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.