Turning all you once knew upside down

<div class="masa-blog-title">Turning all you once knew upside down</div>

 
From translation blunders to coffee confusion, Hebrew Union College student Jen Gubitz describes her first two months in Israel and the comical side of foreignness.
 
After being here for two months, I’ve concluded that my life in Israel is most easily compared to the only coffee beverage I can successfully order.
 

Inside Look into Masa Israel through Executive Director Ezrachi

<div class="masa-blog-title">Inside Look into Masa Israel through Executive Director Ezrachi </div>

 
By Erin Kopelow
 
"Israel, is about to celebrate its 60th birthday," Masa Executive Director Dr. Elan Ezrachi says with an air of determination, "and the Jewish world of today is dramatically different than what it was sixty years ago."
 
The level of growth Israel has experienced over these past sixty years has significantly changed the face of this country.
 

Confronting my Jewish identity in Israel

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.