“It helped me grow as a person, gain in-depth knowledge about Israel, and offered me an opportunity to experience life here first-hand.”
Erica has always been an active member in the Jewish community in LA, whether in the synagogue or in a variety of youth movements. However, upon entering the college campus atmosphere, she was dismayed to find her Jewish identity used against her to vilify her passion for Israel. “Many said that I only support Israel because I’m Jewish. They claimed that I never lived there nor have been to or seen the areas under debate, like the West Bank or the security fence.”
To this aspiring individual, disqualification was not a reasonable argument. During her junior year, she came to Israel with Hasbara Fellowships to not only learn more about Israel but to also experience the conflict first hand. Now, following her senior year of college, she has come to Jerusalem for the Masa IGF program, which is a one year, elite post-college program, for individuals ages 22 to 30, offering real work experience in government ministries
, educational seminars with top politicians, policy-makers and opinion-formers, and trips around the country.
“With a country that I constantly have to defend, being a tourist here was not enough for me.” Erica said. The Masa IGF program has given her the tools and experiences that she has been searching for. "Now, I am no longer a tourist. I live here, work here, and really feel connected to this country."
While interning at the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Erica has been treated as a part of the team. Her mentor has regarded her as any of the other staff, granting her some of the rarest opportunities she explained. The Masa IGF Program Coordinator said, “It is a risky thing bringing the brightest and best into the Israeli government.” With shining participants, like Erica, whose commitment and passion strengthens year by year, it is a risky business indeed.
“I’ve always had an attachment to Israel but it has grown even stronger over this past year,” stated Francine Bendat. “The experience has been eye opening” she said while discussing her Masa IGF internship at the Israeli Ministry of Environmental Protection. Working in the International Affairs division has provided her with the opportunity to attend all the high-profile meetings and work with a variety of international organizations.
“In all the projects, I am given the same responsibilities as the rest of the office.” It is not the same reality in the US. An initiative of the Menachem Begin Heritage Center, Masa IGF offers internships in the most-desired sectors of the government. The nature of the work and the staff make the experience a rare gift for a recent graduate. Moreover, the diversity of participants in the program really contributes to the social experience of the group. “I have a network of friends now from all over the world.” Francine exclaimed.
Her experience in the program has motivated her upon her return home to seek out a Jewish community in which she can be involved. “I have always been involved in the Jewish community while growing up, especially in college where I was on the executive board of Hillel and the president of Students for Israel. After graduating, the easily available environment for such activity disappeared.
Now, though, it has become very important for me to work for Israel advocacy and be an active part of Jewish community life when I come back home.” While working in television advertising after college, she examined her resume and found that “I must have been involved in all these Jewish and Israel related activities for a reason.” Soon, thereafter, she was accepted to Masa IGF.
Individuals, like Erica and Francine, have had an exceptional educational, practical and fun experience in Israel because of Masa IGF. The program has contributed to their attachment to the country while providing them with rare internship opportunities. Many have said that such opportunities are only dreamt of in the US. Masa, on the other hand, made them a practical reality in Israel.
Masa IGF currently has 24 students, with an alumni network of 71. The leaders of tomorrow are now interning with Israel’s government ministries annually. The change that has been so longed for is currently in the making.
Originally published by the Jewish Agency for Israel