Of the estimated 20,000 Jewish students from the United States who spend a part of their undergraduate studies on an organized program at a foreign university, only 10% choose to do so in Israel. Addressing this issue is one of Masa’s strategic goals, which is why Masa is facilitating and developing relationships between American and Israeli universities, with a view towards promoting study abroad programs in Israel
“Currently, many Jewish students choose to study in other countries because they perceive Israel as an unsafe country or a place for Orthodox Jews,” says Avi Rubel, director of Masa’s North American operations. “If we can change this perception and connect these students’ home institutions with Israeli universities, we will have a great opportunity to bring more and more students to Israel.”
Of course, this initiative is equally beneficial to North American universities, many of which are seeking to ‘internationalize’ through mutually beneficial collaborative programs. Of the universities that initially expressed an interest in exploring this possibility, the first to take concrete steps in conjunction with Masa was Rutgers University in New Jersey. Following preliminary discussions, a fact-finding delegation from the Rutger’s School of Social Work visited Israel’s Ben Gurion University in Beer Sheva
in April 2007.
The fact-finding visit yielded significant areas of mutual interest, highlighting opportunities for joint efforts between the two institutions. In addition to meeting with senior administrators and faculty at Ben Gurion University, the delegation also had the opportunity to visit Rahat, the largest Bedouin population center in Israel, to discuss Bedouin social issues and needs. They also met with officials from MASLAN, the Women’s Support Center of the Negev, and the National Health Services program (Kupat Holim Clalit), to discuss health needs of vulnerable residents of the Negev region.
As a result of this visit, Rutgers decided to launch a Social Work study program in Israel. Established for three years. it is anticipated that the program will expand from a two-week study tour for advanced undergraduate and graduate students to a full semester study abroad program.
In the meantime, Masa is building ties with the study-abroad offices of major universities across the United States, as well as working with several major business schools, to explore the potential for undergraduate and graduate level programs in Israel.
“Currently, we are working with faculty and administration members from the University of Maryland, Washington University in St. Louis, Georgetown University and other Business Schools,” says Rubel. One expects that these efforts will contribute significantly to the effort to make Israeli universities a plausible and popular option among American Jewish students.
By Aikin Ajayi (special supplement to Haaretz, May 2008)