Wishing Us A New Year of Activism

Wishing Us A New Year of Activism

September 12, 2013

Jewish organizations and philanthropists invest millions of dollars in sending young Jewish adults to Israel … knowing these young adults are the future of the Jewish community, and that these trips engender a stronger sense of Jewish identity. 
Yet our alumni often speak to us about the frustration they feel as they try to get involved upon their return.
 
by Avi Rubel
 
When 28 year-old Dina Silberstein got back from five months in Israel, she faced a turbulent period of transition. She began work as a real estate consultant but didn’t know how she could take her life-changing experience on Masa Israel’s WUJS Internship program in Tel Aviv and make it fit into her life in the United States. How could she translate her passion for Israel into practical action in the community now that she was back? She knew one thing for certain. She wanted to get involved.
 
“I got so much out of my experience in Israel and wanted to give back,” the native New Yorker recalls. “At the same time, I felt really out of place when I got home. I finally felt comfortable when I met other Masa alumni. I didn’t want anyone else coming home to feel how I felt; I wanted them to know they had a home base.”
 
Dina decided to channel her energy into creating a community for other long-term Israel program alumni, and helped to develop the flagship Masa Israel Alumni Board in the tri-state area.
 
In August, Dina and 70 other promising Masa Israel alumni came together for the first-ever Masa Israel National Alumni Retreat held at the Pearlstone Retreat Center in Maryland. The goal of the weekend was to promote the development of Masa Israel Alumni Associations in cities across North America, as well as to help alumni cultivate their passion for Israel engagement and active participation in their local Jewish communities.
 
Our alumni are excited to step up their involvement and bring their experiences home to share with other young Jews. 417 Masa participants who recently finished post-college and study-abroad programs completed our annual exit survey this August. 69% of respondents expressed that they would be interested in volunteering with a Jewish organization in the future and 72% want to participate in local Jewish or Israeli events. More than 50% of these Masa participants are Birthright alumni. They are looking to get involved in all facets of the Jewish world; roughly half of the new alumni said they are interested in opportunities in tikkun olam, Israel advocacy, and serving as “Israel Ambassadors.”
 
There are countless Jewish organizations looking to bring these blossoming leaders into the fold. Jewish organizations and philanthropists invest millions of dollars in sending young Jewish adults to Israel to drum up the kind of enthusiasm revealed in the survey result above, knowing these young adults are the future of the Jewish community, and that these trips engender a stronger sense of Jewish identity.
 
Yet our alumni often speak to us about the frustration they feel as they try to get involved upon their return. When our alumni come home, many organizations are only willing to engage them on the organization’s terms. Our alumni’s capabilities are often greatly underestimated by Jewish groups, and are rarely acknowledged for the intense, immersive time they spent in Israel, studying, interning and volunteering while living like locals. In fact, Masa Israel alumni are the single best resource for the next generation of leaders in Israel engagement within their local Jewish communities.
 
The importance of alumni associations
 
As Jon Marker noted in his recent article on eJP, alumni associations are crucial for fostering leadership and sustained engagement in participants’ local communities. The need to engage Jewish twenty-somethings on their own terms prompted us to help our returnees develop peer-led, regional Masa Alumni Associations. Previous Masa Israel alumni are uniquely able to help recent alumni process their experience and channel it into involvement in their communities.
 
An example we drew on when establishing our fledgling peer-led Alumni Boards was the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program Alumni Association (JETAA). JETAA is led by former program participants who volunteer their time to provide support for returning participants by offering assistance in securing employment, reintegration into their home community, cultural and social programming, and more. JETAA has 53,000 alumni with nearly 23,000 alumni registered as members of 52 regional alumni chapters located.
 
We are seeing Israel program alumni take on the responsibility of welcoming back their peers and growing our network, and keeping their passion alive by providing relevant programming. The Alumni Boards are structured around integrating our returnees into the wider Jewish community and promoting sustained interest in Israel. The depth of Masa alumni’s experiences uniquely position them to speak genuinely, authoritatively and eloquently about Israel.
 
“Masa alumni are unique advocates for Israel” explains Joanna Lieberman, a Masa alumna who now works for the American Jewish Committee. “We don’t approach it from a defensive standpoint, as is common in the traditional hasbara-style of Israel advocacy. We can talk about the amazing things our stay in the country afforded us, but we are also able to remove the rose-colored glasses and talk about societal issues.”
 
Creating the right community model
 
When the New York Masa Alumni Association was in its early stages, I arranged for Dina to meet with the UJA-Federation of New York to discuss how Masa Israel alumni could get involved, even if they weren’t ready to commit financially. I was skeptical – large community organizations have been known to mishandle their relationships with twenty-somethings.
 
However, I was pleasantly surprised to see Ezra Shanken, the head of UJA-Federation’s Emerging Leaders & Philanthropists division, welcome the Masa Israel alumni group into the fold as a separate “interest cluster,” and work with Dina on innovative ideas to develop and train the board members. He invited Dina, as the board chair, to sit on the committee of board chairs within the Emerging Leaders & Philanthropists division and welcomed her as a new young leader in Federation. Similar models are now developing in Washington DC, Miami, Detroit, Cleveland, Chicago and Los Angeles.
 
More Jewish Federations ought to step up to the plate and serve as the home base for Masa Israel program returnees to welcome returnees back and provide them an outlet for their drive to remain connected to Israel and the Jewish community. At the same time, they will be cultivating the next generation of local leadership by training the younger board members.
 
Paving the way
 
According to a study by The AVI CHAI Foundation, more than half of the leaders of the Jewish community have spent a period of at least five months in Israel. In a sense, that makes them Masa alumni too.
 
These leaders understand first-hand the difficulties young alumni face when coming home and moving into the next stage of their lives. That is why we hope Jewish professionals will reach out to us at Masa Israel Journey about mentoring our alumni or creating frameworks to welcome Israel program alumni as young leaders. We need local professionals and lay leaders to meet us half way to show recent returnees that there is a place for them within local Jewish organizations.
 
Inspired by their profound experiences in Israel, Masa alumni are ready and able to get involved and make a difference in their Jewish communities. We invested in them to bring them this far. Now that they are home, let’s empower them, and the Jewish community will see dividends for decades to come.
 
Avi Rubel is the Executive Director of Masa Israel Journey, North America.
 

Avital Elfant

Avital Elfant

Educational Project Manager
Weight: 
-75

Gilad Peled

Gilad Peled

Masa Italy
Weight: 
-22

Marianna Levtov

Marianna Levtov

Masa Germany
Weight: 
-47

masagermany@masaisrael.org

+49(30)8819425
 

Dóra Korányi

Dóra Korányi

Masa Hungary
Weight: 
-67

Tanya Izaki

Tanya Izaki

Masa South Africa
Weight: 
-70

eduproj@israelcentre.co.za

0027-116452561
 

 

 

Adi Barel

Adi Barel

Director of Career Development Programs
Weight: 
-86

Yonatan Barkan

Yonatan Barkan

Director of Academic Programs
Weight: 
-85

Masa Israel Alumni Gather for Leadership Training

Masa Israel Alumni Gather for Leadership Training

Masa Israel Alumni Gather for Leadership Training

August 15, 2013

This past weekend, 70 of the best and brightest "Masaniks" gathered for the first-ever national Masa Israel Alumni Retreat.
Current Masa Alumni Board members and recent returnees from Israel who participated in the Masa Israel Leadership Summit in March came together for the three-day shabbaton held at the Pearlstone Retreat Center in Maryland. The goal of the weekend was to promote the development of Masa Israel Alumni Associations and their boards in cities across North America, as well as to help the alumni cultivate their passion for Israel engagement and active participation in their local Jewish communities.
 
The retreat began with an opening address by Rabbi Scott Perlo of Washington, D.C.'s Sixth and I Synagogue. He set the tone for the weekend by prompting participants to ponder their place in the rich, millennia-spanning context of the Jewish story, and to think about how to get involved as they move forward in their own journey.
 
The retreat continued with enrichment sessions led by representatives from the World Zionist Organization, The Jewish Agency for Israel, Israel Action Network, Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies, Shalom Hartman Institute, Hazon and Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life. These sessions provided participants with the opportunity to interact on a personal level, sharing the stories of their Israel exeriences while identifying practical channels through which to maintain their involvement in areas they found important during their time in Israel. 
"The social action discussions led by Hazon really got some ideas flowing. It's nice to connect to like-minded people," said Elise Yafet of Milwaukee, WI, who participated in Masa Israel Teaching Fellows in Netanya for the 2012-2013 school year. 
 
Over Saturday and Sunday, the alumni received practical leadership training from PresenTense, working in regional groups to develop a vision for their Alumni Board and improve upon community mapping and networking skills. 
 
"Having this outlet to re-engage and discuss renewed my interest and openness to further exploration of opportunities," said Jordan Winick, who participated in Tikkun Olam in Tel Aviv - Jaffa in 2011-2012. "This weekend introduced me to ways to increase my participation and engagement when I go back to Toronto, including the possibility of starting an Alumni Board." 
 
This retreat was particularly inspiring for Masa Israel alumni from smaller, less-developed communities. "Coming from such a small Jewish community, the passion I had for Israel was fizzling out after returning. This retreat is recharging my batteries so I can go back and revitalize my community," remarked Jordan Goldschmidt of Kansas City, KS, who served as a Masa Israel Teaching Fellow in Rehovot for 2012-2013 school year.  "The great thing about Masa is that it allows someone from 'Nowheresville,' USA, to have just as much involvement in the Jewish community as someone from New York City." 
 
With the establishment of peer-led Masa Alumni Associations to act as a springboard for recent returnees, we are confident that we will see Masa alumni deepen their involvement with a variety of Jewish organizations, and continue on their journeys toward a lifetime of leadership in the Jewish community that were inspired by their time in Israel. 
 

JPost: The real hands on experience

JPost: The real hands on experience

JPost: The real hands on experience

August 8, 2013

By Rivkah Ginat
 
Tikkun Olam aims to give participants a glimpse of the country beyond Taglit-Birthright.
The organizers of Masa’s Tikkun Olam program certainly don’t sugarcoat the Israel experience. That was fine with participant Elliot Glassenberg, who says he struggled for years with his relationship with Israel.
 
“I knew that if I came here, I would need to find a community that I was comfortable with,” he says. “To be part of a solution and not a problem. I wouldn’t have been able to come on a program that had not let me embrace being critical of Israel.”
 
The program – one of over 200 that Masa Israel Journey offers – gives participants between the ages of 18 and 30 an opportunity to have a long-term, immersive experience in the country, living in the communities where they volunteer, with a consistent emphasis on gaining familiarity with the Jewish state – flaws and all.
 
Part of that is giving the participants an experience beyond that of Taglit-Birthright, in which approximately 80 percent of Tikkun Olam participants take part prior to their time at Masa.
 
“For many of our participants, Birthright serves as their first and only Israel experience [so far],” says Moshe Samuels, Tikkun Olam’s director. However, time constraints do not allow Birthright participants to spend time looking at the inherent intricacies of life here.
 
“This makes our program their first hands-on Israel experience, for which I give them a lot of credit,” says Samuels. “It’s not simple to have your first real Israel experience be through a program like ours.”
 
That observation is well-founded. The communities where the participants volunteer include mixed neighborhoods of Jews and Arabs, refugees, new immigrants and asylum-seekers, as well as lower socioeconomic areas. This allows the participants to live and work with individuals they would be unlikely to meet on a typical trip to Israel.
 
As Samuels puts it, “the people you volunteer with are the same people playing basketball outside your house.”
 
Tikkun Olam opened its doors in 2006, with locations in south Tel Aviv and Jaffa. It is a joint project of the BINA Center for Jewish Identity and Hebrew Culture, the Daniel Centers for Progressive Judaism, and the Union for Reform Judaism, with attendees from 11 countries.
 
The program is split into three tracks: coexistence, social action and an internship track. Next year, for the first time, Tikkun Olam will be partnering with the Rothberg International School at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, offering students in the nonprofit management and leadership master’s program field placements in Tel Aviv and Jaffa.
 
Among the NGOs with which the program offers volunteer and internship placements are the Peres Center for Peace, the Tel Aviv Rape Crisis Center, the African Refugees and Developmental Center, and Mesila.
 
Every week, participants in each track spend three days volunteering and two days studying. Studies focus on Jewish and Israeli culture, as well as taking an in-depth look at local current events. For the first three weeks, the program involves five hours a day of intensive Hebrew study, offering three or four levels of Hebrew based on need. Ulpan is a staple of the program and continues throughout the year, since language is viewed as essential to a successful integrative experience.
 
In addition, the program offers periodic weekend and day trips, which give participants an opportunity both to see the land and to interact with demographic groups they might not otherwise encounter.
 
“Many programs tend to shy away from some of Israel’s more complex issues,” says Samuels. “These are topics that Tikkun Olam specifically focuses on, for we feel that such discussion is necessary to achieve true identification with what is going on here.
 
That is what we try to show our participants – not the postcard, not a dream, but the reality. Then we tell them, ‘If you’re not happy with the reality you see, you can change it.’” This change had particular meaning for Glassenberg, who participated in the program in 2011-12. Having graduated with a BA from McGill University and an MA in Jewish education and literature from the Jewish Theological Seminary, he had a steady job in New York by the spring of 2011, but was unsure of where his life was heading. He decided to take a break both professionally and personally, and spend a year in Israel to do some significant volunteer work.
 
As an educator, he felt that he had “talked the talk, but not walked the walk” with regard to Jewish-Arab coexistence. So he picked the coexistence track in Jaffa and set himself a full schedule. He volunteered with four organizations, including two schools with Arab and Jewish student populations, a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community center in Tel Aviv, and Bikurim, an organization that supports independent, multicultural literature in Israel.
 
His year, he says, was “very full, but very fulfilling.”
 
Photo: courtsey
 

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