Join the Masa Israel “Desert Queen” team!

<div class="masa-blog-title">Join the Masa Israel “Desert Queen” team! </div>

 
Interested in a unique opportunity to explore Israel through an extreme jeep challenge in the desert? We are looking for four women to make up the Masa Israel team. Desert Queen takes place in some of the most exotic and challenging landscapes in the world.
 

Celebrate like a local: festivals during Sukkot

<div class="masa-blog-title">Celebrate like a local: festivals during Sukkot </div>

 
Growing up, you might have celebrated Sukkot by going to your family, friends’, or synagogue’s sukkah, shaking the lulav and etrog, and eating outside under the stars. But if you are spending this Sukkot in Israel, there’s no reason to stay confined to your backyard—use the whole country as your sukkah!
 

7 unique ways to spend the chagim in Israel

<div class="masa-blog-title">7 unique ways to spend the chagim in Israel</div>

 
Every time we ask alumni of Masa Israel program what the best part of their semester or year was in Israel, the same things are repeated over and over: freedom to explore Israel on their own, Yom Ha’atzmaut (Independence Day) and the other national holidays in the spring, and the chagim—the High Holidays.
 
It’s no wonder. To experience the chagim in Israel, the only Jewish state in the world, is like no other holiday experience. Whether you plan on participating in the religious aspects of the holidays, taking it all in as an observer, or stepping outside your comfort zone and experimenting with a new way of observance, there is nothing like being in Israel for the high holiday season.
 
Here are seven ways Masa Israel participants celebrate the chagim in Israel:
 
  1. Shul-hopping Celebrating the holidays at home usually means a synagogue membership, tickets, and sometimes even assigned seats. Not so in Israel—try out erev Rosh Hashana in one shul, and head across town for Kol Nidre. Each synagogue has a unique atmosphere, and with so many close together in Israel you don’t need to settle for just one.
  2. Get placed with a host family Programs can usually set you up with a hosts family for one of the holidays. That way, you can celebrate the holidays in Israel with them, and they can help you navigate new traditions and show you a uniquely Israeli high holiday experience
  3. Participate in Kaparot Performed right before Yom Kippur, the ritual of Kaparot involves taking a chicken and swinging it over your head while saying several blessings, thereby imparting all of your sins upon it. Head to your closest shuk to take part in this tradition.
  4. Go on a Selichot tour Selichot are prayers of repentance that occur before the onset of the Jewish New Year.  These prayers are said at night usually between 11pm and dawn, and Jews of different backgrounds have different practices. Some programs offer tours around neighborhoods of Jerusalem the night before Yom Kippur to see different traditions in action.
  5. Walk on an empty highway on Yom Kippur In Israel, nobody drives on Yom Kippur—not even secular Israelis. Walking around your city or town on Yom Kippur is an experience like none other, an probably the only time you will ever be able to sit in the middle of a major highway (see picture below). You can also take advantage of the lack of traffic by joining in with the local teenagers who will be out on their bikes.
  6. Head to the Kotel for Birkat Kohanim Being in Israel for the chagim gives you the opportunity to go to what is considered the holiest site for the Jewish people on the holiest days of the year. During Sukkot, kohanim (descendants of the priests of Israel) come together to bless the Jewish people. Many Masa Israel participants have described it as an extremely moving experience.
  7. Festivals With all the time off, you have ample opportunity to check out some of the music and cultural festivals that take place around Sukkot. They are a great way to explore the country and get a taste of Israel culture.
 
The holidays are one of the bests times to be in Israel, and this list barely scratches the surface of what it is like to spend the season in Israel. But don’t take our word for it—try it for yourself!
 
[image credit: RonAlmog]
 

Building Relationships Through Sports

<div class="masa-blog-title">Building Relationships Through Sports</div>

 
By Adam Dembling, Tikkun Olam Tel Aviv Jaffa
 
I recently returned from five months of volunteer and study in Israel on a program called Tikun Olam in Tel Aviv-Jaffa.  As a volunteer on Tikun Olam, I found myself immersed in places and experiences that allowed me to work actively for change.
 

What’s happening at Because We Care at Hakfar Hayarok

<div class="masa-blog-title">What’s happening at Because We Care at Hakfar Hayarok</div>

 
Masa Israel programs in Israel usually culminate with goodbye parties, reflective sessions and a strong feeling of pride for one’s experience. One Masa Israel program, however, has decided to make one last impression on Israel before they finish their program. Hakfar Hayarok is home to the Because We Care program. Participants in the program volunteer in the kfar teaching English enrichment courses, tutoring students in English and working on the farm.
 

The 'ABC's of going abroad | Weekly Roundup

<div class="masa-blog-title">The 'ABC's of going abroad | Weekly Roundup </div>

A collection of updates covering the intersection of Israel programs, the Jewish world, and international education.
 
  •  We were recently featured in a series on ABC News about going abroad as an alternative to facing the challenging job market in the US.
     

Sharansky Addresses Masa Israel Participants

Sharansky Addresses Masa Israel Participants

Sharansky Addresses Masa Israel Participants

May 10, 2010

The following is an update from the Jewish Agency for Israel
Ian Carchman was disconnected from Jewish life.
 
But Masa Israel Journey changed all of that. “Living in Israel for a year has been an eye opener,” said the 18-year-old from Maryland, who came to Israel
 
“I never really felt a connection [to Jewish life]. My parents are not connected and I grew up in an interfaith community. I think Masa is so important because it is not a trip or a vacation. We’re living here,” said Carchman who has been spending the year on Nativ, a Masa program that is dedicated to inspiring Conservative Jewish leaders.
 
Carchman was one of over 3,000 participants who attended the Masa Israel Journey mega-conference in Jerusalem on May 2, 2010, a day-long event featuring seminars on “next steps” for participants, many of whom are preparing to leave Israel and return to their Jewish communities across the globe. The event also featured addresses by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky.
 
 
Founded by the Jewish Agency and the Government of Israel in 2003, Masa Israel enables young Diaspora Jews to experience life in Israel for a semester or a year on any of over 160 programs aimed at strengthening their Jewish identity and their connection to Israel. Since its inception, Masa Israel has brought 45,000 young Jews between the ages of 18-30 from 60 different countries to live, work, study and volunteer in Israel.
 
During his address to an auditorium of over 1,000 Masa participants, Sharansky stressed the importance of a strong Jewish identity, which empowered him during his years as a Soviet dissident, including nine years incarcerated in a Soviet prison.
 
“People with absolutely no roots have no strength,” said Sharansky. “My fight for my people comes from my identity. Once I discovered my roots, my people, my identity, I had the strength to fight.”
 
Such a strong sense of Jewish identity will fortify Masa participants who are headed to university campuses where anti-Israel feelings are wide-spread.
 
“Those of you who decide not to stay in Israel but to go back have a very important mission. We expect you to be proud ambassadors of our country, proud Jews, who know how to debate and how to stand up against hooligans. You must know the facts and you should not be afraid,” said Sharansky.
 
Sharansky also dismantled the prevalent notion on college campuses that a commitment Jewish identity is in conflict with a commitment to human rights. “They are going to try to convince you that you have to choose between being loyal to humanity or loyal to Israel, and this is a false choice. If you want to be a strong supporter of human rights then first you must be a proud member of the Jewish community,” he said.
 
“Look who is fighting on the forefront of the struggle between democracy and dictatorship, it is the state of Israel and the Jews who are proud of this state,” Sharansky continued. “As the Jews of the Diaspora become stronger in their identity when they are exposed to Israel, the Jews of Israel will also become stronger in their identity when they are engaged with Jews of the Diaspora. The goal of the Jewish Agency is to be a bridge between Jews of the world and Israel.”
 
Sharansky concluded his talk by crediting Masa Israel with doing “critical work.”
 
For his part, Carchman agrees. “We will take these experiences back to campus with us and to our communities,” he said.
 

Record Number of Students in Israel on Masa Programs

Record Number of Students in Israel on Masa Programs

May 6, 2010

More than 3,000 participants in the Jewish Agency's Masa Israel Journey programs celebrated the end of their year in Israel at a mega event attended by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky.
This academic year a record 9,400 young adults ages 18-30 spent a semester or year studying, volunteering or interning on programs in Israel, with some two-thirds of the participants from North America. This represents a 15 percent increase over last year, and a similar significant increase is forecast for the 2010-2011 school year.
 
“It is hard for this generation to imagine a world without Israel,” Netanyahu said, speaking Tuesday (May 4) to thousands of Masa participants in Jerusalem. The Jewish people returned to their homeland and built a country, a stunning achievement, he continued, “but it is not enough. The main thing is our identity and spirit as a people which goes back 4,000 years.”
 
Masa was established as a joint project by the Jewish Agency and the Prime Minister’s office under Ariel Sharon in 2004 to enable thousands of Jewish young adults to spend a semester to a year in Israel on over 160 approved programs. Since its inception, Masa has made it possible for 45,000 people to live, work, study and volunteer in Israel, doubling the number of young adults on programs annually, from under 5,000 to nearly 10,000 a year today, with the goal of reaching 15,000 participants a year.
 

Address by PM Netanyahu to Masa Participants

Address by PM Netanyahu to Masa Participants

Address by PM Netanyahu to Masa Participants

May 5, 2010

Transcript of Prime Minister Netanyahu's address to a group of long-term Israel program participants.
"One of history's greatest empires, the biggest one, was the Soviet Union. At the height of its dominion, brave men and women – many of them Jewish – challenged this enormous power with the force of their conviction, faith and raw courage. And foremost among them was my friend and your patron, Natan Sharansky. Natan was put in jail, in a cellar, before being put on trial and sentenced to a long prison term. The judges asked him what he had to say on his behalf and he answered: “I have nothing to say to you, but to my wife Avital and to my people, I say – Next Year in Jerusalem!”
 
That’s a pretty important statement, and it expresses the basic idea.
 
You and your parents are all young. But your grandparents and great-grandparents remember a world without a State of Israel. It was a very different place and, for generations, Jews hoped for a change. They prayed and yearned for only one thing – “Next Year in Jerusalem!”
 
62 years ago, the most remarkable transformation in the history of any nation took place. A "dead" people resurrected itself and returned to Zion. They rebuilt their national life, their state and their army, and reassumed control of their collective destiny. This is the story of the Jewish people, and it's unlike the story of any other nation in history. Many other peoples have disappeared. In fact, most of the nations we know from antiquity no longer exist. Many were exiled or dispossessed, and many were killed. No people has ever come back from the dead. But this is our people and, through a remarkable transformation in our history, we have recreated the Jewish state – with its own government, territory, army and amazing economy. There's still more to do, but we're doing better than many of the places you’ve come from.
 
You may be too young to know this, but 20 years ago, people used to say that it’s impossible to do business in Israel. And we would reply that Israel can actually be an attractive place – a home for Jewish business, Jewish entrepreneurs and brainpower. We could even envision Jews making money in Israel. You’re not laughing, but this used to be a joke. It isn't anymore. Today, we have a country, a government, an army and a thriving economy, and we’re quickly becoming a global power in technology.
 
This is all crucial, but it’s not enough. The most important thing is our spirit, and the most critical part of spirit is identity. And there's a great revolution taking place right now within the Jewish world. It's a revolution of spirit and identity – and you’re all a part of it. I salute you for being here and expanding awareness – your personal awareness and that of young Jews everywhere. What a privilege it is to be a member of the Jewish people! What a privilege it is to come to the Jewish State! What a privilege it is to shape the future of the Jewish people! These are all great privileges.
 
How do we strengthen identity? By appreciating who we are. Studying our past to understand our present and chart our future. Suppose you didn’t know your family. Suppose you didn’t know the story of your parents – where they came from, what they did. If you grew up isolated from your personal history, you’d be a very different person, very confined and narrow. And you’d be missing a tremendously important part of your identity – who you are and what you can be.
 
We share a collective identity and a great history, not like that of any other nation. It goes back almost four thousand years. Imagine that you didn't know about it. Imagine that you had such a privilege, but weren't aware of it. What we’re doing right now, all of us together, is making people conscious of our rich past. And once you know the past, you can understand how the Jewish people has arrived here. We can shape our future. But you can only know where you’re going, if you know where you've come from.
 
We all came from here. And we all come back to here. And I want you to consider this fact: Your identity is not simply a function of your individual character. Your uniqueness, part of your unique identity, is also a function of your membership in the Jewish people.
 
And I also want you to consider how you feel. You’ve already been here for a while and had an opportunity to see the country and participate in various programs. But you've had another opportunity – whether you've come from the United States, Canada, France, Russia, Mexico or Australia
 
These are all great countries, but this is your country. This is your country! And when you walk here, I'm sure you don’t even wonder who else around you is Jewish. Right? It’s a perfectly natural question, but not one that you ask here – because this is your country. There are other countries that are also free and democratic, but this is your country! This is your Jerusalem! This is your home!
 
So I just have one request.– Explore your deeper self and ask yourself – I know that this is a tough question for someone who is only 18 or 22 – where you feel most at home. The time you've spent here has been valuable, but I think you'll find even greater value in deciding to stay here permanently. We invite you to join us in building the future of the Jewish people in our land. Welcome home to the Land of Israel, the State of Israel and Jerusalem."

Masa Israel Hosts “Your Next Step” Conference for Participants

<div class="masa-blog-title">Masa Israel Hosts “Your Next Step” Conference for Participants</div>

 
Over 3,000 participants attended the Masa Israel Journey mega-conference in Jerusalem on May 2, 2010, a day-long event featuring seminars on “next steps” for participants, many of whom are preparing to leave Israel and return to their Jewish communities across the globe.