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Interview: ‘Academic Refugees’ from Egypt Adjusting to Israel

Interview: ‘Academic Refugees’ from Egypt Adjusting to Israel

April 5, 2011

In a sort of academic “ingathering of exiles,” Hebrew University last week took in 12 American students who were studying at schools in Cairo but could no longer continue due to the unrest in the country.
And while the situation in Egypt has calmed somewhat, the students will be remaining at Hebrew U until at least the end of the academic year.
The new students are all enrolled at Hebrew U’s Rothberg International School, and hail from Princeton, Vanderbilt, Michigan State and Allegheny universities and the University of California Schools.
All were enrolled in overseas extension programs sponsored by their schools and chose to study in Egypt. After it became clear in late January that it would be impossible for the students to continue to study there, their universities made hasty arrangements to relocate the students – and 12 of them chose Hebrew U, which came through with emergency placement for all of them.
So how are they doing after their first full week in Israel? For Sloane Speakman of Vanderbilt, it’s been a bit of an adjustment. “This is my first time in Israel,” he told Israel National News.
“So far, it’s been nice. There were a lot of adjustments to make, though. For one, it’s drastically more expensive than life in Cairo, which has been hard because I had budgeted for six months in Egypt. It’s also dramatically colder. I did not even own a jacket in Egypt, so I had to buy one once I arrived in Israel.”

Sandstorms and Kibbutniks: Israeli Society Shabbaton

<div class="masa-blog-title">Sandstorms and Kibbutniks: Israeli Society Shabbaton</div>

Post courtesy of Tikkun Olam Tel Aviv-Jaffa
This past Shabbat, three of our volunteers joined the Masa community for a Shabbaton hosted by Kibbutz Kranim in the Northern Negev. The weekend opened with a tour of two Bedouin villages in the Negev and a discussion of modern Bedouin culture, led by Bustan, a NGO that works for cooperation and social justice with Bedouin and Jewish communities in the Negev.

Learning and belonging at Hebrew University

<div class="masa-blog-title">Learning and belonging at Hebrew University </div>

Growing up in Atlanta, Scott Berger first became involved in Judaism as a teenager through Bnai Brith Youth Organization. But, it was not until he was a freshman at Tulane University that he first traveled to Israel with Birthright.
“I had no idea what to expect and it was thrilling for me to be in a country filled with other people like me,” says Scott.

Masa Israel/JESNA Joint Initiative Prepares Jewish Students for Careers in Jewish Education

Masa Israel/JESNA Joint Initiative Prepares Jewish Students for Careers in Jewish Education

December 20, 2010

Masa Israel Journey and the Jewish Education Service of North America (JESNA) today announced the launch of the Lainer-Masa Israel Fellowship, a two-year program for Jewish young adults interested in careers in Jewish education.
This joint venture will engage North American Masa Israel undergraduate university participants while in Israel and place them in a second year internship upon returning to their campuses.
Building on JESNA’s successful Lainer Israel Internship Program and Masa Israel’s access to North American young adults on long-term Israel programs, this new capacity-building initiative is to nurture and prepare a cadre of Jewish college students who are committed to advancing Jewish education and leadership throughout their personal and professional lives.
“The Lainer Israel Internship program has elevated the field of Jewish education by supplying unique Israel based experiential learning to over 800 participants since its inception in 1992. This exciting collaboration with Masa Israel marks a new era for the program,” says Dr. Leora Isaacs, JESNA’s Vice-President for Programs and Organizational Learning. “The combination of JESNA’s long term success and Masa’s reach will enable the new Lainer-Masa Israel Fellowship program to bring forth greater numbers of future Jewish leaders.”
Accepted students studying abroad at Masa Israel-accredited study abroad programs will enroll in the course, “Issues in American Jewish Education,” participate in fieldwork internships at formal and informal education programs in Israeli schools, youth groups, or community centers, and take part in Shabbatonim, fieldtrips and workshops. After they return to their college campuses Lainer-Masa Israel Fellows will obtain related internships and mentors, and take part in a winter educational seminar in Malibu, California. Masa Israel and JESNA staff will provide career guidance and professional development information to graduating students.
“As Masa Israel participation continues to rise, more and more Masa Israel alumni return to the United States interested in pursuing careers in Jewish organizations,” says Masa Israel’s North American Director, Avi Rubel. “The Lainer-Masa Israel Fellowship will help to prepare the next generation of Israel and Jewish educators.”
The Lainer Israel Internship program, funded by the Lainer family, was launched in 1992 as a way to engage college students in thinking about Jewish education or Jewish communal work as a future career. The program is able to boast a 60% success rate of continued involvement in Jewish education and communal service as a professional, lay leader or volunteer.
This year, Masa Israel, which offers 180 five-to-12-month volunteering, career development, and academic programs, will bring 10,000 participants to Israel, many of whom have chosen to pursue Jewish and Israel-related career paths. According to a recent study conducted by professors at NYU, Hebrew Union College, and Brandeis University, longer experiences in Israel are linked to sharply increased Jewish engagement, leadership, and marrying Jews.
The first winter seminar for Lainer-Masa Israel Fellows will take place on December 20-22, 2010 in Malibu, CA.
For more information about the Lainer-Masa Israel Fellowship, contact JESNA’s Chief Marketing Officer Rika Levin at (212) 284-6703 and North America Director of Masa Israel Journey, Avi Rubel at (212) 339-6938 or For information about alumni from your area, contact
Below are just two examples of the Lainer Israel Internship alumni and Masa Israel alumni who have shown continued Jewish involvement:
Aimee Weiss
During her junior year at Hebrew University, American University student Aimee Weiss took part in the Lainer Israel Internship program. Aimee, who grew up in what she calls, “a typical Jewish assimilated home,” says, “The internship was most helpful for my career path.” In addition to taking courses about trends in Jewish education, she learned about an assortment of Jewish internships from the Lainer interns’ listserv, and was accepted to those offered by CAJE and Masa Israel Journey. Today, she is the Midwest Regional Coordinator for Masa Israel and Hagshama.
Rina Goldberg
As a psychology and Jewish education major at York University, Rina Goldberg decided to study abroad at Masa Israel’s program at Hebrew University. There she took courses in Jewish education and tutored English, Hebrew and math at a local Israeli elementary school through the Lainer Israel Internship. Upon her return, she enrolled in the Jewish Theological Seminary’s graduate program in Jewish education. Today, she is a kindergarten teacher at the Heschel School in New York City.

Ruin, Recovery, and Rebuilding

<div class="masa-blog-title">Ruin, Recovery, and Rebuilding</div>

By Christina Healy, University of Haifa
It was just another Thursday. After my Hebrew class ended at noon, I met up with another researcher from the Sign Language Research Lab and we headed to lunch. Usually we automatically angle toward the cafeteria, but today we were in the mood for a baked potato, so we headed downstairs to the coffee shop. After paying, I turned toward the dining area and stopped short, staring out the window.

8 crazy nights (or days) out for Hannukah

<div class="masa-blog-title">8 crazy nights (or days) out for Hannukah</div>

With eight whole days of celebration, you’re probably looking for ways to make the most out of the festival of lights—Israeli style!

Learning from a Jewish hero

<div class="masa-blog-title">Learning from a Jewish hero</div>

By Cara Frazin, Masa Israel Campus Intern, University of Illinois at Chicago
On September 15, 2010, I had the rare opportunity to meet Natan Sharansky before the annual Jewish Federation Annual Meeting Luncheon where he was the main speaker.
As an active participant with the Levine Hillel at the University of Illinois at Chicago and as the Masa Israel intern for my campus, I spend a lot of time educating people about Israel and promoting Israel advocacy. When I was invited by The Hillels o

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.

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