Study Abroad | Masa Israel

Study Abroad

International Students // ACADEMIC ADVENTURERS">International Students // ACADEMIC ADVENTURERS

Publish Date: 
January 7, 2017

By Rebecca Kopans


Meet some of the many international students studying on Israeli campuses. They are here on a large variety of academic programs, many of which are in English. Some came for a single semester or year, while others made Aliya and are pursuing an entire degree. So what is it like to study in Israel far from home?

Lechao Tang, Hebrew University, from China

Lechao was the first generation of China's “Family Planning Policy” in the beginning of the 1990's. Being an only child, “I got the privilege of all my Mom’s care and my childhood was embraced by love and poems,” he recalls. One day, his mother taught him a section of Psalms that she had just learned. “I was amazed by the thinking and the language of the ancient Hebrews, and wondered: the Bible is so beautiful in Chinese, how would it be in its original language?”

In an attempt to answer this question, Lechao decided to pursue a B.A. in Judaic Studies and Linguistics at the University of Oregon. To fulfill his childhood dream, he registered for a Hebrew course and, eventually, decided to become a Bible scholar. “The Jewish people’s dedication to learning reminds me of my Mom. Naturally, the next destination after my graduation was Israel, where I could explore more in the Jewish treasury.”

The Hebrew University, which is renowned for its research, seemed like a natural choice. “One important value I deeply identify with is Tikun Olam. Being a Bible student, one is obliged to care about the surrounding society. Here I am immersed in a diverse community that works passionately towards that direction. I see hardworking Arab students sharing classes side-by-side with Jewish ones, discussing issues concerning us all. I talk with Nobel laureates about their studies, learning bit by bit their wisdom... All of these weren't available to me before my arrival here. What I knew before from printed words now becomes alive. I learn with the world's brightest minds, live the true life behind the news, meet people with fascinating life stories and visit the sites where civilization began. Studying here is learning and adventure combined,” enthuses Lechao about his experience in Israel.

He is also captivated by the local culture. “The eco-system encouraging bold thinking is rare in the Chinese education system. In Israel, one is welcome to disagree with teachers or anyone else as long as one is committed to working until getting it right. Failure is permitted by the society as long as one continues to try. In my culture, chutzpah is ridiculed in a generation growing up with a silver spoon in their mouth and distant from ordeals like the early kibbutzniks experienced. I think Chinese educators, parents and students should take the chance to experience some Israeli education,” he declares.

Like most international students who are far from their families, Lechao agrees that the biggest challenge is the distance from home. “I missed all the important festivals where families are supposed to sit together. The Chinese New Year was especially difficult when I could only seek consolation from phone calls and the beautiful photos sent by my loved ones.”


Janika Meissnest, Beit Berl College, from Germany

Janika, who is 21 and from a town near Stuttgart, Germany, is a very brave young woman. A student of Special Needs Education at the University of Education Ludwigsburg, she just completed a semester at Beit Berl College as its one and only exchange student. Janika came to Israel without ever having been here before and without knowing too much about what to expect.  

“I wanted to study abroad and the other options were in Europe and Scandinavia. I preferred to experience a different culture and I just thought it would be a good experience,” she notes. She was given a room on campus and the classes at Beit Berl were all in English, but it was still a bit hard in the beginning. “I don’t understand the language and I had to do everything on my own, but everyone is friendly here and I wasn’t lonely at all,” she insists. “Israelis are really open and people helped me.” She made friends from her dorm and from her classes, including both Arab and Jewish Israelis. “I took salsa dancing classes with other students and travelled a lot on the weekends, to Tel Aviv and all over the country.”

So how does Janika summarize her semester in Israel? Well, suffice it to say that she has another two months until her Spring semester begins in Germany and, rather than going straight home, she decided to remain here for two more months. “I will stay on a kibbutz for a while, and then some friends from Germany will arrive and we will travel all over the country together,” she says happily.


Jessica Cohen, IDC Herzliya, from South Africa

Originally from Johannesburg, South Africa, Jessica Cohen made Aliya seven years ago at age 18, straight after high school. “My plan was to right away study at IDC, but during my first year in Israel, I realized that if I wanted to integrate I should go to the army,” she remembers. So she spent the following two years in the IDF, as a guide for Sar-El, a program for foreigners who volunteer in the IDF for three week stints. After finishing her service, Jessica spent time working and travelling around the country, mainly teaching English and volunteering with refugees in south Tel Aviv.

The next stop was IDC, where she is now a third-year Psychology student. “I chose IDC because of its incredible atmosphere. I love that it’s small and intimate. Also, I wanted to study in my own language,” she explains. She lives in Raanana with her family, who also made Aliya in the meantime.

“I have a diverse group of friends,” Jessica says of her social life. “My best friend from South Africa also made Aliya and I also have lots of Israeli friends from the army, and friends from IDC who come from all over the world.” She also met people through her job in an Israeli start-up.

“Although I feel more Israeli now, there are challenges of being in a different culture. I had to learn to be assertive. As a student who works and volunteers as well as studies, I had to learn to manage my time.” Despite her busy schedule, Jessica likes to go out with friends – “I love the Tel Aviv bar culture!” – and really enjoys the local food scene. “It’s great. Everyone is united in their obsession with food.” What does she want to do next? “I hope to get into a Masters program and to move to Tel Aviv,” she says with determination.


Randi Price, Tel Aviv University, from Florida, USA

Randi, who is 24 and originally from Miami, Florida, studies Nursing at Tel Aviv University and lives in Givat Shmuel. She originally arrived in Israel after high school for a gap year at the Migdal Oz seminary, during which she perfected her Hebrew and made lots of Israeli friends. Rather than go back to the US and attend Nursing School at NYU as planned, Randi decided to stay in Israel and do Sherut Leumi (National Service) at Shaarei Tzedek Hospital in Jerusalem.

During that year, she decided to make Aliya; she went home for Passover and returned to Israel on a Nefesh B’Nefesh group flight for new olim. The next year, she started studying at Tel Aviv University. “I looked in to different programs, and one of the reasons I chose Tel Aviv is that I could be close to all my friends at Bar-Ilan and be a part of the religious Anglo community of Givat Shmuel,” she explains.

She shares an apartment with three other young, Orthodox American roommates and is active in Givat Shmuel's busy social life. “Givat Shmuel is like a family,” she insists, describing how the close-knit community of young English-speaking students is her Rock of Gibraltar. Still, despite mostly “hanging out with Anglos,” Randi also occasionally socializes with her Israeli classmates and recently she even went to an Escape Room with some of them. Living in Givat Shmuel and studying at Tel Aviv University was a good choice for her, she says. “I now have a big group of people with connections.”  


Martin Echwa, Arava Institute, from Kenya

Martin, 29, is currently spending ten months in Israel at the Arava Institute on Kibbutz Ketura. After studying Philosophy and Religious Studies at a university in his native Kenya, he joined the 'Furrows in the Desert' initiative in Kenya’s Turkana region, an agricultural development program based on Israeli expertise in desert agriculture. Its aim is to reduce poverty in the region and to assist the local population in regaining their economic independence. After two years in Turkana, he arrived in Israel in order to deepen his knowledge of sustainable agriculture at the Arava Institute. 

Although it’s his first time in Israel, his Israeli friends from 'Furrows in the Desert' prepared him before he arrived, and he knew what to expect. “I’m very happy here,” he says. “They welcomed me in the kibbutz and made me feel at home. People are very hospitable and friendly,” he enthuses, adding that his best friends here are the Israelis he knew from Kenya and that they often invite him to their homes.

In addition to the academic program, which he describes as fascinating, he is also making a point of traveling around the country as much as possible, and lists a dozen places he has already visited, from the Hula Valley and Sea of Galilee in the north to Timna and Uvdat in the south, and of course Jerusalem.

Martin acknowledges that sometimes it can be difficult to be a black person in Israel, yet he thinks that Israelis are exceptionally friendly and have a very strong sense of community. “I like the kibbutz system and the way Israelis love each other and their country. I have learned a lot from them; these are people who transformed the desert,” he notes with admiration. When he will finish the Arava program this summer, Martin will go back to Kenya and apply what he has learned. “I want to help my people,” he reveals.  


Aaron Hochman-Zimmerman, Ben Gurion University, from New York, USA

At 36, Aaron is the oldest of the students interviewed for this article, and also one of the most fascinating. He is currently in his second year of Medical School at Ben Gurion University of the Negev, located in Beer Sheva. Prior to starting Medical School, Aaron’s eclectic resumé included studying Public Relations at Syracuse University, enlisting in the U.S. Army as an Air Force cadet, working for an advertising agency in New York and as a journalist for a financial website, and then joining the Peace Corps, serving as an ambulance instructor in Morocco for 27 months! After all that, he decided to study medicine and heard about the BGU program through a friend. It appealed to him because of its focus on global health issues.

“Living here is an adventure,” says Aaron. “The language is a challenge but everyone is very nice. I don’t socialize that much with my classmates because they are mostly ten years younger than me, but I have some local friends, both Israelis and Anglos. On the weekends, I volunteer in Bedouin villages, teaching English.”  


Peninah Lamm Kaplansky, Bar-Ilan University, from New York, USA

Like many Orthodox Jewish Americans, Peninah came to Israel for one year after high school. Originally from West Hempstead, New York, she decided to stay and do National Service for a year. Her plan was to go back and study in the US, but during her National Service at a foster home in Netanya, she decided to remain in Israel and apply to Bar-Ilan University’s School of Social Work. By then her Hebrew was quite fluent.

“I decided on Bar-Ilan because of its reputation as Anglo friendly,” she explains. “I had friends there and knew that there’s a good support system at Bar-Ilan for foreign students.” In particular, she wanted to be a part of the Givat Shmuel community of young, religious olim.

Peninah is especially complimentary of the Israeli pioneering spirit which she says permeates local campuses. During her second year at Bar-Ilan, she organized a one-week service mission to Belarus with a few classmates, which she claims they were able to do because the university encourages student initiatives.

Now, she runs a non-profit called “Here Next Year” that helps religious Anglos spending a gap year in an Israeli yeshiva or seminary to decide whether to stay in Israel. “We provide resources in English to make the information accessible about various options,” she explains, adding that, “the skills I learned at Bar-Ilan help me today.”

According to Peninah, the situation for Anglo students in Israel is very different than it used to be. “I know people who studied in Israel ten years ago and felt so alone and lost,” she comments. “Now there is a vibrant and active community.”  


Ezra Bernstein, Fulbright fellowship, from New York, USA

Ezra is currently in Israel on a prestigious Fulbright fellowship. Originally from Buffalo, New York, the 27-year old took a year off after completing his third year at UCLA Medical School in order to come here to study cancer prevention. His project is affiliated with Tel Aviv University and his actual research is carried out at Ichilov Hospital’s Integrated Cancer Prevention Center, headed by Dr. Nadia Arber. In July, he will return to Los Angeles and to Med School.

“I decided to come to Israel because I’m Jewish and have been here before,” he explains, “but also because I’m very interested in politics and the Middle East. I wanted to explore that interest and maybe combine it with my medical career.”

Ezra shares an apartment in Tel Aviv with two roommates and is trying to take full advantage of the city. “It’s an interesting mix,” he observes, “Tel Aviv is like the people of New York with the lifestyle of Los Angeles.” He was especially struck by the highly-developed culinary scene, pointing out that he frequently eats in restaurants despite being “90% vegan” – the other 10% of his diet consists mainly of burgers!

Most of his friends here are from the international crowd at the university, but he has also made an effort to seek out Israeli friends. “My Hebrew is getting better. I met one guy playing tennis.” Ezra is also getting involved politically and is in the process of building a website that provides information about the Middle East conflict, showing different perspectives.  “The biggest challenge is adapting to the local mentality. Israelis are very tough on the outside; it takes time to see that they are softer on the inside,” he notes.  


Shirley Stephanie Ehling, College of Law and Business, from Germany

Shirley, 27, grew up in Frankfurt, Germany and made Aliya five years ago. In Germany, she worked as a goldsmith and had wanted to become a gemologist, so at first she pursued that career in Israel as well. Although she didn’t know any Hebrew, she didn’t go to an ulpan. “After a while, I felt like my brain was dying and so I thought of backing up my jewelry appraisal career with some legal expertise,” she explains of her decision to study law at the College of Law and Business in Ramat Gan – a bilingual program geared to international students. She recently completed her studies and is now getting ready to start her internship and take the bar exam next year.

“In Israel, the atmosphere is more personal and warmer, and one feels closer to the professors,” she asserts. “In Germany, I was one student out of 1,000. Here it was a nice campus experience and everyone was very welcoming.” She especially enjoyed the opportunity to meet lots of Israeli classmates. “Israelis are extroverted. Most of my friends here aren’t German,” she says, adding that she mainly socializes with other international students, mainly Europeans.

Shirley lives alone in Herzliya and also has many friends from IDC and Tel Aviv University, as well as from her own program. “I’m never alone. My life is full of social activities. I like to go to the beach and study there. I also play beach volleyball and do lots of sports – and I love classical music,” she gushes, adding that her Hebrew is now fluent.  


Yulia Gr, Technion (Masa program), from Russia

Yulia, from Moscow, Russia, studied at the Technion as part of a nine-month Masa Israel Journey program, which she heard about during a Birthright trip to Israel. “Masa gave me a unique opportunity to be a student at one of the world's top universities. It was very interesting; my days were busy from morning till night. We studied four days a week and once a week there were excursions around the country or lectures with guest speakers,” she explains. Yulia especially enjoyed getting a taste of student life while living on campus and being exposed to Israeli culture.

“I met and got to know many wonderful and intelligent people. It was a huge networking opportunity. Many have stayed my close friends. I feel that I changed personally, and also that I was a part of something larger than myself. I became more independent. It was a challenge for me and I have successfully met the challenge. I had an unforgettable experience while I was at the Technion on the Masa program,” she says, summarizing her year in Israel.  


Jason Hochman, University of Haifa, from Rhode Island, USA

A native of Providence, Rhode Island, Jason, 28, is studying at the University of Haifa for the second time. The first time was when he spent his Junior Year of college at the University of Haifa. After making Aliya five years ago, serving in the IDF and then working in retail to save money, Jason decided to return to the University of Haifa for a Masters in Holocaust Studies.

“It’s a one-of-a-kind program,” he raves. “All the professors are well-known and it’s an amazing learning environment.” He has Israeli roommates and likes the fact that in Haifa “students don’t live in an Anglo bubble.” At Haifa, there is also an adopt-a-student program which pairs Israelis with international students who have similar interests, which is a great way to integrate.

Jason is here long enough that he is no longer overwhelmed by the cultural differences. “In the beginning, it was shocking the way people pushed their way into an elevator,” he recalls, but today he is more aware of the positive side of Israeli behavior: “Israeli students usually go home on weekends, and if they have roommates from abroad, their parents often send them back with extra food for their roommates too. There is a real sense of community here.”


You can also view the article here.

The Arava Institute for Environmental Studies // WHERE NATURE KNOWS NO BORDERS">The Arava Institute for Environmental Studies // WHERE NATURE KNOWS NO BORDERS

Publish Date: 
January 26, 2017

By Ofek Ravid


Ofek Ravid, 25, from Kibbutz Glil Yam, studied at the Arava Institute for two semesters. He tells us about his transformative experience in Arava's unique and fascinating academic program, with classmates from all over the region and the world.


I arrived at the Arava Institute in September 2015, not really knowing what to expect. I’m an educator and social activist in Israel; I had worked on the elections for the Knesset the year before and lost, and was looking for something meaningful to do, as well as increasing my academic knowledge about the regional environment. The Institute seemed to be located basically on the other side of the earth:  I’m from the center of Israel, and had never lived in the desert before.


Little did I know how much I was going to discover there. My best summary would be: The place taught me about nature and its interactions with human beings. Kibbutz Ketura, the home of the Arava Institute, is located in a beautiful area with places to hike all around. I would go out into the desert almost every day to relax or hike up one of the mountains overlooking the Arava valley.


In addition, maybe because of it’s remote location, the Institute allows for a unique community to form where Israelis and Palestinians live together and cooperate, which was a new experience for me. Most Israelis see Palestinians either as desperate people living under occupation, or terrorists, every single one, and here I suddenly was given a chance to live with them: cook dinner, drink coffee, study, dance, sing – and talk politics or religion. I had the opportunity to see them as human beings, nothing more and nothing less. Add to that our Jordanian neighbors and international students from around the world, and you have a winning mix.


I worked on research projects related to sustainable agriculture together with someone from Jericho, and one of my best friends was from Irbid, Jordan. I don’t know of any other place in the world where I could have experienced that particular blend of multiculturalism.


The academic program included courses I haven’t seen at any other university in Israel, but hopefully their importance will soon be recognized widely: political ecology, sustainable agriculture, environmental politics and others. Likewise, being able to observe and cooperate on research projects led by the Institute’s scientists was incredible. I especially enjoyed experimenting in the gardens of  Dr. Elaine Solowey [director of the Center for Sustainable Agriculture]. She really made her projects and her expertise available to us.


It was great to study and get involved in projects that are valuable for everyday life and the optimization of natural resources in Jordan, Israel and Palestine. I traveled together with Jordanians to understand environmental problems around the Dead Sea, and I studied greywater systems in Auja, near Jericho, with Palestinians and Germans.


Last but not least, once a week we would all meet for the Peace-Building Leadership Seminar, where we would talk about the real political and historical issues in our region. Here, I got such insight into the Palestinian narrative; I learned to understand the conflict in ways the daily news could never have taught me.



Internship program

In addition to the academic study program, the Arava Institute offers 2-12 month internships in five transboundary research centers focusing on areas of key environmental concern — water management, renewable energy, sustainable agriculture, ecology and sustainable development. Budding professionals and researchers have an opportunity to focus their research in these areas and contribute substantively to transboundary research through a defined project under the direction of a faculty member, while gaining valuable professional, academic and personal experience, and participate fully in campus and peace-building activities. The Institute welcomes interns from varied backgrounds, including the social and natural sciences.


Interdisciplinary environmental studies

The Arava Institute brings together Israelis, Palestinians, Jordanians and international students for an interdisciplinary environmental studies program. Students study natural and social science courses for one or two semesters, while living in a unique multicultural community on the Institute campus in Kibbutz Ketura in the southern Arava desert. All courses are taught in English and are under the auspices of Ben Gurion University of the Negev. Undergraduate and graduate level credit is available for academic courses. In addition to the academic courses, all students are required to attend the weekly Peace-Building Leadership Seminar and participate in a variety of campus life activities, including a weekly comprehensive Environmental Leadership seminar. International students may apply for a Masa scholarship.


The Arava Institute has hosted students from over 230 American universities. For more information about the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, go to

Technion - BSc in Mechanical Engineering

Program Description

The prestigious bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering is taught entirely in English at Technion’s Faculty of Mechanical Engineering. The Faculty is internationally recognized for its leadership in research, education, and innovation, having educated Israel’s engineering leaders holding key positions in high-tech, government and defense industries. Students are taught by senior academic staff, scientists and expert lecturers from industry, and benefit from a stimulating environment and state-of-the-art laboratories – among the most advanced of their kind in the world. The program provides students with a strong base in the engineering sciences alongside project-based laboratory and design experiences, to develop their independence, creativity, and leadership in an era of incredibly rapid technological change. New developments in the fields of microsystems, biomechanics, and medical robotics pose exciting challenges for mechanical engineers as well as new opportunities for driving innovation.

Typically, mechanical engineers are suited for employment in diverse areas, including the aerospace, automotive, biomedical, chemical industry, computer, communications, nanotechnology, robotics and power-generation industries.

  • Main Subject: Graduate Academic Studies
  • Keywords:
  • Engineering 
  • Duration:
  • 12 Months 
  • Age:
  • 17-25 
  • Language:
  • English 
  • Organizer:
  • Technion - Israel Institute of Technology 
  • Program appears on grant application as:
  • Technion - BSc in Mechanical Engineering 
  • Price:
  • $ 19000 
  • Accommodation:
  • Included 
  • Meals:
  • Not Included 
  • Program Dates:
  • August 15,2017 - August 15,2018  Apply to this program

Tel Aviv University - Community Action in Tel Aviv

Program Description

  • Main Subject: Volunteer Programs, Undergraduate Academic Studies
  • Duration:
  • 4.5 Months 
  • Age:
  • 18-30 
  • Language:
  • English 
  • Organizer:
  • Tel Aviv University - The International School for Overseas Student 
  • Program appears on grant application as:
  • Tel Aviv University - Community Action in Tel Aviv 
  • Price:
  • $ 8700 
  • Accommodation:
  • Not Included 
  • Meals:
  • Not Included 
  • Program Dates:
  • January 17,2018 - June 03,2018  Apply to this program

Tel Aviv University - STEM Semester

Program Description

  • Main Subject: Graduate Academic Studies, Undergraduate Academic Studies
  • Keywords:
  • Science 
  • Duration:
  • 7, 12 Months 
  • Age:
  • 18-30 
  • Language:
  • English 
  • Organizer:
  • Tel Aviv University - The International School for Overseas Student 
  • Program appears on grant application as:
  • Tel Aviv University - STEM Semester 
  • Accommodation:
  • Not Included 
  • Meals:
  • Not Included 
  • Program Dates:

English for the Workplace

Program Description

This course is for young adults who are interested in developing English language skills for use in the context of a workplace. The course takes workplace English as its starting point, and offers functional language phrases and virtual workplace scenarios. Students will learn the language needed for searching and applying for employment, preparing for interviews, taking interviews, starting on a new post and working with new colleagues.

In addition to the above program, students who intend to apply for higher education studies in an Israeli academic institution will be offered a preparation course for the entrance exam AMIR.

This course is aimed at non-native English speakers who have studied English to at least intermediate level (approximately B2).

The course is designed and taught by the academic staff of the English Language and Literature and EFL departments of Oranim College.


For more information:

Gabi Farberov


  • Main Subject:
  • Duration:
  • 4 Months 
  • Age:
  • 18-30 
  • Organizer:
  • Oranim Academic College of Education 
  • Program appears on grant application as:
  • English for the Workplace 
  • Accommodation:
  • Included 
  • Meals:
  • Included 
  • Program Dates:
  • February 27,2018 - June 27,2018, QIRYAT TIV'ON, $400   Apply to this program

The Top 8 Beaches in Israel">The Top 8 Beaches in Israel

Posted March 5th, 2017

Written by Andria Kaplan-Aylyarov


Yes, BRRR. The weather is cold outside and as you kindle the Hanukkah flames and spin that dreidel, warm yourself up and imagine you’re under the Tel Aviv sun, soaking up the rays on one of these beaches.

…Because seriously, where else would you rather be?


1. Banana Beach
Located on the southernmost edge near Jaffa this beach is home to Friday night drum circles, hula hooping-bikini wearing girls, endless games of Matkot and sunbather after sunbather. Think of it as a Bohemian paradise right next to Tel Aviv.


2. Gordon Beach, Frishman Beach, Bograshov Beach
Welcome to beach-mania. These three beaches offer endless white sand, beautiful people and the perfect dose of sunshine. Located right in the center of Tel Aviv these beaches offer a great getaway with tons of bars and restaurants. Each beach is the perfect place to catch the addicting Tel Aviv sunset plus, there’s a Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream stand at Gordon Beach. #YUM

3. Trumpeldor Beach
Walking down the beach in Tel Aviv you’ll spot an unusual statue and you know you’ve arrived at Trumpeldor Beach. This is a quieter beach amongst its neighbors since there are no facilities or lifeguards.

4. Jerusalem Beach
Formerly known as Geula Beach, Jerusalem Beach is located right off Allenby Street and near the very well-known Opera Tower building. You’ll find falafel shops and bodegas everywhere, so don’t worry about packing snacks for the day. It’s not touristy and is the perfect spot to meet all your friends for a relaxing beach day.

5. Tel Baruch Beach
Tel Baruch Beach may be one of Israel’s cleanest beaches. Fully equipped with green lawns, outdoor workout area, and seaside café it’s the perfect escape from a long week of classes or a big night out. 

6. Metzitzim Beach
If you wake up early enough on a Friday or Saturday morning,  take a stroll down Namal Tel Aviv, and  grab a coffee while you check out Metzitzim Beach. It’s more family oriented but offers three volleyball courts and an outdoor workout area. If that’s not your thing, however, keep walking north and you’ll catch twenty-something Israelis sipping Goldstar and hanging out.

7. The Surfer’s Beach at the Hilton Hof HaGolshim
Besides beautiful people watching all day long check out The Surfer’s Beach and prepare to be amazed at the skill, the surf, and the boys. It’s a hot spot to kayak or learn how to paddle board too!


8. Coral Reef Beach(Red Sea):
Okay, so this beach isn't in Tel Aviv but it's a sun worshipper's paradise. You can go from sand to snorkel to world-class resort within minutes. The best part? There's a good chance your Masa program already has a trip to Eilat planned. #GetReady

Andria Kaplan Aylyarov is a Masa Israel Alumna and content marketing specialist for Masa Israel Journey. She loves a good glass of white wine and wishes she was 85-years-old and living in Boca, but she currently resides in New York.


To learn more about Masa Israel and the programs we offer, click here. 


How to Reach Ivy League Levels of Tech Innovation">How to Reach Ivy League Levels of Tech Innovation

Posted February 2nd, 2017

By Oren Toledano, co-founder and CEO of Israel Tech Challenge


We’re called the “startup nation.”


Despite being smaller than the state of New Jersey, Israel has more Nasdaq-listed companies than any other country in the world except the U.S. and China. Our businesses are quick to grow and to create. They are built on a mentality eager to take risks.


But, what is the secret sauce behind Israel’s success? What magic touch do we have that universities around the world are now acknowledging is highly effective and desirable?


This is a question others have asked before – most notably Dan Senor and Saul Singer in their best-selling book. One answer they give: it starts in the military. More specifically, in the unique training program for the young recruits of 8200, Israel’s elite military unit where thousands of bright, technically minded soldiers study deeply and master cutting-edge technology. Having served in that unit, reaching the rank of Major, I’d like to go into this a bit more.


Over the last three years alone, several start-ups founded by 8200 graduates were purchased by tech giants, including Adallom (purchased by Microsoft), Onavo (purchased by Facebook), and CyActive (purchased by PayPal).


In 8200, the idea of “being thrown into the deep end” is taken to a completely new level. The soldiers are expected to learn new skills super-fast and solve complex military problems with limited personnel, in a short time and with surprisingly little guidance. It is a quick, hands-on, intense learning process that leads straight to success.


During their training, the average day begins at 6 a.m., soldiers get exactly five minutes in the morning to wake up and dress themselves – and they get another 10 minutes, on the clock, for breakfast. The rest of their day is just as intense, as well as intellectually challenging and rigorously scheduled – an exhaustingly high-level program of study that generally continues at full force until 11 each night.


If you can keep up with the demands of this program for its full five months, you come out on the other end as a tech master at the age of 18, and with more technical know-how than an average American college graduate with a degree in Computer Science.


And it works particularly well. The unit’s alumni come away with the skills and mentality that are a natural fit for the start-up ecosystem.


The thinking and training of 8200 can be applied anywhere around the globe.


At Israel Tech Challenge, for example, we teach an international group of students about cybersecurity and data science. Working in closed cohort groups, with intensive training and close mentorship, and given the keys to a strong professional network, the students flourish. The method we use creates open-minded, autodidactic, independent thinkers who can even come up with solutions before the definition or emergence of the actual problem.


It is an approach that can help all of us, as an international community, react quickly, adapt to the needs of the market, and create in-demand applications.


Today, American universities have started to recognize the need for educational models spearheaded by 8200-like tech boot camps and crash courses in coding. However, this is just a single application of the kind of new thinking brought to the forefront by the 8200. Israel’s experience can and should be leveraged to jumpstart not only the adoption of a new pedagogical system, but also as a groundbreaking model of international problem solving.


By adopting 8200’s intense, focused, and uncompromising training methods, American companies and organizations can create a workforce that is better prepared, more disciplined, and capable of overcoming technological gaps quickly, adapting in an agile fashion to changing realities, and learning, without judgment, but with great depth, from past mistakes. And they could do this faster, with fewer resources, attracting only the most talented and challenge-ready employees.


Applied effectively, the potential is here for a powerful tool that can shift the way we approach some of the larger issues facing the international community, throwing the most motivated, mentally resilient, and brightest human resources at the problem, while making better use of other resources, like money and time. In other words, we could attack real world problems by engaging technology, and its best practitioners, to help solve national priority issues.


Not only could this model prove lucrative and economical, it could be a game changer in terms of results – tech products for a safer planet chief among them.


Oren Toledano is co-founder and CEO of Israel Tech Challenge, a partnership between the Jewish Agency, The Government of Israel’s Cyber Bureau, and Masa Israel Journey. Prior to his current position, Oren spent three years as Head of the Aliyah delegation of the Jewish Agency in France-Belgium, and before that served for nearly a decade as an officer in an elite technological unit of the IDF, reaching the rank of Major. Oren holds an MA in Political Science and Security Studies from Tel Aviv University, and a BA in Political Science from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.


Jacob Shiansky">Jacob Shiansky

Regional Representative (NC, SC, TX, LA, GA)

Jacob Shiansky is the Masa Regional Representative for Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas. He attended the University of South Carolina and double majored in Business Economics and Management. Prior to joining the Masa Israel team Jacob worked at Robert Half accounting where he worked in Finance Consulting and was a revenue accounting specialist.

Marisa Obuchowski">Marisa Obuchowski

Regional Representative (Baltimore)

Marisa is the Israel and Overseas Engagement Associate at The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, where she is very excited to engage local young adults and connect them with Israel and overseas opportunities. 


She holds a BFA in Graphic Design and Computer Imaging from Ohio Wesleyan University. After college, Marisa traveled on Birthright where she fell in love with the sites, people, and culture of Israel, and three weeks later she returned to Israel with WUJS Tel Aviv, program of Masa. After returning to Baltimore, she worked as a graphic designer and marketing manager for a Jewish day school and as a part-time swim coach at the local JCC. As an alumna of Birthright and Masa, she understands the meaningful impact of peer-travel and immersive Israel programs and looks forward to providing others with the same transformative experiences.