The vibrant event, which saw an unprecedented 2,500-participant turnout in Ra’anana, marks Israel’s largest-ever single gathering of Jews from abroad volunteering and working in Israel.

Thousands of young Jewish volunteers and professionals from all around the world gathered at Ra’anana Park Auditorium in central Israel last week to celebrate the start of Masa Israel Journey’s 2019-20 programming year.

The vibrant event, which saw an unprecedented 2,500-participant-turnout, marks Israel’s largest-ever single gathering of Diaspora Jews volunteering and working in Israel.

The event on Monday began with a keynote address by Masa’s Acting CEO Ofer Gutman, then followed by a massive organized dance-off, in which Masa’s energetic staff and the thousands of participants rocked together to the sound of Israeli hits.

The event closed with a special performance by international sensation and 2018 Eurovision Song Contest winner Netta Barzilai, who mesmerized the crowd with an electrifying performance of hits such as “Basa Sababa” and her Eurovision winning hit-single “Toy”.

Attendees also participated in community-building workshops, consisting of games, an art wall, and a volunteer event: Sixty-seven bicycles were assembled and donated to Potchim Atid-a Jewish Agency initiative that supports children and their families living in Israel’s social and demographic periphery.

Masa staff and participants alongside singer Netta Barzilai (center) (Photo: Ran Biran)

Masa Chairman Ilan Cohen, who was also one of its co-founders as part of his job as Director General in the Prime Minister Office, explained about Masa’s grandiose vision.

“Masa was born from (former Prime Minister) Ariel Sharon’s and the Jewish Agency’s vision, wanting Jewish young people from all around the world to spend a significant time period in Israel, regardless of whether they go back to their countries or decide to stay”.

A young person who lives here for half a year or a year will not be the same as before. We want participants to live here – study, work or do an internship. A young person who has a job here, a bank account, friends, a person who travels the country or goes to an Ulpan to learn Hebrew – is someone of who truly knows Israel”.

Masa’s initial goal was to bring 20,000 Jewish youths to Israel every year. This year we have over 12,000 participants and growing. Our vision was to do something very significant, something that will change the relations between the Jewish world and Israel”.

Masa Chairman Ilan Cohen (Photo: Ran Biran)

Masa’s Acting CEO Ofer Gutman also shared his thoughts on the event and the program.

“Today we are celebrating 15 years of Masa and some of the main things we celebrate today are the sense of community and diversity. There are participants from over 60 different countries here tonight, each coming from their own community”.

When they see other Jewish young people, who come to Israel and are interested in Israel, they feel like they’re a part of something bigger and it empowers them”.

One of our main goals is to empower them as leaders. We want the participants to stay in Israel, as roughly 30% of them choose to do, but we also want Israel to stay a part of the Jewish identity of those who go back to their communities and give them tools to become the next generation of Jewish leaders in their communities”.

Masa acting CEO Ofer Gutman (Photo: Ran Biran)

We also spoke to some of the young participants and heard about their experiences in Israel and their respective programs.

Eighteen-years-old Stella from Los Angeles, California began a gap year program through Young Judea Year Course, a Zionist youth movement, in September and volunteers at a farm in Bat Yam that serves as a therapy center for kids with special needs.

“(Going on Masa) was sort of a last-minute decision. I wanted to go to college and do something further with my education, but I also wanted at some point to live in another country and experience life in another culture”.

At first, I thought about going to college first, but then I realized I couldn’t fully immerse myself into another culture if I have to worry about finding a job and paying rent, so the year between high school and college seemed like the perfect time for me, because I can focus on learning about a new place and the people here with an open and clear mind”.

I work at a farm in Bat Yam that serves as a therapy center for kids with special needs, kids with cognitive and emotional disabilities. The classes come 2-3 times a week and at least one class comes to the farm every day and they do therapy, have classes and work on the farm”.

We’ve been off for the holidays, so I wasn’t at the farm for a few weeks. Before we left, we planted many different plants with all the classes, such as lettuce, broccoli and many other vegetables”.

At first, it looked like dirt, as if nothing was there, but when we came back to the farm; everything was fully grown and green and beautiful. The kids were very excited. We did all the preparation, but they put the seeds in the ground, and they felt good, they felt like they accomplished something”.

The vegetable growing is a process in and on itself, but it also reflects the kids growing at the farm, learning and becoming better versions of themselves”.

Masa participants (Photo: Ran Biran)

Benji from South Africa, who is also on a gap year in Israel, told us about his voluntary service – where he interns at Jewlicious – a blog revolving around Israel and Judaism.

“I was born in an Orthodox Chabad family and Instead of going to a yeshiva, I wanted to learn about myself before proceeding into Torah studies”.

I’ve been having amazing fun and learning about Israel. I’ve also matured a lot. I’ve gone out of the Jewish bubble in South Africa – meeting new people all around the world, learning new perspectives”.

I intern for this place called Jewlicious with a man named David Abitbol. Although it’s a play on the words ‘Jew’ and ‘delicious’, it’s not a cooking site. It’s more of a Jewish activist page and we write blogs about current events in Israel that appeal to the youth”.

Now I’m ready to go to the next stage of my studies and take what I’ve learned from this program and Masa. Masa has offered me an opportunity to mingle with other people and make contacts all over the world. Connections, networking – It’s amazing. I think I am set for college now and life beyond that”.

Lexi from London is volunteering as an English teacher in Masa’s teacher’s track at Katzir Alef middle school in Rehovot.

“I work with grades 7 to 9 and I absolutely love it. I came on the Masa track following Birthright, which was last year, and it really spiked me.

On the last day of Birthright, I wrote a note to myself, saying how I know I belong in Israel and that if I came back, I’d be supported, I’ll be out to find friends and family – the Jewish family”.

After I went home, I decided that this was my time. I’m going to go back to Israel, find myself and become who I truly am meant to be. Each day is a new adventure, it’s a new blessing. I am feeling free and illuminated and I am so grateful for the opportunities that are presented to me on a daily basis”.

At school, I’m going to classes and assist the teacher. I look at the kids’ books, make sure they’re being graded and answer general questions in class. I have individual lessons every day, so I take groups out and speak with them individually”.

I feel very lucky that I work with children that already have an established English level and I’m just adding value to what they already know, which is amazing”.

Masa also announced the full-fledged launch of its MasaTech program. A first-of-its-kind, innovative initiative, MasaTech will bring more than 200 full-time high-tech professionals to Israel for unmatched work opportunities at the highest echelons of Israel’s high-tech sector.

“MasaTech will completely transform the way Israel’s robust high-tech industry conducts business, recruits talent, and engages with the global workforce,” said Gutman. “It was a thrill to take part in an event that celebrates both the launch of this game-changing initiative and also the energy and enthusiasm of the thousands of Masa fellows and alumni.”

Masa Israel Journey is the largest immersive, long-term educational experience for young adults ages 18-30. On its programs that range from two months to a year, Masa offers an authentic, unmediated and challenging journey into Israeli society, culture, politics and history – and acts as the largest pipeline for the Jewish Diaspora to access the finest Israeli businesses, social enterprises and academic institutions.

Since its 2004 founding by the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office and The Jewish Agency, Masa has served over 150,000 young people from more than 62 countries.

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