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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

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
 

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.

 

What!?

 

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 RachelM@MasaIsrael.org to get the party started.