Home and Goodbyes…

<div class="masa-blog-title">Home and Goodbyes…</div>

By Samantha Sisisky, Yahel Social Change Program
I’m entering my last week in Gedera, and I’m not sure how to feel about it.  This weekend, we had our final group Shabbat weekend.  We ate a beautiful, delicious, watermelon-themed Shabbat dinner together, spent time at the beach and even received “awards” (does anyone else think I have a flair for the overdramatic?).

Building Bridges in Israel with a Lacrosse Stick

Building Bridges in Israel with a Lacrosse Stick

Building Bridges in Israel with a Lacrosse Stick

June 19, 2013

For centuries, members of Native American tribes played lacrosse as a means of forging common bonds. So it makes sense that a group of young American Jewish volunteers in Israel used the sport to reach out to Arab-Israeli teenagers, who last week played their first full game.
By Joshua Berkman
For centuries, members of Native American tribes played lacrosse with one another as a means of forging common bonds. So it makes sense that a group of young American Jewish volunteers in Israel used the sport this past year to reach out to 24 Arab-Israeli teenagers, who last week played their first full game.
The lacrosse match, held in the port city of Jaffa, was the culmination of the Lacrosse Arab-Jewish Cooperation Project.  The Project was created by Ian Cohen, a recent graduate of Monmouth University who is volunteering in Israel with Tikkun Olam, a Jewish service learning program  supported by The Jewish Agency for Israel and the Israeli government’s Masa Israel Journey partnership.
Masa enables more than 10,000 young Jews each year to spend up to 10 months volunteering, interning and taking academic courses in Israel as they learn about Jewish history, build friendships with Jews from around the world and experience Israeli culture on a daily basis. The idea for the lacrosse project came to Cohen after he joined Tel Aviv’s lacrosse team last September and sought to combine his passion for the sport with his volunteer focus on Jewish-Arab coexistence.
“The program is intended to dispel bigotry through real contact between Arabs and Jews,” Cohen said.
Through the Peres Center for Peace, Cohen connected with the Ajyal School in Jaffa, which expressed interest in working with him. He then recruited fellow Masa volunteers and members of Israel’s national lacrosse association (Israel Lacrosse) to help teach the sport to the Arab high-schoolers during weekly clinics.
“The Jewish volunteers developed a fantastic relationship with the kids,” Cohen shared. “Primarily, we are teachers and role models. The sport is secondary.”
The Arab teens are not the only ones who have benefited from Cohen’s passion for lacrosse. Last fall, as the rocket attacks from Gaza intensified, Cohen helped organized a lacrosse clinic in Netanya to provide kids from southern border towns a few days of fun and respite from the daily barrage of rocket fire.
“We set up in an open field near where some local kids were playing on a playground,” Cohen recalled. “Within minutes, some students came over and snatched up the sticks, trying to figure out how to use this foreign device. I showed some of them some basics but they were really just interested in throwing the ball and shooting on the net.
“While this was happening, students in the classroom got wind of what was going on outside, and began pressing their faces up to the windows and even hanging out the windows trying to get the kids with the sticks to throw the balls into the classroom.”
Lacrosse is the fastest growing sport in North America.  As long as young volunteers like Cohen bring their enthusiasm for the sport with them to Israel, it might soon be the “next big thing” in Israel—for Jews and Arabs.

Masa Israel Alumni North American Board Retreat

Masa Israel Alumni North American Board Retreat

August 9, 2013 (All day)  -  August 11, 2013 (All day)

  TBD, United States  - 

All Masa Alumni Board members are invited to attend the first annual Masa Alumni Board Retreat.
The retreat will focus on leadership development, programming techniques, and other skills alumni will need to engage fellow alumni in their area and run outstanding events! Details on Retreat location will be announced shortly. For more information or to start a Masa Alumni Board in your community, contact Dena Stein at denast@masaisrael.org.

3,000 Masa Israel Participants Gather for End-of-Year Conference

3,000 Masa Israel Participants Gather for End-of-Year Conference

3,000 Masa Israel Participants Gather for End-of-Year Conference

May 23, 2013

3,000 young Jews from around the world, participants in long-terms programs through Masa Israel Journey, attended the Masa Israel Journey Conference and End of 2012-2013 Academic Year Event at the Jerusalem International Convention Centre this past Monday.
JERUSALEM, ISRAEL: The Masa program participants were addressed by the Israeli Minister of the Economy, Naftali Bennett, and Chairman of Executive of The Jewish Agency for Israel, Natan Sharansky. They also participated in a panel discussion with the outstanding Israeli sportsmen and women Ariel "Arik" Ze'evi, Karen Leibowitz, and Andi Ram. 
Olympic medalist, judoka Arik Ze'evi said, “After a year in Israel, you will be the best ambassadors for our country.”
Naftali Bennett, Minister of the Economy said: “I salute those of you who are planning on making Aliyah. We need every one of you. For those of you that are planning to return home, I am certain that after a year here, the State of Israel will remain close to your hearts and that you will continue to visit us.”
Natan Sharansky held an open dialogue with the students during which he told them: “Masa participants discover their roots while visiting Israel and they discover that the Jewish people is one family. It is very important to us that you feel part of our family and that you represent us upon your return home.”
Masa Israel Journey is a joint project of Government of Israel and The Jewish Agency for Israel. Its aim is to strengthen the connection between young Jews around the world and the State of Israel.  Participants spend 5-10 months in Israel and can choose from a wide range of programs involving volunteer work, studying or professional internships.  Over 10,000 young Jews from 60 countries participate in Masa programs each year. Upon their return to their home countries, many graduates become involved with their local Jewish communities and become ambassadors for Israel.

Live it Like a Local: Rebecca Lee’s Lonely Planet Guide to Gedera, Israel

<div class="masa-blog-title">Live it Like a Local: Rebecca Lee’s Lonely Planet Guide to Gedera, Israel</div>

I’m not going to lie and say that I felt comfortable and at home in Gedera as soon as I arrived. My first few days were filled with worries about the new place and I began to wonder how I was going to spend nine and a half months here. As I explored this new and different little town, I began to discover places that made Gedera feel like my home.

Masa Israel Commemorates Israel's Fallen on Yom Hazikaron

Masa Israel Commemorates Israel's Fallen on Yom Hazikaron

April 15, 2013

Last night, Masa held a moving Yom HaZikaron ceremony for over 4,000 of its participants at the historic site of Latrun. Together, we honored Israel's fallen.
Speaking to 5,000 Masa Israel Journey participants at a Remembrance Day for Fallen Soldiers ceremony, Chairman of The Jewish Agency for Israel Natan Sharansky said, "While in the Soviet prison, … I thought about the three Israeli sportsmen who had visited Russia and had bravely met with us. They told us that Israel was a place of great joy."
"I later heard that one of the three was killed in the Yom Kippur war. But, mostly I thought about Yoni Netanyahu. The fact that the State of Israel was prepared to send its soldiers to rescue Jews all over the world gave me great strength. Yoni was 29 when he was killed and was 29 when I was arrested. Every time that I felt that I didn’t have the strength to keep resisting the authorities, I thought about Yoni Netanyahu and it gave me the strength to keep going."
Minister of Econonmy Naftali Bennett also addressed the participants:

Solidarity of Nations - Achvat Amim


Program Description

Achvat Amim, which means "solidarity of nations" in Hebrew, is a new 5 month volunteer experience in Jerusalem that directly engages with the reality of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, based on the core value of self-determination for all peoples. Achvat Amim is renewing the conversation on Jewish Peoplehood and Zionism for the 21st century. Together, we build a dynamic learning community in which we explore and shape Jewish culture and identity as individuals and as part of a greater whole, engage with the challenging realities in Israel and the West Bank, and build on the rich history and traditions of which we are a living part.


Achvat Amim is a framework for meaningful volunteer work with leading Israeli human rights organizations, including Rabbis for Human Rights, which do grassroots work with Israelis and Palestinians in and around Jerusalem. Achvat Amim focuses on developing practical skills in community development and education through intensive volunteer projects and engaging with social change and human rights movements. The program combines learning programs, outdoor experiences, seminars, and trips around the country with working on real projects with leading human rights organizations.


Join us in building a future rooted in the Jewish values of Tzedek (Justice), Shalom (Peace), and Achvat Amim (Solidarity of Nations).


Find out more: achvatamim.org



Ruchani Track 

A 5 month experience in Jerusalem for human rights and justice work informed by Torah learning, Jewish values, and practice. 


In addition to the core Achvat Amim program of volunteering and learning, this track provides an opportunity for halachically rooted Jewish living and spiritual practice, as well as rigorous and reflective Jewish learning, as a foundation upon which to engage with issues of the conflict, justice work and human rights. 


Find out more: achvatamim.org/ruchani



- Volunteer doing grassroots work with leading Israeli human rights organizations

- Live in Jerusalem, a city of diversity, conflict, and beauty

- Build Jewish community and shape a collective culture

- Develop leadership and community organizing skills by taking responsibility for Tikkun Olam on the ground Learn Hebrew and Arabic

- Make lifelong connections with Israelis, Palestinians and people from all over the world


For more information contact:


Daniel Roth, Program Director

Phone: +972 52 832 8595

Email: daniel@achvatamim.org

Website: www.achvatamim.org


My Typical Day With Saving the Stones

<div class="masa-blog-title">My Typical Day With Saving the Stones</div>

Officially, our days usually start around 8:30am, unless we have commitments further out of down which requires getting up earlier. However, wake-up is somewhere between 7 and 8 for us, when we hop (or stumble) out of bed, gather around the electric kettle, and assemble breakfast and lunch.
We have intensive Hebrew instruction, or Ulpan, twice a week at 8:30.

400 Emerging Jewish Leaders Gather in Jerusalem for Masa Israel Leadership Summit

400 Emerging Jewish Leaders Gather in Jerusalem for Masa Israel Leadership Summit

400 Emerging Jewish Leaders Gather in Jerusalem for Masa Israel Leadership Summit

March 12, 2013

This week, nearly 400 students, interns, volunteers and gap year participants from all over the world have gathered in Jerusalem for an intensive week of social activism and community organizing training at the Masa Israel Leadership Summit.
Now in its third year, the Masa Israel Leadership Summit provides training, tools and networking opportunities to young adults who are in Israel for five months to a year on gap year and post college programs and have demonstrated a commitment to leadership. By partnering with renowned educational organizations such as Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life and PresenTense, Masa Israel is providing cutting-edge programming for summit attendees, and valuable contacts for them when they return to campuses and Jewish communities in their home countries and pursue leadership roles.
Participants are exploring topics focusing entrepreneurship, social activism and community organizing strategy within the context of Israel and Jewish engagement, with the curriculum facilitated by staff and educators from Hillel, Teach for America, Moishe House, Sixth & I Synagogue and others.
A joint project of the Government of Israel and The Jewish Agency for Israel, Masa provides over 100 enrichment activities each year for participants and alumni that inspire these young adults to join the next generation of Jewish communal leaders. In a 2010 study by Dr. Steven M. Cohen and Dr. Ezra Kopelowitz that surveyed over 13,000 young Jewish adults, a full 45% of those who participated in both a short-term and long-term program in Israel were “seriously considering or have considered a Jewish career,” compared to merely 12% for those who completed only one short-term program in Israel.
Prior Masa Israel Leadership Summit delegates have gone on to become interns and professionals at Hillels, Jewish Federations and nonprofit organizations, and have actively continued developing their ideas for innovation in the Jewish community through PresenTense fellowships and the ROI Community.

Originally published in E-Jewish Philanthropy

Beyond Birthright: Jewish students return to Israel to do some good

Beyond Birthright: Jewish students return to Israel to do some good

Beyond Birthright: Jewish students return to Israel to do some good

March 7, 2013

Masada: check. Jerusalem’s old city: check. Tel Aviv’s nightlife: check. Bedouin tent: check. Yad Vashem Holocaust museum: check. What really is there left to do or see in Israel after a whirlwind, 10-day Birthright trip?
A lot, it turns out – starting with slowing down.
“It’s not that I did not love Birthright when I went on it,” says Samantha Sisisky, a 23-year-old from Richmond, Virginia who raced through, and “got into,” Israel during her senior year of college at the University of Virginia – thanks to the famous free trip that has brought some 320,000 young Jews to Israel in the last 13 years. “I totally drank the Kool-Aid and it was totally awesome.
“And then I was ready to return and see something more real.”
According to Avi Rubel, the North America director of Masa, the joint Jewish Agency and Israeli government umbrella organization that oversees some 200 study, volunteer, internship, adventure and other experiences for young Jewish adults in Israel – these sorts of sentiments are far from unique.
Among the fastest growing post-college programs to Israel today, says Rubel, is the genre of so-called Jewish service learning trips. This is where participants come to Israel, dig in their heels in one, usually less-than-glamorous-location, and try and do some good – while at the same time rooting their experience within the context of social change and Jewish values.
Sisisky, for example, is spending nine months in a low income, predominantly Ethiopian neighborhood in Gedera, a town of some 20,000 residents in the center of the country. She shares a small house with seven other young Americans, takes Hebrew classes – and sets out every day to be an assistant English teacher in the local school, help kids with homework, tutor adults at the community center, and hoe and weed in the community vegetable garden.
Group sessions and lectures tackle such questions as, “What constitutes community, Jewishly, and otherwise,” and “What is one’s role and responsibility to that community.”
“Boring? Sometimes,” she smiles. “But I would not trade it for the world.”
“Obviously we are not Ethiopian Israelis, but I feel we do become part of the community. We walk around the streets and are invited into our neighbors’ homes. We might work with one kid, and then their older brother, and then with their mom or dad. We have host families. We have a place here.” And, she adds, as if an afterthought, “We also are doing some good.”
“I have found that there are a lot of people who crave a different connection to Israel,” says Dana Talmi, who founded the organization– called Yahel, Israel Service Learning – that Sisisky’s program is part of. Done right, Talmi says, such service-learning experiences can both help repair the world – and ignite the Jewish souls of those who serve.
There have always been many volunteer programs in Israel, Talmi and Rubel will be the first to admit. But if in the past this community work was done as a component of a broader Israel “experience” program, without much coordination with grassroots groups and without being tied into Jewish values and philosophy – the landscape now is changing.
Today, a small but growing number of volunteering programs, as exemplified by Yahel, which Rubel calls Masa’s model “boutique” service learning experience, or BINA, a popular program run by the Jewish Center for Identity and Hebrew Culture, that places North Americans in struggling Tel Aviv neighbors, where many of the African asylum seekers live, are becoming more serious – and finding a successful balance between community impact and participants’ personal development.
Talmi, an Israeli who grew up bouncing between Israel and Europe with her musician parents, returned to live in Israel five years ago, after six years in the United States. There, besides getting a degree in social work from UNC-Chapel Hill, Talmi also worked for the American Jewish World Service, a Jewish values-based international development organization. She spent several years with AJWS taking young Jews on service learning trips to Honduras – and later served as the program officer in charge of all group leading.
Back in Zichron Ya’akov with her Venezuelan-born husband and two young children, with a dream of creating a high level Israel-focused Jewish service learning program, Talmi began reaching out to local social action groups to find partners, and then, reaching out in the other direction, to Masa and organizations like New York City-based Repair the World to form alliances and get funding. The Yahel nine-month program, like almost all of Masa's longer programs, is heavily subsidized, with participants paying in the range of just $1000 for the entire program.
“What I didn’t want to do is just take kids down to Netivot and have them paint murals on walls,” says Talmi. Working with grass roots organizations, such as, in the case of Gedera, an outfit called Friends by Nature, gave Talmi a sense of what volunteer work was needed, and where these North American youngsters, the majority of whom do not speak Hebrew and do not have much if any professional training, could do actual good.
Yahel participant Benson Ansell, 26, from Arlington, Virginia, admits he is not sure who is getting more out of the program – him or the community. If anything, he would bet it’s him. “I had never felt super connected to being Jewish, even though part of me was always interested,” says Benson, who grew up with a Jewish father and a Christian mother, and spent a year teaching in Philadelphia as part of the AmeriCorps program City Year, and a stint studying abroad in Senegal before considering a trip to Israel.
“But after being here, that has changed,” says Ansell. “I have been amazed by is the diversity of the Jewish people: the history and where they come from. I became aware of minorities and marginalized communities here and it has been a real eye opener.”
Talmi dismisses criticism that programs such as Yahel or BINA expose foreigners to the “dirty laundry” of the country, and a Jewish Agency/Repair the World report released recently shows that, in fact, such exposure to Israel’s more difficult social problems engages, rather than turns off, young people. “There is no need to present a rose-colored version of Israel,” says Dyonna Ginsburg, the Jewish Agency’s director of Jewish service learning. “In fact, the more these young men and women learn about Israel – warts and all – the stronger their connection is to the country, their heritage and their Judaism.”
What’s next for the Gedera gang? “Aliyah is not a goal for us,” says Talmi. “If they stay, great. But really, what we want is for them for have a nuanced relationship with Israel.”
“I am confused now,” admits Jessica Braverman, another Yahel participant. The 26 year old from Atlanta, Georgia with a master’s degree in social work and non-profit management from the University of Georgia, did Birthright in 2009, and felt she had put the requisite “check” in the Israel box.
“I thought I would not come back afterwards. I felt like I had “done it” and was going to move on to bigger and better places,” she says. But, looking for an opportunity to go abroad after her masters, and with one foot out to door to a teaching program in Tbilisi, Georgia, she found herself browsing the MASA website.
“The decision to come here has really changed me,” she says. “I have learned how incredibly complex Israeli society is, and I have also grown a lot Jewishly this year. And now, I flip flop between thinking I will go home after these nine months and move on with my life, and thinking I might like to stay, move to Jerusalem and study some more. I am confused.”
“Confusing them,” concludes Talmi with a laugh. “That is our goal.”
This article was written by Danna Harman and originally published in the March 6th, 2013 in Haaretz. You can find the original publication here.