Sharron Topper-Amitai: Bringing Greater Phoenix to Israel and Israel to Greater Phoenix

Sharron Topper-Amitai: Bringing Greater Phoenix to Israel and Israel to Greater Phoenix

April 12, 2011

Now on her second shlichut in Phoenix, Arizona, Sharron Topper-Amitai had her first taste of international Jewish communal work 10 years ago in Manchester, England.
“I was there for two years and I loved every minute of it,” she says. While there, she created Jewish and Israel-related programming for Jewish community members of all ages and started a youth from the northern Jewish communities of the UK.
 
“My husband and I were both born in Israel and it’s been very important for us to work in Jewish communities outside of Israel,” she says. “I love being able to learn about diverse Jewish identities, while sharing my own experiences as an Israeli.”
 
Following her return to Israel, Sharron worked as a JCC director in Israel before setting out on her second shlichut in Phoenix. There, she works to bring Israel into her community’s daily life through concerts, movies, lectures, discussions, and other cultural events.
 
One of Sharron’s main aims has been to introduce college students and young professionals to Israel through Birthright trips and Masa Israel programs, experiences that often follow each other.
 
“When they decide they want to go, we sit together and discuss their options. Then they go and I’m so excited because I know what Israel does to people,” she says.  “They return with sparkles in their eyes and tell me that it was ‘amazing.’ What I love is when they ask me how they can contribute to their local Jewish community and how they can return to Israel.”
 
To keep the momentum going from their Israel experiences, Sharron created an Israel alumni group where Phoenix-based Birthright and Masa Israel alumni meet to take part in Israel-related events. “The work isn’t finished when they enroll in their programs. It’s just as important to keep them connected to the Israel Center when they return,” says Sharron.
 
At a recent Arizona State University graduate fair, where Sharron represented Masa Israel academic programs, Sharron felt especially prideful about her work. “I’ve gone to many recruitment fairs, but I was shocked when I entered a huge hall filled with tons of representatives from universities throughout the United States,” says Sharron. “My first thought was, Israel al-hamapah, which literally means, Israel is on the map. It was incredibly exciting see that Israel had a presence among all those institutions. Lots of people stopped by to show their support and learn about graduate programs in Israel.”
 
Sharron is thankful for the opportunity to be a shlicha today. “We live in an era when Israel and Judaism are changing so quickly. Although it’s a challenge to influence what’s happening, it’s a privilege to be able to try,” says Sharron. “I believe that Masa Israel programs certainly make a huge difference.”
 
Sharron is being honored with Masa Israel’s “Outstanding Achievement in Recruitment” award the this year’s Kenes Shlichim, a conference for Israeli emissaries from across North America.

WUJS Jerusalem participants visit Zichron Yaakov

<div class="masa-blog-title">WUJS Jerusalem participants visit Zichron Yaakov</div>

 
By Amy Gross, WUJS Israel coordinator
 
I recently had the opportunity to join our Jerusalem participants on their weekly siyur (field trip). We spent the day in Zichron Yaacov; one of my favorite cities in Israel. First stop of the day was Ramat Hanadiv.
 

Coming full circle in Israel after college

<div class="masa-blog-title">Coming full circle in Israel after college</div>

 
After her Birthright trip to Israel during college, Short Hills, NJ-native Lindsey Rothschild knew she had to return.  “I know it’s cliché, but I just really fell in love with it,” she says.  “While at the Kotel, I ran into a recent Northwestern alum who was on a Masa Israel Journey program and I thought to myself, this has to be me next year.”
 
With the encouragement of the 
 

A slice of life in Israel on OTZMA

<div class="masa-blog-title">A slice of life in Israel on OTZMA</div>

 
By Lauren Zink, Otzma, Berkshires
 
This time last year I was just beginning my senior year of college at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Connecticut. Like every student getting ready to graduate, I was thinking ahead to what I was going to do after I received my degree in public relations and marketing.
 
I thought about choosing the more typical path and looking for a job. But I knew in my heart that this was not the path I wanted to take yet. Ever since I was little I had wanted to carve out some time in my life to volunteer, and I wanted that volunteer work to be done in Israel.
 
Growing up in Pittsfield, Massachusetts I had attended Hebrew School until I was 18. I was also an active member of United Synagogue Youth (USY). One summer I participated in USY on Wheels, a six-and-a-half week cross-country journey with other Jewish young adults. It was this trip, along with Birthright, which made me realize how much I love being in an environment with Jewish peers, learning and sharing new experiences.
 

Extended Stays in Israel Create Leaders

Extended Stays in Israel Create Leaders

November 15, 2010

Participation in semester or year programs in Israel is directly linked to stronger Jewish affiliation and leadership — regardless of the Jewish background growing up, a study commissioned by Masa Israel Journey finds.
Masa Israel, a joint project of the Jewish Agency for Israel and the Israeli government which serves as an umbrella for 180 semester and year programs in Israel, commissioned the study to measure the efficacy of long term Israel programs for future Jewish involvement and affiliation.
 
The study was conducted by Prof.  Steven M. Cohen, director of the Berman Jewish Policy Archive at NYU Wagner and research professor of Jewish social  policy at the Hebrew Union College, and Dr. Ezra Kopelowitz, principal of Research Success.
 
The study found that the longer the program on which participants spent time in Israel and the more repeated the experiences, the greater the level of Jewish identification.
 
The study surveyed more than 13,000 Israel program participants, more than 11,000 of whom were Americans, and most of whom had been on either a short-term experience or a Masa program from 2005 to 2010, or both.
 
It compared three groups who had been on short-term programs:
 
  • those who been on Birthright and not returned to Israel
  • those who returned to Israel for another short term; and
  • those who had been on Birthright, and then went on a Masa Israel program.
 
The study also examined two other groups who had been on long term programs only: those non-Orthodox young adults who had been on Masa without going on Birthright, and those who were raised Orthodox and had been on Masa.
 
These two groups reported far stronger Jewish background and childhood Jewish education than did the three Birthright groups.
 
The study found that with each subsequent Israel experience, the level of Jewish engagement rose significantly.
 
For example, for the married respondents, among those who did Birthright and had not returned subsequently to Israel, 50% married a Jewish spouse; among those who did Birthright and returned to Israel subsequently for a short term, 70% married Jews; among those who did Birthright followed by Masa, as many as 91% were in-married.
 
In other words, short term program graduates who never returned to Israel reported intermarriage rates close to the national Jewish average for people their age.
 
In contrast, those who went on to participate in a Masa program were far more likely to marry Jewish, doing so in more than nine out of 10 instances.
 

Security Issues Shabbaton

<div class="masa-blog-title">Security Issues Shabbaton</div>

 
Last weekend ten of our program participants went to Jerusalem for a Security Issues Shabbaton sponsored by Masa Israel. The weekend featured speakers from security, military, and journalistic perspectives who brought professional expertise and personal experience to the conference.
 

Photo Essay: MK Shlomo Molla visits Yahel Social Change Program

Top American Service Programs Explore Volunteer Opportunities in Israel

Top American Service Programs Explore Volunteer Opportunities in Israel

November 11, 2010

Teach for America, Peace Corps, and City Year travel to Israel to explore opportunities for young adults.
Representatives from leading American service organizations, including Teach for America, Peace Corps, City Year, and other organizations will travel to Israel in next week to explore volunteering opportunities offered through Masa Israel Journey. With young adults’ growing interest in international volunteer opportunities, Masa Israel, a joint project of the Government of Israel and the Jewish Agency for Israel, is making Israel a global hub for service programs.
 
Masa Israel collaborated with Leadership Development at City Year to develop a study tour that will enable American and Israeli service organizations to share best practices in leadership development and community service. Among the 19 service organizations participating in this study tour are Teach for America, Peace Corps, City Year, the Corporation for National and Community Service, the American Jewish World Service, UJA Federation of NY, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, JCPA, Avodah, Hillel, Jewish Funds for Justice, New Israel Fund, Repair the World, Uri L’Tzedek, and Ve’ahavta.
 
“I haven’t heard of another country pulling together people for this purpose,” said City Year’s Director of Leadership, Dr. Max Klau.  “The study tour has the potential to impact the American service movement and the Israeli service movement.”
 
This year, Masa Israel will bring 10,000 participants to Israel on 180 five-to-12-month volunteering, career development and academic programs. Masa Israel participants invest thousands of hours of community service to Israeli society each year and Masa Israel offers 16 post-college programs exclusively dedicated to service.  Many participants parlay their volunteering into jobs in North America. In the last two years, Masa Israel has seen a surge in recent graduates participating in volunteering and career development programs; Masa Israel’s “A Better Stimulus Plan” continues to engage thousands of recent college graduates in exploring these opportunities in Israel.
 
“As a community service activist and a former Peace Corps volunteer, I know there’s great potential to increase the number of Americans volunteering in Israel,” says Masa Israel’s North American Director, Avi Rubel.  “It’s important to give young adults the opportunity to express their idealism through volunteering, and for a Jew, it’s especially meaningful to volunteer in Israel.”
 
The tour and the emphasis on growing volunteer and social activism opportunities in Israel reinforces the new direction of the Jewish Agency as reflected in its strategic plan. The operative part of the plan, approved last month in Jerusalem, calls for the Agency to focus its work into two areas of activity: one, to increase the number of young adults on experiences in Israel, including Masa; and second, to increase opportunities for social activism in Israel—precisely what this tour for representatives of leading American service organizations aims to facilitate.
 
The weeklong tour will include visits to volunteer programs in the Tel Aviv and Jerusalem areas and consultation sessions with policymakers and senior practitioners.
 
For more information about the study tour, contact Avi Rubel at (212) 339-6938 or avir@masaisrael.org.

Friend, You Are Missing

<div class="masa-blog-title">Friend, You Are Missing</div>

 
Rabin memorial, marking the 15th anniversary of Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination.
 
חבר אתה חסר
 
Bailey Spagat is photo-blogging for New Voices Magazine while participating in Career Israel
 

Photo Essay: Masa Israel North America Yom Kef

<div class="masa-blog-title">Photo Essay: Masa Israel North America Yom Kef</div>

 
Before winter hit, the Masa Israel North American team decided to have a Yom Kef (staff day). Being part of an Israeli organization, we did what any Israelis would do—a hiking trip! We woke up early and headed up to Bear Mountain.
 
After scaling the rocks, we stopped for a break.
 
Of course, no staff day would be complete without a snack and a call to our Israel office.
 
 
Halfway through the hike, are we having fun yet?
 
 
We made it to the top—what a view!
 
 
Now, if only we knew how to get back. Trail markers aren’t as good as they are in Israel…
 
 
Rescue arrives!
 
 
We had a great Yom Kef, spending time outside the office and enjoying the tail end of fall.
 
Now back to work getting more people on Israel programs!