The daylong Made in Israel Conference opened with a discussion session, during which gap year program participants were seated by the regions in which their future colleges and universities are located. Moderators rotated through the cavernous hall as conversations on the impact of the gap year experience
and the ways in which that experience can be leveraged and enhanced on campus filled the room.
One participant noted that he had learned a great deal about Israel’s Bedouin community while living in the Negev Desert, while another discussed how his cultural and religious identities are intertwined, and a third shared a novel approach to promoting Israel through its scenic landscapes. Participants made plans to attend sporting events and Hillel Shabbat dinners together as they got to know their future schoolmates.
Following the session, participants were ushered into a large hall containing booths representing various organizations that offer programs and resources for students on U.S. and Canadian college campuses. Munching on slices of pizza and pitas stuffed with falafel, the future college students milled about the room, collecting pamphlets, signing up for mailing lists, and learning about opportunities to further deepen their connections to Jewish life and to Israel.
Hillel representatives described the sorts of Jewish communities awaiting the students on their respective campuses, while representatives from Alpha Epsilon Pi discussed Jewish Greek life and AIPAC representatives talked about political advocacy on behalf of the U.S.-Israel relationship. A parallel opportunities fair with programs for Russian-speaking participants took place in an adjacent room.
Participants reconvened in the convention center’s massive auditorium, where Masa CEO Ayelet Shilo-Tamir greeted them and explained that their experience in Israel should be viewed as the beginning of their relationship with the country. “What happened here is just a step in your journey,” she said. “We would like to continue this journey with you.”
The conference continued with a discussion on countering the deleglitimization of Israel, moderated by prominent journalist and Israel Channel 10 news anchor Oshrat Kotler-Bengal. Participating in the discussion were Ambassador Dan Gillerman, former Permanent Representative of Israel to the United Nations, and Ambassador Alon Pinkas, former Consul General of Israel in New York. The two diplomats, who are both considered prominent spokespeople for Israel and who regularly appear on international television networks in the country’s defense, shared their experiences representing Israel in various fora and discussed how Masa participants can advocate for Israel when abroad.
Gillerman described the UN as “a citadel of hypocrisy and double standards,” quoting former Israeli foreign minister Abba Eban, who once quipped, “If Algeria introduced a resolution declaring that the earth was flat and that Israel had flattened it, it would pass by a vote of 164 to 13 with 26 abstentions.” Pinkas explained that it is difficult to represent Israel when its own government “speaks in multiple voices,” each of which seeks to be heard. “We need 400 people like this,” Pinkas said, gesturing to the audience of Masa participants, “not 400 ministers.”
Following a television segment featuring Kotler-Bengal, in which she showed the differences between the tactics employed by advocates for Israel and those utilized by Palestinian supporters at New York’s Columbia University, the discussants engaged the audience in a Q&A session, suggesting that the participants could serve as Israel’s finest representatives in their home communities and encouraging them to “take this experience back, share it, and multiply its effect” and to “get other people to join this Masa, this journey.”
As the day went on, participants enjoyed a panel on Israeli technological innovation, as well remarks from Israel’s Minister of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Yuli Edelstein and Jewish Agency Deputy Chairman Rany Trainin.
The evening concluded with a dramatic performance by the singers, dancers, musicians, and actors of the world-renowned Israeli group Mayumana—billed as the country’s “number one cultural export”—which drew a loud and protracted standing ovation from the crowd.