Turning all you once knew upside down

<div class="masa-blog-title">Turning all you once knew upside down</div>

 
From translation blunders to coffee confusion, Hebrew Union College student Jen Gubitz describes her first two months in Israel and the comical side of foreignness.
 
After being here for two months, I’ve concluded that my life in Israel is most easily compared to the only coffee beverage I can successfully order.
 

Inside Look into Masa Israel through Executive Director Ezrachi

<div class="masa-blog-title">Inside Look into Masa Israel through Executive Director Ezrachi </div>

 
By Erin Kopelow
 
"Israel, is about to celebrate its 60th birthday," Masa Executive Director Dr. Elan Ezrachi says with an air of determination, "and the Jewish world of today is dramatically different than what it was sixty years ago."
 
The level of growth Israel has experienced over these past sixty years has significantly changed the face of this country.
 

Masa Sets Multi-Year Commitment from Israeli Prime Minister

Masa Sets Multi-Year Commitment from Israeli Prime Minister

March 22, 2007

Today the Israeli government announced that it is making a multi-year commitment to support the Masa project, so that it can continue to bring thousands of young Jews to Israel for a five to 10 months to participate in volunteer and study programs.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert convened the meeting in which he stressed the critical importance of the project and pledged to support and continue the program whose goal is to bring more than 20,000 participants a year to Israel on long-term programs.
 
Since its start two years ago, there has been a 100% increase in the number of long-term Israel programs offering a wider range of options for young Jews from the Diaspora.  As a result, the number of young Jews that come to participate in these programs has more than doubled to 8,000.
 
The Prime Minister’s statement is a vote of confidence in the project and its ideals. 
 
Among the plans discussed for Masa over the next two years were increasing the number of participants to 20,000 a year, an emphasis on programming in the areas of the Negev and the Galilee, a fusion of the Masa programs with every facet of Israeli society, and the formation of a bond between Israelis and Jewish communities all over the world.
 
Executive Director of Masa Elan Ezrachi highlighted the project's values to the Israeli society: each participant of Masa contributes a minimum of 20 hours of community service. In total, the participants give about 200,000 days of volunteering to Israel, in a variety of social and cultural environments.  Moreover, each participant returns to his or her home community stronger, more committed and better equipped to succeed.  
 
Masa was created and is funded by the Prime Minister’s Office and the Jewish Agency. The budget for this year’s project was $36 million; half of which was allocated by the government of Israel and the other half by the Jewish Agency and private donors. This year, approximately $22 Million is being spent on scholarships and grants for 5,000 participants. In 2007-2008, Masa expects to bring 9,500 participants, the highest number ever, with a budget of $48 million.

2,000 Masa Participants Take a Train Ride to Israel's North

2,000 Masa Participants Take a Train Ride to Israel's North

September 19, 2006

This year, 8,000 participants from all over the world will be spending a semester to a year in Israel in more than 150 Masa-affiliated programs -- the largest number of participants ever.
On October 26th, over 2,000 of these participants currently in Israel will celebrate Masa's third year by taking the train from Jerusalem to the port city of Akko (Acre) in northern Israel. 
 
The participants will travel by train, specially chartered by Masa for this celebration trip, accompanied by live entertainment – including, music, dance and performances - and experienced guides who will be on hand to explain the significant sites along the route.  Also on the train will be a display devoted to the recent war with Lebanon and its impact on Israel's northern communities.  Traveling with the participants will be soldiers who fought in the war who will answer questions and share their experiences wih the participants. 
 
Participants will also be receiving Masa welcome kits, including discount coupons, tour map and lexicon, dictionary and a Masa ID card entitling them to additional discounts and entry to special Masa event, all in a special Masa backpack. 
 
Upon arriving in Akko, they will join with other Masa participants making their way to the port city by bus.  Together, they will make their way on foot to Akko's Old City.  They will learn about its history, visit archeological landmarks, and 'lend a hand' by volunteering in a number of projects to help revitalize parts of the Old City that were damaged during the war in Lebanon.  The day's activities will conclude in the evening with a celebration on the walls of the Old City. 

Israel Hoping Long-Term Stays by Diaspora Youth will Pay Dividends

Israel Hoping Long-Term Stays by Diaspora Youth will Pay Dividends

Israel Hoping Long-Term Stays by Diaspora Youth will Pay Dividends

August 24, 2005

TEL AVIV (JTA) — Ben Russell helped deliver two babies, taught English to Druse children, worked with Ethiopian immigrants, led coexistence workshops with Arab students and met Prime Minister Ariel Sharon during his “year off” in Israel before college.
"I always felt like I knew bits of Israel, but not well," said Russell, who grew up in London and will study at Cambridge University in the fall."I wanted to spend some real time here and get to know the country."
 
Russell, 19, is one of some 5,600 young Jews from around the world who came to Israel this year for long-term study or volunteer programs. The sense of connection and adventure these extended visits create are seen as a safeguard against climbing intermarriage rates and a drop in Jewish community involvement among young people.
 
Israeli officials believe that longer stays in the country are the best way to cement Jewish identity and commitment to Israel — including an interest in aliyah — among the next generation of Jews. They don’t merely trust that such programs are the way to go; they’re banking on them.
 
On Sunday, the Israeli government and the Jewish Agency for Israel launched an ambitious program called Masa, or Israel Journey, in which they plan eventually to invest $100 million a year to help subsidize semester and yearlong programs for Diaspora youth.
 
Program fees paid by participants are expected to reach another $100 million a year.
 
The goal is to bring 20,000 young Diaspora Jews to Israel each year on long-term visits.
 
Allan Hoffman, director general of JAFI’s Education Department, said the goal of having one in five young Jews from the Diaspora in Israel for a long-term program will have a "transformative impact on Jewish life."
 
"I believe this is one of the few avenues open to us to really build a next generation of Jewish people into the future,"he said.
 
Hoffman said coming to Israel for an extended stay takes the experience to a different level than coming as a tourist.
 
"You can have a wonderful experience as a tourist, but you’re always an outsider looking in,"he said.
 
The gap can be narrowed, he said, "if we can create a generation of young Jews who feel like insiders in their experience with Israel and Israelis."
 
Participants, aged 18-26, have dozens of programs to choose from, ranging from studying at Israeli universities, yeshivas and music conservatories to volunteering on kibbutzim, working with immigrants and underprivileged youths or doing professional internships.
 
During the 2004-2005 school year, Masa’s pilot year, $10 million was invested in the program.
 
On Sunday night, more than 2,000 students who had spent all or part of the year in Israel gathered at an amphitheater at Beit Guvrin National Park south of Jerusalem to celebrate the official launch of Masa with music, dancing and speeches.
 
Sharon met with the young people and encouraged them to continue their connection to Israel, either by making aliyah or becoming community leaders and supporters of Israel back home.
 
“Today, we are taking a giant step toward the time when living in Israel for a period of time will be an inseparable part of the life of every Jewish youngster around the world, just as the Land of Israel is an inseparable part of our identities as Jews,” Sharon said.
 
The program marks the first time the government has allocated such a large sum of money specifically for the Diaspora, Cabinet secretary Yisrael Maimon said.
 
"There is a lot of criticism of the government about the decision at a time when there is poverty and budget cuts,"Maimon said.
 
But citing the rise in intermarriage and the decrease of young Diaspora Jews remaining active in their communities, Maimon said the government decided it was time to act.
 
Masa is the brainchild of Sallai Meridor, the outgoing head of JAFI. Meridor made an emotional speech to the Masa participants.
 
"You, the Jewish youth, you are the future of the Jewish nation. We all have just one country. We will safeguard it forever. The government of Israel and the Jewish Agency are with you in safeguarding the future of the Jewish nation. We will bring together tens of thousands of Jewish youth to Israel," he said.
 
The crowd applauded wildly with Meridor’s final words, "Am Yisrael Chai."
 
Researchers have found that Jews who spend extended stays in Israel when they are young have a higher chance of either making aliyah or becoming active, committed members of their communities back home.
 
According to a study of participants in the Young Judaea Year Course — a program for North American high school graduates who spend a year in Israel before going to college — 91 percent go on to marry Jews.
 
A study of another post-high school program, Machon LeMadrechai Chutz LeAretz — which Russell was on this year — found that 40 percent of graduates have made aliyah.
 
Elan Ezrachi, director of Masa, described birthright israel — the free, 10-day trips to Israel for Diaspora youth — as an "appetizer" for Masa. On Birthright, young Jews often get their first taste of Israel, but longer experiences are needed to cement the connection to the country and their Jewish identities, Ezrachi said.
 
Russell said he was amazed by the range of experiences he had in Israel.
 
He changed locations about every six weeks. Among the places he stayed was the city of Sefad in the Galilee. It was there that he volunteered to teach English to Druse children as part of the United Jewish Israel Appeal’s work in the region. The UJIA, Britain’s largest Jewish philanthropy, invests in Jewish education in the United Kingdom and Israel.
 
Like Russell, Robin Zebrowitz, 23, of Atlanta also had a busy year — teaching swimming and English, hauling plants in an organic greenhouse and living in a center for new immigrants from Ethiopia, France, South Africa and Yemen.
 
"It’s an absolutely phenomenal, invaluable experience," Zebrowitz said of her year in Israel. "The things I have done here, the friends I have made, the connections are something you can only do if you are here for longer."

Jewish Agency investing millions in long-term Israel study programs

Jewish Agency investing millions in long-term Israel study programs

June 18, 2005

NEW YORK, June 18 (JTA) — There’s a new plan to bring Diaspora youth to the Jewish state.
In fact, the Jewish Agency for Israel is launching its largest-ever educational project to infuse young Jews with the spirit of Zionism. 
 
In the coming academic year, the Israeli government is slated to give $10 million to groups that bring Jewish 18- to 26-year olds from around the world to Israel on educational programs that last at least five months.
 
With each passing year, the Israeli government will increase its contribution by $10 million a year, with a matching grant from sources assembled by the Jewish Agency. The program will level off indefinitely at $50 million a year from both Israel and the Jewish Agency.
 
While subsidies to students will be granted on the basis of need, the idea is to halve the costs of Israel study programs to encourage 18- to 26- year-old Jews to study in Israel.
 
While the Jewish Agency relies, in large measure, on funding from the North American Jewish federation system, it plans to diversify its funding sources for this project.
 
The agency plans to come up with its portion through foundations and philanthropists, its own budget and organizations that run Israel programs, said Alan Hoffmann, director general of the agency’s department for Jewish Zionist education.
 
Participants must enroll in education programs approved by the agency, and also volunteer in community service programs.
 
Eligible programs would include universities, kibbutz and Hebrew study programs, Zionist yeshivas, youth movements and programs affiliated with the religious streams.
 
Funds will go to the organizations or, in the case of universities, to the students directly, said Michael Jankelowitz, the Jewish Agency’s spokesman.
 
Ultimately, the agency hopes to ground the youths’ identities in Zionism and encourage them to make an investment in Israel.
 
“It’s something that is going to change the culture, the tradition of youngsters” all over the world, said Amos Hermon, chair of the agency’s education committee.
 
“A meaningful year of Israel— this is the most effective factor as far as encouraging aliyah” and participation in Jewish communal life, Hermon told JTA. “The best lobbyists and the best advocates of the State of Israel’s interests are those graduates that spent a year in Israel.”
 
On June 16, the Knesset Finance Committee approved an initial $2.5 million for the Jewish Agency’s “long-term program initiative,” slated to begin this fall.
 
The agency’s Board of Governors is expected to approve the plan at its meetings in Jerusalem this week.
 
In the meantime, the Jewish Agency has begun presenting the program to local federations and Jewish community centers across North America. It already has allocated $400,000 for marketing to groups like Zionist youth groups and yeshivas that run Israel programs, Hermon said.
 
In the pilot 2004-2005 year, funds will go to groups for marketing, recruitment and subsidies.
 
“Depending on how the money is going to be used, I think it will allow us to provide scholarships,” said Neil Weidberg, director of Israel programs for Hadassah’s Young Judaea organization.
 
Ultimately, the program’s impact will “add legitimacy to the idea of taking a year off” in Israel, Weidberg said. “It will be more accepted within the Jewish community.”
 
Weidberg expressed concern about whether the American groups really will get enough support to make the program a reality, but he lauded the concept.
 
Stephen Hoffman, president and CEO of United Jewish Communities, the umbrella group for the North American Jewish federation system, thinks an energetic response from youth might drive federation support.
 
“I think it’s one of those situations of ‘If we build it, I hope they come.’ And if they come, I hope the federations will do their share to make it possible,” he said.
 
“It has the potential to become a very important opportunity in our ambition to forge tighter connections between the Jews of the Diaspora and the people of Israel, and also I think it could become a very important tool in the development of young leadership for the future of the Jewish community of the Diaspora,” Hoffman said.
 
There currently are 4,000 non-Israeli Jews studying in Israel in all types of programs, mostly in yeshivas. The Jewish Agency wants to quintuple that number by 2008, Hermon said.
 
The official launch is slated to take place at the Prime Minister’s Office in a few weeks, Jankelowitz said.

The Israeli Cabinet Approves the Masa Program

The Israeli Cabinet Approves the Masa Program

December 20, 2004

The Israeli Cabinet yesterday approved the Masa program, a revolutionary initiative, unprecedented in scope to bring 1 out of every 5 young Jews from around the world to a program in Israel of a semester to a year in duration.
Sunday morning, the government unanimously approved the Masa project (meaning "journey") which aims to bring 20,000 young Jews from around the world each year for a semester to year-long program of studying and volunteering in Israel. Masa is a joint project of the Jewish Agency for Israel and the Government of Israel. The project will be financed from three sources: the Jewish Agency (through donations to the United Jewish Communities (in the US) and Keren Hayesod), the Government of Israel and the families of program participants.
 
The innovative Masa project is unprecedented in its scope; this is the first time that the Government of Israel is making a serious and long-term investment in saving the next generation of Jews in the world. The project is expected to make a substantial contribution to the Israeli economya return of close to three times the government investment—altogether hundreds of millions of shekels a year.
 
Masa was initiated by the Jewish Agency in response to the negative demographic trends in Jewish communitiesa weakening connection with Israel and a rise in intermarriage -- and an understanding on the part of Jewish communities that connecting the young generation to Israel will seriously contribute to strengthening Jewish identity.
 
According to Jewish Agency data, there are 100,000 people in each age level in Jewish communities around the world at one time; this means that Masa is striving to bring one out of every 5 young Jews (20,000) to a long-term program in Israel each year.
 
The project is expected to make a dramatic contribution to strengthening the connection to Israel among the young generation in the Jewish communities around the world and enhancing Jewish identity, that is, lowering intermarriage, raising involvement in community life, etc. In addition, the project is expected to create a cadre for immigration to Israel.
 
Studies done among young people who were on a long-term program in Israel show clearly the positive influence on their lives and their identity. 91% marry Jews, 75% participate in community activities and synagogues, 71% return to Israel for additional visits, 57% make donations to Jewish causes and to Israel, 36% of them send their children to Jewish day schools and a large percentage of them immigrate to Israel.
 
Yesterday's cabinet approval of the project's budget did not state any time limit. The budget will start at $10 million in the year 2005 and rise to $50 million in the year 2008-9. The government is committed to the continuation of this investment every year, with no limitation. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon personally guided the project forward, with the assistance of cabinet secretary Yisrael Maimon.
 
Prime Minister Sharon stated in the cabinet meeting that he sees this project as crucial and added: "The future of the Jewish People and the State of Israel are dependent on cooperation with world Jewry and strengthening ties". He stressed that "there is no more important matter than Jewish Zionist education and aliyah which I presented as one of the central aims of the government I lead. The matter is of enormous importance for the future of the Jewish People and the continued existence of the State of Israel.
 
The Chairman of the Jewish Agency, Sallai Meridor, stated at the cabinet meeting that "this is an initiative of historical significance. The cabinet decision means that the State of Israel is the state of the Jewish People and expresses the joint responsibility of Israel and the Jewish communities around the world. This is a decision which will affect the future existence of the Jewish People and the State of Israel". Meridor thanked the prime minister and his team, led by cabinet secretary Yisrael Maimon who "give this long-term and strategic matter top priority, not only dealing with urgent matters on the public agenda."