eJewish Philanthropy: Thousands of Masa Israel Participants Gather for Welcome Event

eJewish Philanthropy: Thousands of Masa Israel Participants Gather for Welcome Event

November 2, 2016

Masa Dance Party

Masa Israel Journey 2016-2017 gap year participants start an impromptu dance party in the lobby of Jerusalem’s ICC, in preparation for Masa Israel’s annual welcome event; photo by Ran Biran.

Masa Israel Journey held its annual Welcome Event on Monday evening in Jerusalem.


Masa Opening Event

Participants (including interns, volunteers, and students) celebrated the transformative experiences that await them together; photo by Ran Biran.


The gathering serves to officially welcome thousands of the 12,000 18-30 year-olds who have recently arrived in Israel to participate in dozens of long-term Israel programs including gap years, study abroad, internships, teaching English to young students, and other post-college initiatives.


Masa Hatikva 6

Israeli reggae band Hatikva 6 on October 31, 2016, at Jerusalem’s ICC; photo by Ran Biran.


With Israeli TV personality Jason Danino Holt as emcee, participants were entertained by live music from Yemenite electronic folk band A-WA and Israeli reggae group Hatikva 6. American-Israeli comedian Benji Lovitt hosted a Jewish geography game show.


Masa Opening Event

Participants from the United States and Russia show off their national pride; photo by Ran Biran.


“We bring thousands of Masa Israel Journey program participants together at this pep rally-style event, so they can get a taste of the exciting journey they each have ahead of them,” said Masa Israel Journey CEO, Liran Avisar. “We want all of our participants to understand that they are now part of a community larger than themselves, and a network that goes far beyond the specific programs on which they are enrolled. Together, we will celebrate Israeli culture and get our participants excited about experiencing Masa Israel their way – “My Masa” – so they can make the most of the transformative time in Israel to come.”


Originally published in eJewish Philanthropy

The Times of Israel: Professionalizing the Study Abroad Experience for the 21st Century Economy

The Times of Israel: Professionalizing the Study Abroad Experience for the 21st Century Economy

The Times of Israel: Professionalizing the Study Abroad Experience for the 21st Century Economy

October 18, 2016

By Ruth Alfandary


Leading universities around the world have offered study abroad programs for decades. Less common, however, is these universities enabling international students to successfully link the overseas classroom experience with resources and professional development opportunities that exist off-campus.

In the 21st century global economy and ever-increasingly competitive job market, international professional experience sets recent graduates apart from other candidates.


Yet, despite college graduates having a more sophisticated, globally minded and achievement-oriented perspective than ever before, according to a 2014 study cited by NAFSA: Association of International Educators, nearly 40% of companies surveyed reported missed international business opportunities due to their lack of personnel with global professional experience.


Like domestic work experience, international internships allow students to develop professional skills like interpersonal communication and cross-organizational collaboration. However, navigating the workplace in another culture and language adds layers of complexity and nuance to the entire experience.


In Israel, start-ups, nonprofit organizations, tech companies, and the hospitality and tourism industry, among other sectors, rely on interns they are connected to through Masa Israel Journey programs to help them expand their businesses and break into global markets. Masa Israel is the go-to source for Israeli companies because it introduced the concept of the professional internship to the Israeli workplace.


At Israeli companies, interns are truly welcomed into the office, often treated as full team members, with the responsibilities and projects that come with such roles. As a result, former interns report acquiring professional skills and experiences incomparable to what they could have learned through a domestic internship. In a small country like Israel, it’s easy to find yourself rubbing elbows with leading entrepreneurs and public figures at professional events and when simply out and about meeting people


In order to meet the needs of both Israeli businesses and international students, both Tel Aviv University and the University of Haifa now offer the opportunity for students to pursue professional internships as optional complements to traditional study abroad programs. Masa Israel’s partners at other major Israeli universities are working to develop similar semester and/or combined summer study and internship programs to meet career-driven students’ needs and ensure they are providing valuable experiences that truly add to students’ professional backgrounds.


Israel is home to more start-ups per capita than any other country in the world. This means students get the chance to work at tech companies, as well as in the sustainability sector learning about water conservation and alternative energy. Other students participate in internships that suit their political interests, going to the Knesset every day, doing research at think tanks, attending international conferences, and participating in investigative excursions. And for students committed to social change and activism, Tel Aviv and Haifa give them access to communities of change makers and social entrepreneurs, as well as nonprofit organizations.


Next spring, Tel Aviv University will partner with Yahel – Israel Service Learning, to premiere its new Community Action in Tel Aviv semester. Students study abroad part-time at Tel Aviv University and volunteer part-time at organizations engaging in bettering the community, by, for instance promoting women’s empowerment, working toward regional peace and coexistence, and providing services to African refugees and asylum seekers in Israel. In addition to their coursework and internships, students will participate in workshops and trainings in cultural sensitivity and cross-cultural communication, methods of community empowerment, and other topics relevant to creating social change.


Tel Aviv University and the University of Haifa also provide career counseling and mentoring for student interns and require students, in order to receive academic credit for their internships, take a career development course guiding them in applying a range of communication and management tools during their internships.


Whether exploring career options in tech, sustainability, diplomacy, or any other industry, an international internship broadens and deepens the academic, professional, personal and immersive experience that is a semester or year abroad. At the same time, these programs help to develop a more internationally experienced workforce as students, upon graduating, are in a position to work at companies and organizations that, often for the first time, now have the teams to pursue international business opportunities.



Originally published in The Times of Israel

The Jerusalem Post: Masa Program to Bring 13,000 Jewish Youth to Israel in Coming Year

The Jerusalem Post: Masa Program to Bring 13,000 Jewish Youth to Israel in Coming Year

October 13, 2016

By Lidar Gravé-Lazi


Some 13,000 Jewish youth are expected to come to Israel this coming year to participate in Masa, the organization announced on Thursday.

Benjamin Netanyahu takes a selfie with Masa participants.

Benjamin Netanyahu takes a selfie with Masa participants.

(Photo Credit: REUTERS)


The program provides Jewish youth the opportunity to participate in over 250 immersive Israel programs ranging in length from six months to a year, which include internships, study abroad programs, and volunteer opportunities. These experiences aim to give participants practical academic or work experience while strengthening their connection to Israel.


The Masa program is set to officially launch on October 31st during a ceremony in Jerusalem with the participation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Natan Sharansky, head of the Jewish Agency.


“The youth arrive to Israel to participate in a wide range of Masa programs, from government, to economy and culture, hi-tech, teaching English, medicine and more,” Liran Avisar-Ben Horin, CEO of Masa said.


She noted that in addition Masa provides participants with tools to engage in hasbara (public diplomacy) for Israel, turning those who take part into informal ambassadors for Israel to the world.


“Every year they show that the year they spend in Israel – working, volunteering and being exposed the multi-layered and complex Israeli society – becomes the most meaningful in their lives,” she said.


According to a recent survey conducted by Midgam Institute and released by Masa, some 87% of Masa participants said they intend to actively work towards strengthening Israel’s image in the world, while 81% of participants said their vision of Israel “changed for the positive” because of participating in the project.


Slightly more than half, 58% of respondents, said they would “certainly” act against the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement.


Since its founding in 2004 by the Prime Minister’s Office and the Jewish Agency, over 120,000 young Jews from around the world have participated in Masa programs.



Originally published in The Jerusalem Post

Inside Tel Aviv University's Study Abroad + Internship Program with Dana Sherman

<div class="masa-blog-title">Inside Tel Aviv University's Study Abroad + Internship Program with Dana Sherman</div>

My experience at Tel Aviv University was incomparable to any other internship or abroad experience I had in the past. I spent seven months living in Tel Aviv, in which both the semester abroad and internship portion exposed me to new and exciting aspects of Israeli life, culture, society, and religion. 


I chose to study abroad in Tel Aviv for a specific reason. Ever since my first visit to Israel in 2011, I have been curious about the intricacies that plague Israel's political, social, and economic sectors. In 2011 when I traveled to Israel with a youth group, we were brought to Rothschild Boulevard to see the social justice protests taking place. For miles, we saw tents, makeshift houses, posters, and protesters. I recognized that Israel was not just a state that I was expected to love as a Jew, but rather had real issues affecting the livelihoods of its citizens, whether they were Jewish, Muslim, or anything else. As I study criminal justice and international affairs at the George Washington University in D.C., I am interested in learning about how different judicial and political systems affect civil societies advancements in modern culture. Therefore, studying abroad in the modern, flourishing city of Tel Aviv seemed like my best option.


After a five month semester at Tel Aviv University, I was able to take many classes in Israeli politics, Middle Eastern history, and Hebrew from a wide range of professors. My understanding of the paradoxical dynamics of Israeli society expanded more than I expected. Towards the end of the semester, I landed an internship at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies; a think tank that produces policy-relevant research and recommendations on national security and foreign policy as it relates to Israel and Middle Eastern issues. I worked as a Research Assistant for the director of the center, Efraim Inbar. At my internship, I independently contributed to three separate projects regarding Australian-Israeli relations, Abu Mazen's current standing in the PA, and Israel's interest in the Chinese economy. I participated in international conferences, table talks, and strategic tours in the West Bank and on IDF bases. My experience with the Begin-Sadat Center was remarkable. Choosing to stay in Tel Aviv this summer and work for a company in a country that has so much to offer in my field of study was the best decision I could have made.



My seven months living in Tel Aviv surpassed any previous experience I ever had. Leaving America in January and knowing I would not be home until late July seemed like a long time to be away from friends and family, but looking at the big picture and seeing everything I gained from this experience, I could do it for another seven months. I recommend the semester and summer internship program to anyone who is willing to step out of their comfort zone just a little bit and trust the people of Israel to take them in, teach them, and help show them what they can accomplish in such a short period. I'm grateful and thankful for the friends I made, the professors who educated me, and my colleagues who taught me.



Written by Dana Sherman, Tel Aviv University Alumna '16




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

How Living In Israel Turned Me Into My Mother

<div class="masa-blog-title">How Living In Israel Turned Me Into My Mother</div>

I think that the best way to find out who you truly are as a person is to spend a significant amount of time outside of your comfort zone or to live away from home. For me, my junior year abroad at Tel Aviv University was that experience. Unlike most Diaspora Jews, I have no family in Israel nor do I have any Israeli family living in the states. What I do have was a deep love of Israel, Zionism, and Judaism - these are all values that were instilled in me as a kid.


During my time studying abroad at Tel Aviv University, I made some of the amazing friends who I am still in touch with today. I already spoke Hebrew fluently, but I improved my accent and learned a lot of the slang - though I have come to terms with the fact that I will never know all of the army slang.



I met so many amazing people from all over the world and learned so much from their experiences. Unlike most people who study abroad at Tel Aviv University and who live in the dorms, I chose to live in an apartment in the center of Tel Aviv so that I could get the “full Tel Aviv experience.”


I couldn’t have gotten luckier than to find an apartment right off of Sheinkin Street living with Israelis and other internationals. I spent my first two VERY jetlagged weeks exploring every nook and cranny of Tel Aviv during the wee hours of the morning before the shops, and the University opened – for some reason, Israeli shops don’t open until 10 or 11 AM when the shopkeepers feel like strolling in. This is how I learned Tel Aviv like the back of my hand and to this day, anytime I visit, it is like visiting my second home. I’m not on vacation when I go there; I’m back in a familiar place that I love.


During my time abroad, not only did I learn about the city and the people, but I learned about myself and my values. This was when I found out; I was my mother. Usually, when a girl finds out that she is her mother, she freaks out and has a quarter life crisis, I on the other hand, was so excited!



My mother is a strong woman who unapologetically loves Israel. She loves education, teaching people and, to give of herself to others. She also spent a significant amount of time living and teaching in Israel before she was married. It was during this trip that I decided that I would follow in my mother's footsteps and pursue a career in education instead of biochemistry which I had majored in at UCLA. Ask any of my friends and they would say, “I could have told you that Miri would be an educator ten years ago!” But I suppose all important lessons you must learn on your own. Upon returning home from my year abroad at Tel Aviv University and graduating from UCLA, I pursued a career in Israel education at StandWithUs.


Why was it so important for me to pursue such a career? They say that Israel advocates are made, not born, and I couldn’t agree more. During my freshman year at UCLA, I saw anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiment that ignited my passion for Israel advocacy. I was never prepared to respond to anti-Israel claims or rhetoric even though I grew up at a Jewish Day School and Jewish summer camp. I knew in my heart of hearts that what I heard on campus was wrong and deceitful, but I didn’t know how to respond.


From then on, I sought out the help of the pro-Israel group on campus and educated myself until I had the confidence to stand up for Israel. When I returned from my junior year abroad at Tel Aviv University, I became the president of Bruins for Israel, UCLA’s pro-Israel group on campus, and when I graduated, I started working for StandWithUs. I knew that I had to give back as a professional since the organization had given me so much as a student. I had to ensure that no high school student went to college unprepared to face whatever Israel climate existed on their future campus. After all, the best way to proactive on campus is to start in the high schools. If we prepare high school students for Israel on campus before they even get there, we are putting out a fire before it has even started! I have proudly served as the Executive Director of High School Affairs at StandWithUs for the past five years, and I can credit my career choice to the time that I spent on my Masa Israel program and at Tel Aviv University 100%.



The StandWithUs high school department concentrates its efforts on educating high school students from all backgrounds about Israel – the country’s beauty, the conflict, the culture, and so much more. Our goal is to ensure that teens have a connection to Israel and that they are prepared to be leaders for Israel on campus. Via programming, materials, mentorship, and fellowships, StandWithUs has been at the forefront of Israel education at the high school level for five years now. It took anti-Semitism on campus and life changing year abroad at Tel Aviv University to ignite my passion for Israel education and advocacy, and I’m thrilled that I get to make a difference in the lives of the next generation of leaders for Israel. It wasn't an easy path, but the journeys that lead to the best places never are.


Thanks, Eema (mom in Hebrew), for being an incredible role model and a true leader for Israel! I’m so lucky to have followed in your footsteps and to be your daughter!


Written by Miri Kornfeld, Tel Aviv University Alumna ’10




5 Reasons to Study and Intern Abroad

<div class="masa-blog-title">5 Reasons to Study and Intern Abroad</div>


The experience you get when you live, learn and work in a foreign country gives your career and life endless opportunities. Here are five reasons to study and intern abroad next semester.



When you spend a semester both studying and interning you can apply the knowledge from class immediately to the work environment which, makes your newly attained skills come to life.  You'll understand it's okay to make mistakes and fail and that this semester abroad is the perfect opportunity to do so.



Unlike in your home country, where you understand the social and cultural norms, when you’re abroad, the context is changed, and your skill set naturally expands. From this point, you better know how to listen to others, understand how to adapt yourself to any situation and communicate across multiple cultural barriers. It's at this moment that you automatically challenge yourself and your senses become sharper than ever.



When you intern and study abroad you can have a transformative experience in your choice of career fields and get a taste of different jobs and work environments. It’s entirely okay to say you don’t like one path and then seamlessly switch to another,  before it’s too late. So, whether you want to go to med school or work for a tech startup, you’ll get a dose of the real thing here in Israel. 



Whether you’re in class or at your internship, you have the chance to develop your international network. Your coworkers, classmates, and professors serve as a new platform for connecting you with professional opportunities, resources and personal development in the present and the future.



Oh, the real world. Soon enough the four glorious years of college will have to come to an end, and there’s no way to better prepare yourself than by spending a semester in a beautiful country where you’ll live, work and study on your own. It is here where you get to experience real independence. You’ll finish the semester wishing you didn’t have to leave and go back to your dorm. Graduation never looked better.


Written By Ruti Alfandry, Masa Israel's Director of Academic Programs 


Jewish Journal: Reinventing Education in Israel

Jewish Journal: Reinventing Education in Israel

September 8, 2016

By Michele Chabin


Business man helps create degree programs for English speakers. 


"Lifshitz hopes Jewish organizations and institutions in the U.S. will help their employees with the tuition costs. (Some scholarship funds may be available, as well, and Jewish students can explore scholarships through Masa Israel.)"


Read the full article in the Jewish Journal

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