Ofer Gutman
Ofer Gutman

This evening, we will all sit around the holiday table – Jews in Israel, and Jews in North and South America, Europe, Australia, Asia, and Africa. Ashkenazic Jews, Sephardic Jews, or a combination of the two, will sit together. Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, and members of other streams of Judaism will bring in the New Year in their own way. We’ll pray according to different traditions and sing a variety of religious tunes. Some of us will be in ancient or modern synagogues around the world, while others will gather as a family while the TV plays in the background. Everyone will bring their customs and holiday traditions, each in their own way. But at the end of the day,  we will all welcome and bless the New Year so that it brings everything we wish for as individuals and as a people. We will all sing songs full of hope and yearning for a better year than the previous one, including prayers for prosperity and many varied blessings.

חבורת צעירים יושבת על הדשא

Masa Israel Journey fellows will be sitting right there with us – young people who left a full life behind to come to Israel for an extended, significant period in their lives. Some came to teach English to Israeli children in the country’s periphery. Some came to intern in the start-up nation. Some came to receive medical training to become doctors in Israel, and others are volunteering in a variety of frameworks. Most of them will also be celebrating their first Rosh Hashanah in Israel, and for some – their first Rosh Hashanah ever. The excitement about the coming holiday is evident in every conversation we have with Masa fellows. They come from diverse backgrounds and cultures and speak different languages, but what they all share is that they are here, in Israel. They believe in it.

We enter the New Year in a very complicated situation, both for the State of Israel and the Jewish people as a whole. We’ve already known such situations in the past, but we also know that since its establishment, the State of Israel has been an anchor of stability for the Jewish people around the world. When its state is unclear, the Jewish people feel it, as though they are actually living here.

We at Masa continue to believe in Israel. We believe that a long-term experience in Israel is life-changing for young Jews worldwide. A study we conducted found that Masa alumni who spent a significant amount of time here have a greater chance of remaining within the Jewish world and staying connected to their Jewish identity. One of 5 will work in the Jewish world and at Jewish institutions, and two-thirds will remain active in community life years after the program ended. They will necessarily have a stronger connection to the State of Israel, and 70% of them will return to visit Israel in the future. These are just a few of the astonishing findings of the study.

Masa fellows are the new generation of leadership for Jewish communities around the world. Our fellows do not come here as tourists but to live as locals. They live in apartments in Israeli cities, take the bus and the train, shop at Israeli supermarkets, and are shaped by all these experiences. They repeatedly tell us that the experience of a full life in Israel remains with them for years afterward. We recently celebrated the arrival of the 200,000th participant in Masa, and they continue to come at a rate that makes me understand that they, too, believe in Israel.

Thousands of them will celebrate the coming holiday in Israel just like locals. Leaving their comfort zone, they will get to know new friends and become acquainted with a culture that seems foreign, but somehow also feels familiar. I know many of them feel this way, and in honor of the New Year, I hope that the State of Israel will continue to absorb and receive many more Masa participants. Their contribution to Israel is enormous, and Israel’s contribution to them is no less so. I hope that we as a country will know to initiate and move closer to the global Jewish community, learning that more unites us than divides us. I hope that we, as the Jewish people, remember to always invest in strengthening the connections between us, because our fate is intertwined – Jews in Israel need the Jewish communities around the world, and Jewish communities around the world need Israel. With Masa entering its 20th year of activity, I hope we will have many more years of work towards all these goals and, of course – a year of quiet, joy, and comfort, a truly sweet year!

Ofer Gutman is CEO of Masa Israel Journey

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