Masa Sets Multi-Year Commitment from Israeli Prime Minister

Masa Sets Multi-Year Commitment from Israeli Prime Minister

March 22, 2007

Today the Israeli government announced that it is making a multi-year commitment to support the Masa project, so that it can continue to bring thousands of young Jews to Israel for a five to 10 months to participate in volunteer and study programs.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert convened the meeting in which he stressed the critical importance of the project and pledged to support and continue the program whose goal is to bring more than 20,000 participants a year to Israel on long-term programs.
 
Since its start two years ago, there has been a 100% increase in the number of long-term Israel programs offering a wider range of options for young Jews from the Diaspora.  As a result, the number of young Jews that come to participate in these programs has more than doubled to 8,000.
 
The Prime Minister’s statement is a vote of confidence in the project and its ideals. 
 
Among the plans discussed for Masa over the next two years were increasing the number of participants to 20,000 a year, an emphasis on programming in the areas of the Negev and the Galilee, a fusion of the Masa programs with every facet of Israeli society, and the formation of a bond between Israelis and Jewish communities all over the world.
 
Executive Director of Masa Elan Ezrachi highlighted the project's values to the Israeli society: each participant of Masa contributes a minimum of 20 hours of community service. In total, the participants give about 200,000 days of volunteering to Israel, in a variety of social and cultural environments.  Moreover, each participant returns to his or her home community stronger, more committed and better equipped to succeed.  
 
Masa was created and is funded by the Prime Minister’s Office and the Jewish Agency. The budget for this year’s project was $36 million; half of which was allocated by the government of Israel and the other half by the Jewish Agency and private donors. This year, approximately $22 Million is being spent on scholarships and grants for 5,000 participants. In 2007-2008, Masa expects to bring 9,500 participants, the highest number ever, with a budget of $48 million.

Out of India

Out of India

November 22, 2006

Twelve post-college Jewish Indians came to Arad to learn about their own Indian Jewish history − and as well as those of other students from around the world
For many young Israelis, going to India is one of the most coveted dreams. The magic of this faraway country appeals to the nomadic and free nature of Israel's young men and women, and they stream in great numbers to explore the mysteries of India. Little is known about the other side of that coin − the young Jewish people in India who find the prospect of coming to Israel no less appealing.
 
This is the story of 12 post-college Jewish Indians, aged 19 through 29, who decided to leave their homes and come to Israel for a five-month program with Masa Israel Orot India (Hebrew for Lights of India ). The program, which is fully sponsored by Masa, is designed to teach the participants − some of whom are visiting Israel for the first time − the gist of Judaism and Zionism, as well as to give them a profound knowledge of Jewish tradition in India.
 
Back to basics
In Israel, the 12 excited university graduates became full-time students again, joining the World Union of Jewish Students program in Arad for spring semester. WUJS, which is part of Hadassah, brings young people from all over the world to learn about Jewish tradition and culture as well as Israeli society. Alon Friedman, director of WUJS Arad, says Orot participants studied Hebrew through the ulpan program, taking different Jewish courses and participating in seminars and hikes around the scenic surrounding region. "The best experience for them was integrating with the other Jews studying at WUJS," says Friedman. "There were students from the United States, Canada, Argentina and Estonia, and it was very interesting to witness the interaction between all these youths."
 
For the participants in the Orot India program, every day in Arad was a thrilling new experience. The students are from different regions in India, including Mumbai (Bombay ), Ahmedabad, Puna and Cochin − a city with a total Jewish population of 18. All the participants have bachelor's degrees but little to no knowledge of Jewish tradition and culture.
 
During their two and a half months in Arad, they learned a lot about Israel and the Israelis. "The WUJS program was absolutely fantastic," says Zohar, a participant. "It was an exhilarating experience to be with the WUJS people; we enjoyed it a lot, and had a lot of experiences involving the Jewish people, Israeli culture and Jewish ideologies."
 
Tackling the food problem
The interaction with Israeli society was sometimes difficult for the Orot participants, yet they all laugh when looking back at some of the more awkward experiences. Tzofia, who was their counselor in Israel,  says the Indians still find the issue of food to be problematic. "The first day they came to Arad," recalls Tzofia, "they met the reality of Israeli food face to face ... they were given trays and plates in the dining hall, and when they got to the salad bar they put the salads on the trays rather than the plates ... The kitchen workers were furious," laughs Tzofia. "They didn't understand that in India you put your food on trays and not on plates. Since then, the guys are really careful whenever it comes to food."
 
Among their many activities, the Orot India participants have met the Indian ambassador to Israel, Ramidar Singh Jassal. When the ambassador heard a group of young Jewish Indians was participating in the Masa program, he decided to invite them to meet him. The ambassador was impressed by the idealistic group, and even invited the participants to his home.
 
Having finished the first half of the program, the 12 students will now be participating in a variety of activities, from attending Jewish seminars in Jerusalem, working at kibbutzim, volunteering to help postwar rehabilitation efforts in northern Israel, and more. Some of them are already planning to stay and study in Israel, and to live here. As Zohar puts it, "It's good to be home, where it's okay to be Jewish."
 
The students are from different regions in India, including Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Puna and Cochin − a city with a total Jewish population of 18.

2,000 Masa Participants Take a Train Ride to Israel's North

2,000 Masa Participants Take a Train Ride to Israel's North

September 19, 2006

This year, 8,000 participants from all over the world will be spending a semester to a year in Israel in more than 150 Masa-affiliated programs -- the largest number of participants ever.
On October 26th, over 2,000 of these participants currently in Israel will celebrate Masa's third year by taking the train from Jerusalem to the port city of Akko (Acre) in northern Israel. 
 
The participants will travel by train, specially chartered by Masa for this celebration trip, accompanied by live entertainment – including, music, dance and performances - and experienced guides who will be on hand to explain the significant sites along the route.  Also on the train will be a display devoted to the recent war with Lebanon and its impact on Israel's northern communities.  Traveling with the participants will be soldiers who fought in the war who will answer questions and share their experiences wih the participants. 
 
Participants will also be receiving Masa welcome kits, including discount coupons, tour map and lexicon, dictionary and a Masa ID card entitling them to additional discounts and entry to special Masa event, all in a special Masa backpack. 
 
Upon arriving in Akko, they will join with other Masa participants making their way to the port city by bus.  Together, they will make their way on foot to Akko's Old City.  They will learn about its history, visit archeological landmarks, and 'lend a hand' by volunteering in a number of projects to help revitalize parts of the Old City that were damaged during the war in Lebanon.  The day's activities will conclude in the evening with a celebration on the walls of the Old City. 

New Office to Serve Largest Percentage of Masa Israel Participants

New Office to Serve Largest Percentage of Masa Israel Participants

September 5, 2006

North America counts for 60% of the long-term program participants in any given year. Therefore it was only natural that Masa would have a North American presence.
Now it does.   
 
The new office, located in the Jewish Agency office in Manhattan, will serve the growing marketing and recruitment needs of Masa Israel Journey in North America. 
 
The office is managed by Avi Rubel, who will serve as the Director of North American Operations.  Mr. Rubel was a senior staff member at Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, where he was in charge of all the Hillel activities in the Former Soviet Union.  
 
"This is a decision which we have approached very carefully and I think we have finally reached a point which will be helpful to all the participants," says Elan Ezrachi, Executive Director of Masa. 
 
The office will serve communities in the US and Canada, working closely with Jewish Federations, Hillel and university students to promote Masa and solidify the relationships that Masa has forged with these institutions.  It will also help develop new strategic initiatives for rooting Masa and its aspirations in the American community.

Candid Shot: New take on an adopting family

<div class="masa-blog-title">Candid Shot: New take on an adopting family</div>

 
Pictured: Brian Goldfarb and his adoptive parents at the Masa Gala, May 2006
 
Many Masa-affiliated programs include relationships between adopting Israeli families and young people from abroad spending an extended period of time on a program in Israel.
 

Summer Camp Leads to Masa Israel Journey

Summer Camp Leads to Masa Israel Journey

Summer Camp Leads to Masa Israel Journey

May 21, 2006

"I grew up as a proud Russian in Moscow, entrenched in Russian culture. When I was fifteen, my parents told me that they were sending me to a Jewish Agency summer camp. Only then did I learn that I was Jewish. I was devastated. But I went to the camp and it changed my life."
When Irina Merzlykh's parents closed the door to the living room and told her that they had something important to tell her, Irina thought she was in trouble. To her astonishment, they told her that she was Jewish and they were sending her to a Jewish Agency summer camp in Budapest. Irina cried and refused to go but in the end, it was a turning point in her life.
 
"The camp was amazing. The counselors really made us look deep inside ourselves and understand what it meant to be a Jew. During one activity, we had to draw a picture of a Jewish person. Everyone drew men with sidelocks, yarmulkes and black hats. Then the counselor said, 'look around, do you see anyone like that here?' Something opened inside of me and I began embracing my Jewish identity."
 
Irina returned to Moscow and became involved in the Jewish Agency's youth club. Her interest in learning Jewish texts took her to Sweden, where she studied Talmud, and inspired her to start a short-lived women's study group in Moscow.
 
In 2001, Irina visited to Israel on a birthright israel trip and fell in love with the country.  After the ten-day trip ended, she vowed to return. 
 
Irina chose to return to Israel and signed up for the Kibbutz Movement's Bina program, a secular organization that promotes Jewish studies.  The program is part of the Jewish Agency's Masa Israel Journey initiative; the gateway to over 100 unique long term programs in Israel. 
 
For ten-months Irina is living in Tel Aviv and volunteering with children and youth. She teaches them English and spends time with them, playing, learning and listening. Upon completing the program, Irina plans to return to Moscow and continue her work as Hillel project coordinator. "Young Russian Jews are too busy to spend time learning about their Jewish heritage. I want to find ways to reach out to them so they will want to become part of the Jewish community."
 

Discoveries in Israel on OTZMA

<div class="masa-blog-title">Discoveries in Israel on OTZMA</div>

By Roni Ben David, OTZMA
 
Before I left I didn't expect to be riding a bus in Israel.  But just last week I found myself climbing aboard bus #6 and handing my four shekels to the bus driver, who was exchanging cheerful greetings with the school girls behind me.
 

Israel Hoping Long-Term Stays by Diaspora Youth will Pay Dividends

Israel Hoping Long-Term Stays by Diaspora Youth will Pay Dividends

Israel Hoping Long-Term Stays by Diaspora Youth will Pay Dividends

August 24, 2005

TEL AVIV (JTA) — Ben Russell helped deliver two babies, taught English to Druse children, worked with Ethiopian immigrants, led coexistence workshops with Arab students and met Prime Minister Ariel Sharon during his “year off” in Israel before college.
"I always felt like I knew bits of Israel, but not well," said Russell, who grew up in London and will study at Cambridge University in the fall."I wanted to spend some real time here and get to know the country."
 
Russell, 19, is one of some 5,600 young Jews from around the world who came to Israel this year for long-term study or volunteer programs. The sense of connection and adventure these extended visits create are seen as a safeguard against climbing intermarriage rates and a drop in Jewish community involvement among young people.
 
Israeli officials believe that longer stays in the country are the best way to cement Jewish identity and commitment to Israel — including an interest in aliyah — among the next generation of Jews. They don’t merely trust that such programs are the way to go; they’re banking on them.
 
On Sunday, the Israeli government and the Jewish Agency for Israel launched an ambitious program called Masa, or Israel Journey, in which they plan eventually to invest $100 million a year to help subsidize semester and yearlong programs for Diaspora youth.
 
Program fees paid by participants are expected to reach another $100 million a year.
 
The goal is to bring 20,000 young Diaspora Jews to Israel each year on long-term visits.
 
Allan Hoffman, director general of JAFI’s Education Department, said the goal of having one in five young Jews from the Diaspora in Israel for a long-term program will have a "transformative impact on Jewish life."
 
"I believe this is one of the few avenues open to us to really build a next generation of Jewish people into the future,"he said.
 
Hoffman said coming to Israel for an extended stay takes the experience to a different level than coming as a tourist.
 
"You can have a wonderful experience as a tourist, but you’re always an outsider looking in,"he said.
 
The gap can be narrowed, he said, "if we can create a generation of young Jews who feel like insiders in their experience with Israel and Israelis."
 
Participants, aged 18-26, have dozens of programs to choose from, ranging from studying at Israeli universities, yeshivas and music conservatories to volunteering on kibbutzim, working with immigrants and underprivileged youths or doing professional internships.
 
During the 2004-2005 school year, Masa’s pilot year, $10 million was invested in the program.
 
On Sunday night, more than 2,000 students who had spent all or part of the year in Israel gathered at an amphitheater at Beit Guvrin National Park south of Jerusalem to celebrate the official launch of Masa with music, dancing and speeches.
 
Sharon met with the young people and encouraged them to continue their connection to Israel, either by making aliyah or becoming community leaders and supporters of Israel back home.
 
“Today, we are taking a giant step toward the time when living in Israel for a period of time will be an inseparable part of the life of every Jewish youngster around the world, just as the Land of Israel is an inseparable part of our identities as Jews,” Sharon said.
 
The program marks the first time the government has allocated such a large sum of money specifically for the Diaspora, Cabinet secretary Yisrael Maimon said.
 
"There is a lot of criticism of the government about the decision at a time when there is poverty and budget cuts,"Maimon said.
 
But citing the rise in intermarriage and the decrease of young Diaspora Jews remaining active in their communities, Maimon said the government decided it was time to act.
 
Masa is the brainchild of Sallai Meridor, the outgoing head of JAFI. Meridor made an emotional speech to the Masa participants.
 
"You, the Jewish youth, you are the future of the Jewish nation. We all have just one country. We will safeguard it forever. The government of Israel and the Jewish Agency are with you in safeguarding the future of the Jewish nation. We will bring together tens of thousands of Jewish youth to Israel," he said.
 
The crowd applauded wildly with Meridor’s final words, "Am Yisrael Chai."
 
Researchers have found that Jews who spend extended stays in Israel when they are young have a higher chance of either making aliyah or becoming active, committed members of their communities back home.
 
According to a study of participants in the Young Judaea Year Course — a program for North American high school graduates who spend a year in Israel before going to college — 91 percent go on to marry Jews.
 
A study of another post-high school program, Machon LeMadrechai Chutz LeAretz — which Russell was on this year — found that 40 percent of graduates have made aliyah.
 
Elan Ezrachi, director of Masa, described birthright israel — the free, 10-day trips to Israel for Diaspora youth — as an "appetizer" for Masa. On Birthright, young Jews often get their first taste of Israel, but longer experiences are needed to cement the connection to the country and their Jewish identities, Ezrachi said.
 
Russell said he was amazed by the range of experiences he had in Israel.
 
He changed locations about every six weeks. Among the places he stayed was the city of Sefad in the Galilee. It was there that he volunteered to teach English to Druse children as part of the United Jewish Israel Appeal’s work in the region. The UJIA, Britain’s largest Jewish philanthropy, invests in Jewish education in the United Kingdom and Israel.
 
Like Russell, Robin Zebrowitz, 23, of Atlanta also had a busy year — teaching swimming and English, hauling plants in an organic greenhouse and living in a center for new immigrants from Ethiopia, France, South Africa and Yemen.
 
"It’s an absolutely phenomenal, invaluable experience," Zebrowitz said of her year in Israel. "The things I have done here, the friends I have made, the connections are something you can only do if you are here for longer."