You know you’re in Bat Yam when…

<div class="masa-blog-title">You know you’re in Bat Yam when… </div>

 
By Elana Stern, Young Judaea Year Course, Livingston, NJ
 
Monday of this week was completely hectic. After turning in my Zionism paper and having a morning of classes, we all boarded buses for Jerusalem. Our first stop was the AACI (Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel) memorial service for fallen members of the IDF and victims of terror who were originally American or Canadian citizens.
 

8 crazy nights (or days) out for Hannukah

<div class="masa-blog-title">8 crazy nights (or days) out for Hannukah</div>

 
With eight whole days of celebration, you’re probably looking for ways to make the most out of the festival of lights—Israeli style!
 

Learning from a Jewish hero

<div class="masa-blog-title">Learning from a Jewish hero</div>

By Cara Frazin, Masa Israel Campus Intern, University of Illinois at Chicago
 
On September 15, 2010, I had the rare opportunity to meet Natan Sharansky before the annual Jewish Federation Annual Meeting Luncheon where he was the main speaker.
 
As an active participant with the Levine Hillel at the University of Illinois at Chicago and as the Masa Israel intern for my campus, I spend a lot of time educating people about Israel and promoting Israel advocacy. When I was invited by The Hillels o
 

Sharron Topper-Amitai: Bringing Greater Phoenix to Israel and Israel to Greater Phoenix

Sharron Topper-Amitai: Bringing Greater Phoenix to Israel and Israel to Greater Phoenix

April 12, 2011

Now on her second shlichut in Phoenix, Arizona, Sharron Topper-Amitai had her first taste of international Jewish communal work 10 years ago in Manchester, England.
“I was there for two years and I loved every minute of it,” she says. While there, she created Jewish and Israel-related programming for Jewish community members of all ages and started a youth from the northern Jewish communities of the UK.
 
“My husband and I were both born in Israel and it’s been very important for us to work in Jewish communities outside of Israel,” she says. “I love being able to learn about diverse Jewish identities, while sharing my own experiences as an Israeli.”
 
Following her return to Israel, Sharron worked as a JCC director in Israel before setting out on her second shlichut in Phoenix. There, she works to bring Israel into her community’s daily life through concerts, movies, lectures, discussions, and other cultural events.
 
One of Sharron’s main aims has been to introduce college students and young professionals to Israel through Birthright trips and Masa Israel programs, experiences that often follow each other.
 
“When they decide they want to go, we sit together and discuss their options. Then they go and I’m so excited because I know what Israel does to people,” she says.  “They return with sparkles in their eyes and tell me that it was ‘amazing.’ What I love is when they ask me how they can contribute to their local Jewish community and how they can return to Israel.”
 
To keep the momentum going from their Israel experiences, Sharron created an Israel alumni group where Phoenix-based Birthright and Masa Israel alumni meet to take part in Israel-related events. “The work isn’t finished when they enroll in their programs. It’s just as important to keep them connected to the Israel Center when they return,” says Sharron.
 
At a recent Arizona State University graduate fair, where Sharron represented Masa Israel academic programs, Sharron felt especially prideful about her work. “I’ve gone to many recruitment fairs, but I was shocked when I entered a huge hall filled with tons of representatives from universities throughout the United States,” says Sharron. “My first thought was, Israel al-hamapah, which literally means, Israel is on the map. It was incredibly exciting see that Israel had a presence among all those institutions. Lots of people stopped by to show their support and learn about graduate programs in Israel.”
 
Sharron is thankful for the opportunity to be a shlicha today. “We live in an era when Israel and Judaism are changing so quickly. Although it’s a challenge to influence what’s happening, it’s a privilege to be able to try,” says Sharron. “I believe that Masa Israel programs certainly make a huge difference.”
 
Sharron is being honored with Masa Israel’s “Outstanding Achievement in Recruitment” award the this year’s Kenes Shlichim, a conference for Israeli emissaries from across North America.

Exploring ideology and pluralism at the Masa Israel Keshet seminar

<div class="masa-blog-title">Exploring ideology and pluralism at the Masa Israel Keshet seminar</div>

 
By Flora Cantacuzino Levy and Zara Tobias, Netzer Olami
 
On Thursday the 28th of October, gap year participants from one American and six British Zionist youth movements gathered in Kiryat Moriah in Jerusalem for the first Keshet Seminar, which was a collaboration beween Masa Israel, Machon, British Youth Movements, and the UJIA and UJF. Coming from all over Israel, 150 participants met for the weekend in order to discuss and explore issues and opin
 

A Chanukah Tweet Up in Israel

Just your average week in the desert…

<div class="masa-blog-title">Just your average week in the desert…</div>

 
By Leora Lana Kaufman, Young Judaea Year Course, Rye, NY
 
This post would be way too long if I described everything in detail, so I’ll list a few highlights since Sukkot Break.
 
A few days after returning home from our break, nearly our entire section took a bus to the Dead Sea to attend a Matisyahu concert. The bus was noisy, packed, and short a few seats but we all made it there in one piece.
 

Extended Stays in Israel Create Leaders

Extended Stays in Israel Create Leaders

November 15, 2010

Participation in semester or year programs in Israel is directly linked to stronger Jewish affiliation and leadership — regardless of the Jewish background growing up, a study commissioned by Masa Israel Journey finds.
Masa Israel, a joint project of the Jewish Agency for Israel and the Israeli government which serves as an umbrella for 180 semester and year programs in Israel, commissioned the study to measure the efficacy of long term Israel programs for future Jewish involvement and affiliation.
 
The study was conducted by Prof.  Steven M. Cohen, director of the Berman Jewish Policy Archive at NYU Wagner and research professor of Jewish social  policy at the Hebrew Union College, and Dr. Ezra Kopelowitz, principal of Research Success.
 
The study found that the longer the program on which participants spent time in Israel and the more repeated the experiences, the greater the level of Jewish identification.
 
The study surveyed more than 13,000 Israel program participants, more than 11,000 of whom were Americans, and most of whom had been on either a short-term experience or a Masa program from 2005 to 2010, or both.
 
It compared three groups who had been on short-term programs:
 
  • those who been on Birthright and not returned to Israel
  • those who returned to Israel for another short term; and
  • those who had been on Birthright, and then went on a Masa Israel program.
 
The study also examined two other groups who had been on long term programs only: those non-Orthodox young adults who had been on Masa without going on Birthright, and those who were raised Orthodox and had been on Masa.
 
These two groups reported far stronger Jewish background and childhood Jewish education than did the three Birthright groups.
 
The study found that with each subsequent Israel experience, the level of Jewish engagement rose significantly.
 
For example, for the married respondents, among those who did Birthright and had not returned subsequently to Israel, 50% married a Jewish spouse; among those who did Birthright and returned to Israel subsequently for a short term, 70% married Jews; among those who did Birthright followed by Masa, as many as 91% were in-married.
 
In other words, short term program graduates who never returned to Israel reported intermarriage rates close to the national Jewish average for people their age.
 
In contrast, those who went on to participate in a Masa program were far more likely to marry Jewish, doing so in more than nine out of 10 instances.
 

From Costa Rica with Love

From Costa Rica with Love

From Costa Rica with Love

November 13, 2010

Avi Feingezicht’s journey from Costa Rica to Israel began with Masa Israel. After only eight months in Israel he is convinced that he already knows “what it is like to be an Israeli.”
His parents and brothers still live in Costa Rica (“all the members of my family are engineers there”). Avi visited Israel the first time in 2001. He joined his local Zionist Youth movement at the age of nine. It was possible that the seed of his wish to visit to Israel, and to realize a Zionist dream, was first planted during his youth movement years.
 
He says that the Jewish community in Costa Rica is a warm community that supports Israel. The community comprises around 3,000 Jews and even has its own museum based on the history of Jews in the tiny country. “Costa Rica is the country in which I was born. The Vice President is Jewish, but I know it’s not my country, and that is maybe the reason why I was drawn to here, to study Jewish culture, from close up, from the source.”
 
Avi visited Israel in 2007 to participate in the World Bible Quiz for Jewish Youth, which is organized by the Gadna youth corps of the IDF and the Jewish Agency. “I was at a camp for Bible students and I got to know lots of places in Israel.
 
In February, 2010, Avi returned to Israel as part of Masa Israel, for a period of 10 months.
 
During the first four and a half months of the program he learned about Israel and Zionism at the Machon L’Madrichei Chutz L’Aretz (Institute for Foreign Counselors), as well as learning about being a counselor and working in the movement’s leadership. He also took part in a trip to Poland and volunteered to do ecological work.
 
He subsequently spent two months on the Marva program (basic military training for people from abroad) and in the coming weeks, he and his colleagues will relocate to Haifa. There they will undertake intensive volunteer work for a three month period (including attending an ulpan in conjunction with the local municipality), work at schools and community centers, and with people with emotional disorders and at homes for senior citizens.
 
After the program he is planning on returning to Costa Rica for three months to work with the movement’s leadership there, after which he will go to the United States to study engineering. “I don’t know yet what will happen after I complete my five years of studies in the States, but it is clear to me that the experience I have had here in Israel will stay with me no matter what I do.”
 
He says that the Masa program has given him a lot of tools and, when he returns home, he intends to use them to explain Israel’s position in Costa Rica and also on the campus where he will study in the United States (Northwestern University).
 

10 kilometers… why not!?

<div class="masa-blog-title">10 kilometers… why not!?</div>

 
Hannah Kotzen, Young Judaea Year Course, Seattle, WA
 
Just recently was the Nike Tel Aviv Night Run, a 10K through the streets of Tel Aviv. IT WAS AMAZING! Let me preface by saying that I am not a runner whatsoever so the mere fact that I attempted to run the race was incredible. But what was even more incredible is that I finished!