Jewish Leadership Starts with Jewish Values

<div class="masa-blog-title">Jewish Leadership Starts with Jewish Values </div>

By Nicole Hertzberg, Israel Teaching Fellow in Petach Tikva
Before the Masa Israel Leadership Summit, I felt that my resume did not indicate extensive Jewish leadership.  In high school I was involved in BBYO, but I never held any significant positions.  In college, my involvement with Jewish organizations consisted of attending Shabbat dinners at Hillel and attending a few “American Movement for Israel” meetings if I had the time.

Five common New Year’s resolutions and how to actually keep them this year

<div class="masa-blog-title">Five common New Year’s resolutions and how to actually keep them this year</div>

We’ve come to that time in the (Gregorian) calendar when we take a moment to stop, reflect on the previous 365 days, and make promises to ourselves to become better people in the year to come. Though these promises are made with the best of intentions, New Year’s resolutions are notoriously easy to break--research shows that just 8% of us actually succeed in achieving our New Year’s Resolutions. 
Want to finally join that elite 8% this year?

Baltimore Jewish Times: Israel. Bring It.

Baltimore Jewish Times: Israel. Bring It.

Baltimore Jewish Times: Israel. Bring It.

November 26, 2013

By Maayan Jaffe
Masa Israel connects area young adults with the Jewish state 
There are upward of 300 young men and women from the Greater Baltimore-Washington, D.C. corridor who are spending between five and 12 months this year in the State of Israel — volunteering, learning and living.
These people — young adults between the ages of 18 and 30 — are part of an international program called Masa Israel. Spearheaded in 2004 to increase the number of young Jews who come on long-term programs to Israel, Masa gives travelers the opportunity to touch and feel what life is like in Israel.
Take, for example, Devin Sutton, a 28-year-old graduate of University of Maryland, College Park. Sutton said she discovered Masa and its English Teaching Fellowship by chance. She was working as a kindergarten teacher in a Carroll County public school when she became frustrated by the administrative work. She switched to a job in customer service, only to become disillusioned by her choice; Sutton still wanted to teach. She also wanted to revisit Israel. She had only been to Israel once, on a Birthright trip.
“I had gone on Birthright through Oranim. I went back to the website and stumbled upon this program,” Sutton said. “I thought it would be one of the best ways to get back to teaching.”
With help from Masa grants — “I would not have been able to do it without help” — Sutton made the move. She said the year (she is living in Ramle and teaching underprivileged children in Lod) has achieved its goal.
“In Baltimore, I am not that connected. I did not go to Hebrew school, my family does not belong to a synagogue. Here, I have been able to find my Jewish identity and to teach. That is why I did this, I wanted a change, an opportunity to do something new and different … and to have the most impact,” said Sutton.
According to Mary Haar, director of Israel and Overseas for The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, 832 young adults have traveled from Baltimore on a Masa program since the city became involved in 2008. In 2013, approximately 160 people took part. The Associated, whose 2013 grant to Masa was $303,000, hopes to increase that number in 2014 by 60 people.
Explained Haar: “One component of the grant is to create and implement a strategic, multimedia marketing campaign to increase awareness of Masa.”
The campaign is scheduled to launch in January 2014.
In Washington, that awareness has already been building for the past several months. Bold ads for Masa can be seen on the Metro and in other key venues throughout the area. This campaign — and a full-time Masa Israel recruitment professional — is made possible by a generous, anonymous donor.
According to Avital Ingber, chief development officer for the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, this donor “wanted to help more local community members learn about Masa Israel. The donor’s child had a difficult time finding information to research a potential Masa Israel experience, and [the donor] wanted to help make this process easier for others.”
Jenn Rheuban is part of the Federation’s Young Leadership team.
According to Ingber, approximately 150 young adults from the Greater Washington area participated in Masa programs in 2013. The community is expecting an increase with the launch of, a new portal that features local Masa alumni and statistics about the positive impact of Masa Israel. Since its recent launch, site traffic is nearly doubling monthly.
In addition to young people from the area who are traveling to Israel through Masa, many young adults from across the country are volunteering in the communities’ partner cities, Ashkelon (Baltimore) and Beit Shemesh (Washington).
Penina Romanek, from Chicago, landed in Israel in October 2013 and is volunteering in Beit Shemesh through the Ethiopian National Project (ENP). She helps mentor the youth and assists in a Beit Shemesh school. She said while she feels good about giving back to the community, she feels she is gaining from the experience, as well.
“I have learned so much from the kids,” said Romanek. “They are teaching me the importance of the State of Israel. I can’t wait to go home and tell people what I see here.”
Similarly, Abby Mandel, of South Carolina, is working with ENP in the afternoons; she studies Hebrew in the mornings. She said she had no idea about the Ethiopian community before coming to Israel. She finds her work “inspiring.”
Said Mandel: “This feels very real.”
Photo: Maayan Jaffe

A Modern-Day Epic

<div class="masa-blog-title">A Modern-Day Epic</div>

By Alex Cohen, Career Israel participant and intern at BOMAH 
I left Los Angeles for Israel on August 15. Nothing about that Thursday morning seemed extraordinary. The sun shined down on the golden coast as it does every other day.

Becoming a Bat Yam Local (Or Attempting To)

<div class="masa-blog-title">Becoming a Bat Yam Local (Or Attempting To)</div>

Young Judaea Year Course participant Sam Reichstein writes about volunteering in Bat Yam.
On my Year Course journey, I’m amazed at how much my life, and myself, have changed so much in such a short amount of time.
I am an active Young Judean,  so going on Year Course has been engrained in my head ever since I was around eleven years old.

Op-ed: Spirit of unity will eventually draw young Jews back to Judaism

Op-ed: Spirit of unity will eventually draw young Jews back to Judaism

Op-ed: Spirit of unity will eventually draw young Jews back to Judaism

December 13, 2013

By Samantha Oppenheimer


According to a recent study by the ADL, anti-Semitism in America is the lowest it has ever been. Of course this is a good thing.
Of course we want to eradicate anti-Semitism, and racism and bigotry and sexism and homophobia and every other kind of crazy baseless hate. But the effect of this widespread acceptance of, and even appreciation of, Jews in American life has had a sizeable effect on Jewish Identity: 20 percent of American Jews do not identify as religious. In our bright, glittery world of Woody Allen and Drake and hummus and chutzpah, we are liberated of the terrible stigma that has always marked us as other. This should be beautiful, this should be glorious, this should be the stuff of utopian fantasy! And yet.
Here I am now with this terrible luxury, this magnificent burden, of choice. I have the ability to choose Judaism, or not to choose it. I am not branded, segregated, or shunned by the circumstances of my birth; I am amazingly, terrifyingly free. For many young American Jews, this means religion-lite, religion in small, calorie-free portions. A brisket sandwich, sure. A little Heineken and hamantaschen when Purim rolls around, no problem. A Friday night service? That’s a bit much, now, giving up some of my Friday night to participate in a tradition I have little connection to or interest in maintaining. Why should I, the wicked son, participate in something arcane and musty and confining? I have no incentive. And therein lies the tragedy.
At the 2013 Jewish Federations of North American General Assembly held last month in Israel, I met Jews from Poland, England, France and an array of other places. Places where, I was chagrined to learn, anti-Semitism is not the lowest it has ever been; rather, it is on the rise. Thus the young adults I met from those countries were fighting, still, for the freedom to be Jewish. Fighting! For what so many American Jews give up voluntarily, thoughtlessly, every one an Esau throwing his birthright at a pot of lentils. In an environment of openness and tolerance, where Jews are not held together by the threat of external forces, we must find a concrete way to retain Jewish identity and encourage its continuation.
The greatest accomplishment of the General Assembly of 2013 was the ingathering of so many cognizant, clever, and vibrant young Jews: Jews from all across North America as well as the world over, Jews with brilliant, enterprising minds and fresh ideas and well-thought-out opinions derived from formative experiences. We learned so much just from being in the same room with each other. Sharing our beliefs and passions and ideas enriched our sense of Jewishness and of belongingness, which really boils down to being the same thing. Judaism is a way of life built on community, on togetherness, on belonging to something created by individuals and yet greater than any individual. Together, we hold the future of our people in our young, unlined palms, and it is that spirit of unity, and the strength of that unity, which will eventually draw young, apathetic Jews back to Judaism.
Samantha Oppenheimer is the daughter of Carla and Scott Oppenheimer and a member of Congregation Beth Shalom. She is currently spending the year on Masa’s Israel Service Fellows program, teaching English at a rehabilitation village for troubled youth, planting and maintaining community gardens for older immigrant communities and various other volunteering placements. She was a member of the Masa Israel delegation to 2013 JFNA General Assembly in Jerusalem along with 50 other emerging Jewish leaders studying, interning and volunteering in Israel. 

Balkan Beat Box Concert in Chicago: A Masa Alumna's Review

<div class="masa-blog-title">Balkan Beat Box Concert in Chicago: A Masa Alumna's Review</div>

by Rachel Gutman, Masa Israel Corps alumna
It wasn't until I lived in Israel as a Masa Israel Journey participant that I first learned any Israeli music. I hadn't been exposed to it before, I'm sad to say, but this was something my friends were determined to change.

Thanksgivukkah Reflections: Modah Ani | I’m Alive!

What to Answer When an Israeli Asks, “Are you Jewish?” - A Guide (to the Perplexed)

<div class="masa-blog-title">What to Answer When an Israeli Asks, “Are you Jewish?” - A Guide (to the Perplexed)</div>

By Jasmine Granas, Tikkun Olam in Tel Aviv - Jaffa 2013-2014 participant
"Are you Jewish?" As soon as as someone asks me, the exasperation starts to build in my stomach. Sometimes I just want to scream, ‘I don’t know! Stop asking me!’ Am I the only person in the world who doesn't have an immediate answer?

Liran Avisar

Liran Avisar