Know Where to Look

Jewish Journal: College Scholarships and Aid Money are Out there, if You Know Where to Look

September 8, 2016

By Lakshna Mehta


College is expensive, whether you go to school five minutes from home or 500 miles away.

"Masa Israel (masaisrael.org/grants) provides grants or need-based scholarships for study abroad programs to Israel. Different amounts are available for participants from different countries. Study abroad participants from North America can receive up to $4,500, depending on the length and cost of their program, and need-based scholarships go up to $3,000. Gap year participants between the ages of 18 and 21 can receive $500."


Read the full story in the Jewish Journal

The Jerusalem Post: IDF Hero Yanush Ben_Gal remembered by Limmud FSU

The Jerusalem Post: IDF Hero Yanush Ben_Gal remembered by Limmud FSU

September 9, 2016

By Sarah Levi


Weekend event boosts Jewish identity in Tatarstan. 


"The event benefited from the help and past efforts from Taglit Birthright, the Jewish Agency, [Masa] and Chabad to reconnect Russian Jews to their roots that were severed during communism."

Read the full story in The Jerusalem Post

The Jewish Standard: Fingerhut on Hillel

The Jewish Standard: Fingerhut on Hillel

The Jewish Standard: Fingerhut on Hillel

September 1, 2016

By Joanne Palmer


College organization's president to speak in Closter

"'We want them to go on Birthright. We are big promoters of Onward Israel and Masa. We want them to learn as much as they can, to engage as much as they can, so when the issues arrive, they can respond effectively.' (Birthright Israel takes Jews between 18 and 26 years old to Israel on a free 10-day trip. Onward Israel is the next step, a six- to ten-week immersive program in Israel; it is not free but is heavily subsidized. Masa comes next; it offers five- to 12-month internships, volunteer opportunities, and other programs in Israel. Hillel works closely with all these organizations, and others as well.)"


Read the full article in The Jewish Standard.