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!
 

Photo Essay: Masa Israel North America Yom Kef

<div class="masa-blog-title">Photo Essay: Masa Israel North America Yom Kef</div>

 
Before winter hit, the Masa Israel North American team decided to have a Yom Kef (staff day). Being part of an Israeli organization, we did what any Israelis would do—a hiking trip! We woke up early and headed up to Bear Mountain.
 
After scaling the rocks, we stopped for a break.
 
Of course, no staff day would be complete without a snack and a call to our Israel office.
 
 
Halfway through the hike, are we having fun yet?
 
 
We made it to the top—what a view!
 
 
Now, if only we knew how to get back. Trail markers aren’t as good as they are in Israel…
 
 
Rescue arrives!
 
 
We had a great Yom Kef, spending time outside the office and enjoying the tail end of fall.
 
Now back to work getting more people on Israel programs!
 

Can I offer you some Mediterranean food?

<div class="masa-blog-title">Can I offer you some Mediterranean food?</div>

 
By Amy Schmidt, Young Judaea Year Course, Los Angeles, CA
 
Our last two culinary adventures have taken us around the Mediterranean Sea.  Earlier this month, our lesson was Italian-themed, and yes, we did learn to make not only spaghetti, but also gnocchi from scratch. I was partnered with my friend Ben on the tapenade while the others worked on the other sauces, including a fresh pesto and a tomato-garlic-basil sauce.
 

Study: Longer Experiences in Israel Linked to Sharply Increased Jewish Engagement, Leadership, and Marrying Jews

Study: Longer Experiences in Israel Linked to Sharply Increased Jewish Engagement, Leadership, and Marrying Jews

April 11, 2011

Masa study finds Israel fills gap for those with weaker Jewish background
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 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 Professor Steven M. Cohen, Director of the Berman Jewish Policy Archive at NYU Wagner and Research Professor of Jewish Social Policy at Hebrew Union College, and Dr. Ezra Kopelowitz, principal of Research Success.
 
The study found that the longer the time  participants spent in Israel and the more repeated the experiences, the greater the level of Jewish identification. The study surveyed over 13,000 Israel program participants, more than 11,000 of whom were Americans, and most of whom had been on short term experience or Masa Israel program from 2005 to 2010. It compared three groups who had been on short term programs: 1) those who been on Birthright but not returned to Israel; 2) those who returned to Israel for another short term program; and 3) those who had been on Birthright and then went on a Masa program. The study also examined two other groups who had been on long term programs only — 4) those non-Orthodox young adults who had been on Masa Israel programs without going on Birthright, and 5) 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 ten instances.
 
This pattern repeated itself for numerous other measures of Jewish engagement. These included Jewish organizational affiliation, taking leadership in Jewish life, interest in working professionally in the Jewish community, attachment to Israel, and, for a small but significant minority – making aliyah. In other words, the study found that, on these measures of Jewish engagement, Birthright coupled with Masa can, in effect, provide a viable alternative route to very high levels of Jewish engagement for young adults with only moderate or limited Jewish background.
 
When asked if they had given thought to pursuing a Jewish professional career, 45% of those who did Birthright followed by Masa said yes, nearly identical to the 46% of Orthodox Masa graduates who said the same. Among those who had been only on Birthright, 12% indicated giving a Jewish career consideration; the number doubled among Birthright graduates who returned for a short term to 26%; and almost doubled again, to 45%, for Birthright graduates who did Masa. These patterns are similar to the evidence found in the recent Avi Chai study of Jewish leaders which cites a long term Israel program as one of the most widespread experiences shared by young American Jewish leaders, along with day schools and Jewish camp participation.
 
Relating to Israel attachment, the Birthright/Masa cohort scored similarly to the Masa Orthodox cohort, as they did on other measures. When asked if they had recently gone to a lecture or class related to Israel, 72% of those who participated in Birthright/Masa said they had, similar to the 80% of Orthodox Masa graduates who also had. (When it came to reading Israeli newspapers the Birthright/Masa cohort actually outscored the Orthodox Masa group by 61% to 43%).
 
Significantly, 18% of Birthright/Masa graduates are currently now living in Israel, a slightly higher figure than the 17% of Orthodox Masa graduates now living in Israel.
 
“Over the years, a body of evidence has established the value of the short-term trip to Israel. This study is one of a small number that points to the significant added value of the long-term trip,” said Professor Cohen, who co-authored the study. “If ten days in Israel is very good for Jewish engagement—and it is—then ten months in Israel is even better. This finding points to the strong policy interest in promoting return travel to Israel among Birthright alumni, and the even stronger interest in advancing long term return travel, such as that sponsored by Masa Israel Journey.”
 
Last week, the Jewish Agency’s Board of Governors approved the operational part of its strategic plan which calls for the organization to focus its work around two main areas of activity—the first, a spiral of Israel experience for young adults. These would start with short term programs, like Birthright, through longer term programs like Masa, and include developing intermediate-length programs like summer school in Israel, with the overarching aim of strengthening Jewish identity and increasing attachment to Israel among today’s youth.
 
“The data from this study show that we are on the right track with our strategic plan,” said Dr. Misha Galperin, president and CEO of Jewish Agency International Development. “We are convinced—and the data from this reports affirm—that a continuum of Israel experiences for young adults correlates directly to them feeling, thinking and doing more things Jewish and Israel with each step they take along the Israel experience spiral.”

Magen David Adom: Let the adventure begin

<div class="masa-blog-title">Magen David Adom: Let the adventure begin</div>

By Melissa Rosenbaum, Young Judaea Year Course, New York
 
My alarm was set for 8:45 on Monday October 4; I was packed and ready to leave for 10 days of isolation at the Beit Yehudah Hostel in the outskirts of Jerusalem for the Magen David Adom training course.
 
The Medical Track was participating in this training course in order to become first responders for MDA (Magen David Adom), the Israeli Red Cross organization.
 

For Applicants

For Applicants

Here we are having fun masa.org
 
Masa Israel recognizes that spending five to 12 months interning, volunteering or studying abroad is a big commitment.  Before you select your program and apply for a Masa Israel grant, it’s important that you learn as much as you can about where you’re going and what to expect – both before you go and after you return. 
 
Talk to an alum to get a feel for how unique each person’s Israel experience can be. Learn more.
 

6 weekend adventures for fall in Israel

<div class="masa-blog-title">6 weekend adventures for fall in Israel</div>

 
Now that the chagim are over, you’ve finally started a regular schedule, whether it’s studying, interning, or volunteering (or a combination of those). But that doesn’t mean you can’t take advantage of your weekends and explore Israel!
 
Supplement your program’s siyyurim with your own—as any Israeli will tell you, there is no better way to get to know the country than to go out and explore it yourself.
 

Living the sweet life and feeling Israeli

<div class="masa-blog-title">Living the sweet life and feeling Israeli</div>

 
By Jessica Louise, Boston, Kibbutz Ulpan
 
I grew up always being the lone Jewish girl. I would be the one who always missed school in September for the High Holidays, who would always be asked to explain “my peoples’  special holiday” to the class, and of course, the one who was always asked “so really, why did you guys kill Jesus?”  
 
I suppose it didn’t help that I spent my high school years attending an all girls Catholic school south of Boston where my lack of Irish step dancing and red hair made me stand out like a sore thumb. It was always this wanting for a Jewish community that motivated me to someday find one; I just didn’t know where to search.
 
Additionally, freshman year had been a rough year for me and I felt myself slowly sinking. I didn’t know where I fit in at my university where everyone was super motivated and being a type-A personality wasn’t a nuisance, but a necessity. All I knew was that I needed to get away and slow life down before I would suddenly find myself cherishing my last few days of freedom before my senior year of university.
 
That is when I decided to go back to my roots and head for the Holy Land. Thus, in the first semester of my sophomore year at university, I did something so shocking and unbelievable to all my fellow students at my university- I decided to take a leave of absence and live on a kibbutz in Israel.
 
I found out about Masa Israel’s Kibbutz Ulpan experience on a late night Google search and made the impulsive decision to sign up. All I knew was that I would spend four hours a day learning Hebrew and another four doing menial labor.
 
Fast forward to four months later and I am peeling my sweaty shirt off of the bus seat as I was dropped off in what I described to as my mother as “the middle of nowhere, Israel.” I had somehow landed at Kibbutz Maag’an Michael in northern Israel with not a word of Hebrew to guide me, and a suitcase the size of an adolescent child.
 
I had no idea whatsoever what living on a kibbutz entailed and as the rest of the 130 ulpanists from over a 100 different countries drifted on to the kibbutz, I realized that this experience would be like none I had ever had in my life.
 
Life on the kibbutz reminded you how sweet life could be. The most stressful decisions of the day were whether to go to the pool or the beach. Our days alternated between four hours of work and four hours of learning Hebrew. I got lucky and was assigned to work in the laundry where I was privy to all the gossip of the kibbutz and I quickly learned that nothing is too private, and if you have a secret lover, someone will inevitably find out and spread it like wildfire.
 
It was here that I found out how the kibbutz used to offer condoms in a small bowl where the soldiers would come to pick up their laundry. They stopped doing this when one year the kids of the kibbutz decided it would be funny to poke holes into every one and nine months later the kibbutz experienced a baby boom of its own.
 
It would be impossible for me to pinpoint any one moment that truly defined my five month experience. As is the case with most significant life moments, it is sometimes the simplest ones that mean the most. For me, I truly realized how far I had come when our entire ulpan went to spend our last weekend together in the Bedouin camps in the Negev.
 
We had come so far together; we had laughed, cried, celebrated and mourned together and this last night would be a culmination of all those experiences. The next day we would literally be dispersing across the globe and hugging each other tearful goodbyes. That night was particularly memorable as news had just broken out about tensions on the border and some close friends had already been deployed to Gaza.
 
As we leaned on each other for support, we all felt an especially deep bond as we knew, finally, what it felt like to be Israeli. It meant taking the good with the bad, the painful with the sweet. It meant that we had to muster up our energy and spirit and light the Hanukah candles. So as we sat there, in the middle of the Negev desert, with nothing but the Hanukiah illuminating our faces, I never felt so much at peace.
 
Now, as I am sitting here typing this, I am cherishing my last few days of freedom before I begin my senior year of university. The path that led me here was not the most traditional, but it was the best path for me.
 
Deciding to take a semester off and fly across the world to spend five months living on a kibbutz turned out to be the best decision that I ever made. It shaped me into the person I am today and forged relationships that continue on to this day. Most importantly, those five months on the kibbutz planted a seed for me in Israel that has now grown into a beautiful tree.
 
I have returned to Israel twice since I left that kibbutz in December, first to spend a semester studying at Tel Aviv University and most recently, this summer to volunteer with African refugees in Tel Aviv.
 
Perhaps my most significant journey back to the Holy Land will be next January when I will descend off of the plane as an olah hadasha and continue my life that began three years ago on a kibbutz in the middle of nowhere, Israel.