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.
 

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!
 

Exploring What’s OURS Because Nature Knows No Borders

Exploring What’s OURS Because Nature Knows No Borders

April 11, 2011

This letter is a response to a piece by Dina Omar, which appeared in the Columbia Spectator by Adi Segal, a senior in the Joint Program with Columbia and JTS
Dear Dina,
 
I find it ironic that you were able to write your piece on October 12, after we had spent at least ten minutes at the Israel Study Abroad Fair at Barnard discussing my time at the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, where coexistence and peace-building is actively happening as we speak. You said that you were “getting information for a friend” but did not have the guts to bring up your issues with Masa in person. Since, I didn’t have the chance to respond to you then, let me take this opportunity to do so.
 
Let me review what we discussed about my Masa-supported program at the Study Abroad Fair on October 5th:
 
The Arava Institute offers environmental teaching and research programs in the Middle East. Its purpose is to prepare future Arab and Jewish leaders to cooperatively solve the region’s environmental challenges. The student body is one-third Israeli Jewish, one-third Arab (including Israeli Arab, Palestinian, Jordanian, Egyptian, and Tunisian), and one-third from other countries (the majority from the United States).  Students of all backgrounds room together and thus have plenty of time to socialize, study, and discuss their obvious differences.
 
In addition to the academic courses, all students are required to take the peace-building and environmental leadership seminar to teach the concept of the “dual narrative” developed by Sami Adwan of Bethlehem University and Dan Bar-On of Ben-Gurion University. Students are encouraged to consider both the Palestinian and Israeli narratives to gain a broader perspective on the conflict, to see it from both sides. Such perspective is critical, because it shapes in very deep ways how individuals on both sides of the divide understand the other, as well as themselves. One of the greatest challenges to peace between Israelis and Palestinians is being able to stand in the shoes of the other.
 
The Arava Institute is located in the Middle East, not in Europe or the United States, literally on the border of Israel and Jordan, a few miles from the Egyptian border. This makes the experience much more real and tangible. On weekends students visit each other in their homes in Israel, the Palestinian Authority, and Jordan. For students from New York and the rest of the United States, such an experience is invaluable.
 
In terms of funding, American students pay $8,000, Israelis pay 8,000 Shekels, and Arabs attend for FREE. Thus, at this MASA supported institution, Arabs are actually more highly subsidized. Just as Masa  is doing its part to support Jewish students, this is a program that could be assisted by Palestinian organizations and donors in America in order to work towards peace.
 
In the ebb and flow of diplomacy and the ups and downs of the peace process, the Arava Institute and scores of other organizations are working across the divides in the Middle East to keep the soil fertile for the peace we all desire and desperately need there.
 
Dina, what I did not mention when we spoke was that I also spent a semester at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. There, there were visibly more religious Muslim women than Jewish religious women. But, everyone gets equal treatment. That’s more than you can say about most other universities in the region outside of Israel. I lived with religious Jews as well as devout Christians and we constantly had our Palestinian friends over for dinner and games.
 
Lastly, I’d like to share a short anecdote. One evening I went to Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem with my Arab, Argentinean, and Israeli peers to visit pediatric patients. Aside from the smiles we brought to all the recovering children, with a quick glance it was clear that there were numerous Arab patients. Nevertheless, they were all being equally cared for by Jewish and Arab doctors working together. By exploring Israel with the assistance of Masa, I was able to find that coexistence is really happening with the ever-growing hope for much more. That’s the unadulterated reality.
 
If anything, Masa helped me see the current situation for what it truly is. In addition to exploring the great wonders of the country with my Arab and Israeli friends, I was also able to see the future state of Palestine. Studying in Israel through Masa allowed me to make new friends and visit their homes in Bethlehem, Hebron, and Ramallah. I was able to meet amazing people and experience the successful work of Palestinians.
 
Dina, if you are not interested in discussing coexistence and peace-building just say so. BUT, do not hide behind the Masa slogan and assume that just because Jews deservedly want a homeland, we are not interested either. In fact, it is very much the contrary. Jews would love to live in peace with all of Israel’s neighbors. You should know that Jews were the first and possibly the last to offer a two state solution, even before the creation of Israel by a majority vote in the U.N. While I am a major advocate of fair and just peace for all parties, hearing uninformed arguments and finger-pointing like yours makes me less hopeful that peace is on the horizon.
 
I look forward to the day when my fellow Diaspora Palestinians can receive funding, similar to MASA, and easily study at Al-Quds University. In order to make this a reality, we need not bash and delegitimize the State of Israel and the programs that are already working towards this effort. I urge you to lead the Students for Justice in Palestine and other organizations of your choosing to speedily create a sovereign and democratic Palestinian State alongside a democratic Jewish State. The more we can work together, the faster everyone’s objectives will be met.
 
You closed your piece by asking, “If this imagined reality is something study abroad programs are helping to accomplish and manufacture, is this Masa partnership something Columbia University and students should support?” As described above, we are not fabricating any truths. We are openly working to create a future where two sovereign nations work side-by-side to solve the larger problems in the world that transcend borders. Simply put, the answer to your question is YES, Columbia should support peace building and academic programs all working to create a brighter realty for both Israelis and Palestinians. And, I encourage you to join in this effort.
 
Adi Segal is a senior in the Joint Program with Columbia and JTS. He is majoring in Urban Studies with concentration in Environmental Studies and Bible. He spent last year abroad in Israel at the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies and Hebrew University. He can be reached at ays2107@columbia.edu. The views expressed in this piece are solely of the author and do not represent the Arava Institute or Masa.

Study: Longer Experiences in Israel Linked to Sharply Increased Jewish Engagement, Leadership, and Marrying Jews

Study: Longer Experiences in Israel Linked to Sharply Increased Jewish Engagement, Leadership, and Marrying Jews

April 11, 2011

Masa study finds Israel fills gap for those with weaker Jewish background
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 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 Professor Steven M. Cohen, Director of the Berman Jewish Policy Archive at NYU Wagner and Research Professor of Jewish Social Policy at Hebrew Union College, and Dr. Ezra Kopelowitz, principal of Research Success.
 
The study found that the longer the time  participants spent in Israel and the more repeated the experiences, the greater the level of Jewish identification. The study surveyed over 13,000 Israel program participants, more than 11,000 of whom were Americans, and most of whom had been on short term experience or Masa Israel program from 2005 to 2010. It compared three groups who had been on short term programs: 1) those who been on Birthright but not returned to Israel; 2) those who returned to Israel for another short term program; and 3) those who had been on Birthright and then went on a Masa program. The study also examined two other groups who had been on long term programs only — 4) those non-Orthodox young adults who had been on Masa Israel programs without going on Birthright, and 5) 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 ten instances.
 
This pattern repeated itself for numerous other measures of Jewish engagement. These included Jewish organizational affiliation, taking leadership in Jewish life, interest in working professionally in the Jewish community, attachment to Israel, and, for a small but significant minority – making aliyah. In other words, the study found that, on these measures of Jewish engagement, Birthright coupled with Masa can, in effect, provide a viable alternative route to very high levels of Jewish engagement for young adults with only moderate or limited Jewish background.
 
When asked if they had given thought to pursuing a Jewish professional career, 45% of those who did Birthright followed by Masa said yes, nearly identical to the 46% of Orthodox Masa graduates who said the same. Among those who had been only on Birthright, 12% indicated giving a Jewish career consideration; the number doubled among Birthright graduates who returned for a short term to 26%; and almost doubled again, to 45%, for Birthright graduates who did Masa. These patterns are similar to the evidence found in the recent Avi Chai study of Jewish leaders which cites a long term Israel program as one of the most widespread experiences shared by young American Jewish leaders, along with day schools and Jewish camp participation.
 
Relating to Israel attachment, the Birthright/Masa cohort scored similarly to the Masa Orthodox cohort, as they did on other measures. When asked if they had recently gone to a lecture or class related to Israel, 72% of those who participated in Birthright/Masa said they had, similar to the 80% of Orthodox Masa graduates who also had. (When it came to reading Israeli newspapers the Birthright/Masa cohort actually outscored the Orthodox Masa group by 61% to 43%).
 
Significantly, 18% of Birthright/Masa graduates are currently now living in Israel, a slightly higher figure than the 17% of Orthodox Masa graduates now living in Israel.
 
“Over the years, a body of evidence has established the value of the short-term trip to Israel. This study is one of a small number that points to the significant added value of the long-term trip,” said Professor Cohen, who co-authored the study. “If ten days in Israel is very good for Jewish engagement—and it is—then ten months in Israel is even better. This finding points to the strong policy interest in promoting return travel to Israel among Birthright alumni, and the even stronger interest in advancing long term return travel, such as that sponsored by Masa Israel Journey.”
 
Last week, the Jewish Agency’s Board of Governors approved the operational part of its strategic plan which calls for the organization to focus its work around two main areas of activity—the first, a spiral of Israel experience for young adults. These would start with short term programs, like Birthright, through longer term programs like Masa, and include developing intermediate-length programs like summer school in Israel, with the overarching aim of strengthening Jewish identity and increasing attachment to Israel among today’s youth.
 
“The data from this study show that we are on the right track with our strategic plan,” said Dr. Misha Galperin, president and CEO of Jewish Agency International Development. “We are convinced—and the data from this reports affirm—that a continuum of Israel experiences for young adults correlates directly to them feeling, thinking and doing more things Jewish and Israel with each step they take along the Israel experience spiral.”

For Applicants

For Applicants

Here we are having fun masa.org
 
Masa Israel recognizes that spending five to 12 months interning, volunteering or studying abroad is a big commitment.  Before you select your program and apply for a Masa Israel grant, it’s important that you learn as much as you can about where you’re going and what to expect – both before you go and after you return. 
 
Talk to an alum to get a feel for how unique each person’s Israel experience can be. Learn more.
 

Photo Essay: Enrichment day for Masa Israel study abroad program staff

<div class="masa-blog-title">Photo Essay: Enrichment day for Masa Israel study abroad program staff</div>

 
By Tali Gur Arye, Hebrew University of Jerusalem
 
A few days before the craziness that comes with the beginning of any school year, Masa Israel held an intensive two day training for staff working with overseas students at universities around Israel.
 

6 weekend adventures for fall in Israel

<div class="masa-blog-title">6 weekend adventures for fall in Israel</div>

 
Now that the chagim are over, you’ve finally started a regular schedule, whether it’s studying, interning, or volunteering (or a combination of those). But that doesn’t mean you can’t take advantage of your weekends and explore Israel!
 
Supplement your program’s siyyurim with your own—as any Israeli will tell you, there is no better way to get to know the country than to go out and explore it yourself.
 

Living the sweet life and feeling Israeli

<div class="masa-blog-title">Living the sweet life and feeling Israeli</div>

 
By Jessica Louise, Boston, Kibbutz Ulpan
 
I grew up always being the lone Jewish girl. I would be the one who always missed school in September for the High Holidays, who would always be asked to explain “my peoples’  special holiday” to the class, and of course, the one who was always asked “so really, why did you guys kill Jesus?”  
 
I suppose it didn’t help that I spent my high school years attending an all girls Catholic school south of Boston where my lack of Irish step dancing and red hair made me stand out like a sore thumb. It was always this wanting for a Jewish community that motivated me to someday find one; I just didn’t know where to search.
 
Additionally, freshman year had been a rough year for me and I felt myself slowly sinking. I didn’t know where I fit in at my university where everyone was super motivated and being a type-A personality wasn’t a nuisance, but a necessity. All I knew was that I needed to get away and slow life down before I would suddenly find myself cherishing my last few days of freedom before my senior year of university.
 
That is when I decided to go back to my roots and head for the Holy Land. Thus, in the first semester of my sophomore year at university, I did something so shocking and unbelievable to all my fellow students at my university- I decided to take a leave of absence and live on a kibbutz in Israel.
 
I found out about Masa Israel’s Kibbutz Ulpan experience on a late night Google search and made the impulsive decision to sign up. All I knew was that I would spend four hours a day learning Hebrew and another four doing menial labor.
 
Fast forward to four months later and I am peeling my sweaty shirt off of the bus seat as I was dropped off in what I described to as my mother as “the middle of nowhere, Israel.” I had somehow landed at Kibbutz Maag’an Michael in northern Israel with not a word of Hebrew to guide me, and a suitcase the size of an adolescent child.
 
I had no idea whatsoever what living on a kibbutz entailed and as the rest of the 130 ulpanists from over a 100 different countries drifted on to the kibbutz, I realized that this experience would be like none I had ever had in my life.
 
Life on the kibbutz reminded you how sweet life could be. The most stressful decisions of the day were whether to go to the pool or the beach. Our days alternated between four hours of work and four hours of learning Hebrew. I got lucky and was assigned to work in the laundry where I was privy to all the gossip of the kibbutz and I quickly learned that nothing is too private, and if you have a secret lover, someone will inevitably find out and spread it like wildfire.
 
It was here that I found out how the kibbutz used to offer condoms in a small bowl where the soldiers would come to pick up their laundry. They stopped doing this when one year the kids of the kibbutz decided it would be funny to poke holes into every one and nine months later the kibbutz experienced a baby boom of its own.
 
It would be impossible for me to pinpoint any one moment that truly defined my five month experience. As is the case with most significant life moments, it is sometimes the simplest ones that mean the most. For me, I truly realized how far I had come when our entire ulpan went to spend our last weekend together in the Bedouin camps in the Negev.
 
We had come so far together; we had laughed, cried, celebrated and mourned together and this last night would be a culmination of all those experiences. The next day we would literally be dispersing across the globe and hugging each other tearful goodbyes. That night was particularly memorable as news had just broken out about tensions on the border and some close friends had already been deployed to Gaza.
 
As we leaned on each other for support, we all felt an especially deep bond as we knew, finally, what it felt like to be Israeli. It meant taking the good with the bad, the painful with the sweet. It meant that we had to muster up our energy and spirit and light the Hanukah candles. So as we sat there, in the middle of the Negev desert, with nothing but the Hanukiah illuminating our faces, I never felt so much at peace.
 
Now, as I am sitting here typing this, I am cherishing my last few days of freedom before I begin my senior year of university. The path that led me here was not the most traditional, but it was the best path for me.
 
Deciding to take a semester off and fly across the world to spend five months living on a kibbutz turned out to be the best decision that I ever made. It shaped me into the person I am today and forged relationships that continue on to this day. Most importantly, those five months on the kibbutz planted a seed for me in Israel that has now grown into a beautiful tree.
 
I have returned to Israel twice since I left that kibbutz in December, first to spend a semester studying at Tel Aviv University and most recently, this summer to volunteer with African refugees in Tel Aviv.
 
Perhaps my most significant journey back to the Holy Land will be next January when I will descend off of the plane as an olah hadasha and continue my life that began three years ago on a kibbutz in the middle of nowhere, Israel.
 

The Business of Israel

The Business of Israel

September 29, 2010

The University of Maryland plans to open yet another satellite school, but the commute could be daunting. The new branch happens to be in Israel.
By Richard Greenberg
 
The University of Maryland plans to open yet another satellite school, but the commute could be daunting.
 
The new branch happens to be in Israel.
 
The latest addition to U.Md. overseas learning complement is the Smith School of Business, which is slated to launch an ambitious study-abroad operation at the University of Haifa by this spring.
 
The University of Haifa is already the site of Maryland-in-Haifa, a semester-long spring program that opened last year. It features a mandatory core course that promotes conflict resolution and examines cultural diversity.
 
Smith was one of eight American universities (or university departments) that recently were selected to form partnerships with Israeli schools in an effort to increase the number of American students who study in Israel — non-Jews as well as Jews.
 
Participating American schools will each receive a $50,000 seed grant allocated over three years — to help them develop and promote study programs in conjunction with their partner institutions.
 
The grants are being provided by Masa Israel, an Israel-based project that was established in 2004 to enable Jews ages 18-30 to participate in long-term programs in the Jewish state.
 
“We’re just super excited about this great program,” said Lisa Bernard, associate director of the U.Md. Center for Global Business Education. The initiative, she added, has already generated a “good amount” of interest.
 
Would-be applicant Eran Friedman, a junior at Smith and a frequent visitor to Israel (so frequent that he has dual citizenship), said he is interested in the program because it would give him a first-time opportunity to view Israel through a business lens and learn more about the country’s distinctive workplace culture.
 
That culture, said the 20-year-old from Potomac, combines tenacity, efficiency and inventiveness with “more laid-back work habits.” He added: “It’s a dichotomy, but they sometimes have more important things to worry about than work, like the security situation.”
 
Overseas study initiatives in Israel have generally lagged behind those in other developed nations for several reasons, including security concerns on the part of American students and universities, according to Masa representatives and others.
 
The new initiative, Bernard said, is in part an indication that “there’s a little more optimism” regarding the geopolitical situation in Israel.
 
Another reason Israel has not been an especially coveted destination for overseas students is that existing academic programs offered there have been limited in scope due to financial concerns.
 
“These institutions are cash-strapped; they’re kind of in survival mode,” said Avi Rubel, North American director of Masa Israel, a joint project of the Israeli government, the Jewish Agency for Israel and the Jewish Federations of North America.
 
With the help of the cash infusion from Masa Israel, students attending the Smith outpost in Haifa will have the opportunity to study business and high-tech marketing in Israel and participate in internships at Israeli companies. (They will also be required to take the Maryland-in-Haifa core course focusing on conflict resolution and cultural diversity.)
 
The Smith program, which will accommodate some 25 participants, is open to both U.Md. and non-U.Md. students, primarily those who are at least sophomores. Those who complete the program will earn 12 academic credits that are immediately transferable to U.Md. and other American universities.
 

Exploring peace and reconciliation through studying abroad in Jerusalem

<div class="masa-blog-title">Exploring peace and reconciliation through studying abroad in Jerusalem </div>

 
By Marla Davis, Hebrew University, Columbus, OH
 
Throughout my life, my family concluded our Passover Seder in Youngstown, Ohio with the traditional words “Next year in Jerusalem!”  It took me twenty years, but finally I found my way to Jerusalem and studied at Hebrew University’s Rothberg International School.
 
After taking the course Culture and Contemporary