Yonatan Barkan

Yonatan Barkan

Director of Academic Programs

Masa Israel Alumni Gather for Leadership Training

Masa Israel Alumni Gather for Leadership Training

Masa Israel Alumni Gather for Leadership Training

August 15, 2013

This past weekend, 70 of the best and brightest "Masaniks" gathered for the first-ever national Masa Israel Alumni Retreat.
Current Masa Alumni Board members and recent returnees from Israel who participated in the Masa Israel Leadership Summit in March came together for the three-day shabbaton held at the Pearlstone Retreat Center in Maryland. The goal of the weekend was to promote the development of Masa Israel Alumni Associations and their boards in cities across North America, as well as to help the alumni cultivate their passion for Israel engagement and active participation in their local Jewish communities.
 
The retreat began with an opening address by Rabbi Scott Perlo of Washington, D.C.'s Sixth and I Synagogue. He set the tone for the weekend by prompting participants to ponder their place in the rich, millennia-spanning context of the Jewish story, and to think about how to get involved as they move forward in their own journey.
 
The retreat continued with enrichment sessions led by representatives from the World Zionist Organization, The Jewish Agency for Israel, Israel Action Network, Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies, Shalom Hartman Institute, Hazon and Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life. These sessions provided participants with the opportunity to interact on a personal level, sharing the stories of their Israel exeriences while identifying practical channels through which to maintain their involvement in areas they found important during their time in Israel. 
"The social action discussions led by Hazon really got some ideas flowing. It's nice to connect to like-minded people," said Elise Yafet of Milwaukee, WI, who participated in Masa Israel Teaching Fellows in Netanya for the 2012-2013 school year. 
 
Over Saturday and Sunday, the alumni received practical leadership training from PresenTense, working in regional groups to develop a vision for their Alumni Board and improve upon community mapping and networking skills. 
 
"Having this outlet to re-engage and discuss renewed my interest and openness to further exploration of opportunities," said Jordan Winick, who participated in Tikkun Olam in Tel Aviv - Jaffa in 2011-2012. "This weekend introduced me to ways to increase my participation and engagement when I go back to Toronto, including the possibility of starting an Alumni Board." 
 
This retreat was particularly inspiring for Masa Israel alumni from smaller, less-developed communities. "Coming from such a small Jewish community, the passion I had for Israel was fizzling out after returning. This retreat is recharging my batteries so I can go back and revitalize my community," remarked Jordan Goldschmidt of Kansas City, KS, who served as a Masa Israel Teaching Fellow in Rehovot for 2012-2013 school year.  "The great thing about Masa is that it allows someone from 'Nowheresville,' USA, to have just as much involvement in the Jewish community as someone from New York City." 
 
With the establishment of peer-led Masa Alumni Associations to act as a springboard for recent returnees, we are confident that we will see Masa alumni deepen their involvement with a variety of Jewish organizations, and continue on their journeys toward a lifetime of leadership in the Jewish community that were inspired by their time in Israel. 
 

JPost: The real hands on experience

JPost: The real hands on experience

JPost: The real hands on experience

August 8, 2013

By Rivkah Ginat
 
Tikkun Olam aims to give participants a glimpse of the country beyond Taglit-Birthright.
The organizers of Masa’s Tikkun Olam program certainly don’t sugarcoat the Israel experience. That was fine with participant Elliot Glassenberg, who says he struggled for years with his relationship with Israel.
 
“I knew that if I came here, I would need to find a community that I was comfortable with,” he says. “To be part of a solution and not a problem. I wouldn’t have been able to come on a program that had not let me embrace being critical of Israel.”
 
The program – one of over 200 that Masa Israel Journey offers – gives participants between the ages of 18 and 30 an opportunity to have a long-term, immersive experience in the country, living in the communities where they volunteer, with a consistent emphasis on gaining familiarity with the Jewish state – flaws and all.
 
Part of that is giving the participants an experience beyond that of Taglit-Birthright, in which approximately 80 percent of Tikkun Olam participants take part prior to their time at Masa.
 
“For many of our participants, Birthright serves as their first and only Israel experience [so far],” says Moshe Samuels, Tikkun Olam’s director. However, time constraints do not allow Birthright participants to spend time looking at the inherent intricacies of life here.
 
“This makes our program their first hands-on Israel experience, for which I give them a lot of credit,” says Samuels. “It’s not simple to have your first real Israel experience be through a program like ours.”
 
That observation is well-founded. The communities where the participants volunteer include mixed neighborhoods of Jews and Arabs, refugees, new immigrants and asylum-seekers, as well as lower socioeconomic areas. This allows the participants to live and work with individuals they would be unlikely to meet on a typical trip to Israel.
 
As Samuels puts it, “the people you volunteer with are the same people playing basketball outside your house.”
 
Tikkun Olam opened its doors in 2006, with locations in south Tel Aviv and Jaffa. It is a joint project of the BINA Center for Jewish Identity and Hebrew Culture, the Daniel Centers for Progressive Judaism, and the Union for Reform Judaism, with attendees from 11 countries.
 
The program is split into three tracks: coexistence, social action and an internship track. Next year, for the first time, Tikkun Olam will be partnering with the Rothberg International School at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, offering students in the nonprofit management and leadership master’s program field placements in Tel Aviv and Jaffa.
 
Among the NGOs with which the program offers volunteer and internship placements are the Peres Center for Peace, the Tel Aviv Rape Crisis Center, the African Refugees and Developmental Center, and Mesila.
 
Every week, participants in each track spend three days volunteering and two days studying. Studies focus on Jewish and Israeli culture, as well as taking an in-depth look at local current events. For the first three weeks, the program involves five hours a day of intensive Hebrew study, offering three or four levels of Hebrew based on need. Ulpan is a staple of the program and continues throughout the year, since language is viewed as essential to a successful integrative experience.
 
In addition, the program offers periodic weekend and day trips, which give participants an opportunity both to see the land and to interact with demographic groups they might not otherwise encounter.
 
“Many programs tend to shy away from some of Israel’s more complex issues,” says Samuels. “These are topics that Tikkun Olam specifically focuses on, for we feel that such discussion is necessary to achieve true identification with what is going on here.
 
That is what we try to show our participants – not the postcard, not a dream, but the reality. Then we tell them, ‘If you’re not happy with the reality you see, you can change it.’” This change had particular meaning for Glassenberg, who participated in the program in 2011-12. Having graduated with a BA from McGill University and an MA in Jewish education and literature from the Jewish Theological Seminary, he had a steady job in New York by the spring of 2011, but was unsure of where his life was heading. He decided to take a break both professionally and personally, and spend a year in Israel to do some significant volunteer work.
 
As an educator, he felt that he had “talked the talk, but not walked the walk” with regard to Jewish-Arab coexistence. So he picked the coexistence track in Jaffa and set himself a full schedule. He volunteered with four organizations, including two schools with Arab and Jewish student populations, a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community center in Tel Aviv, and Bikurim, an organization that supports independent, multicultural literature in Israel.
 
His year, he says, was “very full, but very fulfilling.”
 
Photo: courtsey
 

Meet & Greet the Miami Masa Alumni Comittee

Meet & Greet the Miami Masa Alumni Comittee

August 14, 2013 - 19:30  -  August 14, 2013 - 21:30

Aroma 150 Sunny Isles Boulevar North Miami Beach, FL  - 

Do you miss Israel, the friends you made in Israel, and the fun activities you took part in?. Miss them no more!
Hello Masa alumni and future Masa participants! We have created a Masa alumni committee to organize fun activities just for you. Wednesday the 14th of August we are having a Meet & Greet for you to get to know the awesome people in the Masa Alumni Committee and for you to tell us about your Israel experience and what you miss the most about it.
 
Gather your friends that did Masa or are interested in doing Masa and come out to Aroma on 163rd and we will treat you to a coffee. RSVP on Facebook.

Repairing the world at Jaffa

<div class="masa-blog-title">Repairing the world at Jaffa</div>

 
 
My name is Natanya Meyer and I am repairing the world. Today is Wednesday and I am walking to my "Moadonit" activity center, balancing a sack full of art supplies between my arms and my bright blue guitar on my back.
 

See Galilee

See Galilee

Videos

Hear participants talk about their daily life, take a virtual tour of your favorite program, and watch your semester of year in Israel unfold in front of you

See Galilee

Year studying in Israel fills in the 'gap'

Year studying in Israel fills in the 'gap'

Year studying in Israel fills in the 'gap'

August 1, 2013

Bu Sue Hoffman
 
For Rachel Kraus, a 2012 graduate of Solon High School and an alumna of The Agnon School in Beachwood, a gap year in Israel before starting college yielded substantial benefits.
“I definitely made the right choice,” said Kraus, who had deferred her start at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., to this fall. “One of the most important things I gained was independence. Being in Israel, you’re really on your own. I had to learn to do my own laundry. We shopped for food and took public transportation. I learned to cook and bake. I even had to go to the doctor by myself. “And I made so many friends -- friends who watch you grow as a person,” she said. “I now have places to stay all around the world.”
 
Kraus had traveled to Israel twice previously, the first time as an eighth-grader at Agnon, and again as a high school student through the Diller/Ambassadors of Unity student exchange program. “I fell in love with the people and the culture,” she said.
 
From September 2012 to June, Kraus lived in Israel through the Young Judaea Year Course, a gap-year program for recent high school graduates combining academic study, community living, volunteering and travel. “Our section was international,” said Kraus, who heard about the program from friends. The group included 30 Americans, 20 students from Great Britain and Scotland, three Israelis doing a service year, and a student each from Sweden and Belgium. Like the other Young Judaea sections, they lived in three locations during the nine months. Kraus’s section started in Jerusalem, where they resided in apartments on Young Judaea’s Beit Ar-El campus. Students concentrated on Hebrew and other studies and toured the city. Kraus’s second location was in Bat Yam, just south of Tel Aviv, where she volunteered in a kindergarten three mornings a week.
 
“I still took day trips once a week to different places in Israel and took a Zionism class as well.” For her final three months, she traveled to the place of her choice, Arad, in the south of Israel, where she volunteered at a day care four days a week.
Kraus, the daughter of Bonnie and Solon City Councilman Edward Kraus, who are members of Solon Chabad, said about her gap year, “I would totally recommend it to anyone. It is so worth it.”
 
Opportunities abound
Young Judaea Year Course is one of many gap year programs in Israel, according to I Connect and Masa Israel Journey regional coordinator Mirit Balkan at the Jewish Federation of Cleveland. Masa (Hebrew for “journey”) is an umbrella organization with more than 200 different programs that involve study, travel and volunteer work in Israel.
 
“Today, we see more and more kids in Cleveland going on a gap year,” said Balkan, an Israeli living in Shaker Heights. “In the last year, we had an increase of 20 percent in total Masa numbers,” she said, from 64 in 2011 to 76 in 2012. The students include high school graduates pursuing a gap-year program, college students studying abroad and college graduates seeking further study and internships.
 
“The gap year is a win-win,” Balkan said. “Students are having fun and relaxing, and they are more motivated to go to college. They also earn 12 to 15 college credits. Parents are happy because the experience strengthens their Jewish identity.”
 
Masa programs offer several different courses of study, from science and music, to cooking, dancing and fashion design. Depending on their interests, students can attend classes at the University of Tel Aviv and Hebrew University in Jerusalem, which were added to the list of the 100 best universities in the world in 2012, Balkan said. Other available institutions include the Technion in Haifa and the Weitzman Institute in Rehovot, “top leading institutions for science and research.”
 
I-Connect is a local effort of the Jewish Federation of Cleveland to provide “a continuum of meaningful Israel experiences” for young adults ages 18 to 30, Balkan said. Experiences start with Birthright and continue with Onward Israel summer internships and Masa programs.
 
Among Masa gap-year programs is Aardvark Israel, a program recently featured by The Jerusalem Post, which combines immersion into Israeli society with community service, internships, and educational programs, according to Helen Wolf, Israel programs director at The Jewish Education Center of Cleveland. JECC offers need-based scholarships for Masa programs. Wolf said the Jewish Federation of Cleveland realizes the importance of a gap year in Israel and helps with Masa funding.
 
Orthodox community
Of those students taking a gap year in Israel through Masa, 65 percent are graduates of Fuchs Mizrachi, a Modern Orthodox day school in Beachwood, Balkan said.
 
“Just about every student goes,” said Rabbi Avery Joel, who heads Mizrachi’s high school. “We view Fuchs Mizrachi as a five-year program with the fifth year in Israel. It’s the norm. Each year, we have a number of students stay a second year (in Israel). It’s a great opportunity for them to solidify their Jewish identity.”
 
“A year in Israel was amazing,” said 2012 Mizrachi graduate Leora Jaffe, who spent her gap year at Midreshet HaRova seminary in Jerusalem’s Old City. “By the end of the year, it surpassed all of my expectations. I learned so much inside and outside the classroom.”
 
In October, Jaffe, the daughter of Marlyn and Ari Jaffe of University Heights, said she will return to Israel to study at Bar Ilan University near Tel Aviv, where she will major in political science and minor in Jewish history.
 
Scores of students from Orthodox day schools Hebrew Academy of Cleveland and Mosdos Ohr Hatorah in Cleveland Heights are spending the year in Israel annually. Hebrew Academy has been sending its graduates to Israel since the 1950s.
 
Study abroad
In addition to those going to Israel for their gap year, local students are traveling to the country for post-college study. Neil Weeks, the son of Deidre and Tim Weeks of South Euclid, is completing his master’s degree in conflict resolution and mediation at Tel Aviv University.
 
“I’ve wanted to come to Israel since I was a teenager but did not find the opportunity with just the business of life,” said Weeks, who has a bachelor’s degree from Cleveland State University in international relations with a concentration in the Middle East. He said he had “a desire to connect with my people, to be part of the larger culture and community, and to walk the land of my forefathers.” He also wanted to see the holy sites and to gain a deeper understanding of Israel’s domestic and international struggles. Studying at Tel Aviv University allowed him to realize all of those goals, he said.
 
Highlights of his year ranged from experiencing an election season to participating in Yom Hazikaron (Day of Remembrance) and Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israel Independence Day) in the country. “The spirit of community and the reality of feeling like I am at home is something that is not like any other place I have been in the world.”

Originally published in the Cleveland Jewish News. Photo credit: Rachel Kraus

Home and Goodbyes…

<div class="masa-blog-title">Home and Goodbyes…</div>

By Samantha Sisisky, Yahel Social Change Program
 
I’m entering my last week in Gedera, and I’m not sure how to feel about it.  This weekend, we had our final group Shabbat weekend.  We ate a beautiful, delicious, watermelon-themed Shabbat dinner together, spent time at the beach and even received “awards” (does anyone else think I have a flair for the overdramatic?).
 

Annie Lascoe

Annie Lascoe

West Coast Regional Director