As many as 2,500 Masa fellows, alumni and professionals from 40 countries gathered at Ra’anana Park Amphitheater in Israel to celebrate the launch of the 2019-20 programming year and the organization’s 50th anniversary.
In addition to a special performance by Israeli pop star and Eurovision winner Netta Barzilai and a keynote address from Masa’s Acting CEO Ofer Gutman, the opening event on Oct. 28 featured community-building workshops that included interactive games, an art wall and a volunteer activity in which 67 bicycles were assembled and donated to Potchim Atid, a Jewish Agency initiative that supports children and their families living in Israel’s social and demographic periphery.
According to Gutman, the opening event offered fellows and alumni an opportunity to celebrate the organization’s impact in connecting world Jewry and Israel, as well as members of Masa’s diverse international community to one another.
Interaction between Jews from all over the world, he said, offers participants the opportunity to start a dialogue, learn more about other countries and hear different perspectives.
“Our diversity is what makes us stronger as a Masa family,” he said to participants.
He told JNS that in the coming year, Masa plans to facilitate the “building of international networks of people who are connected by deep passion, pursuing bold career aspirations and inspired to seek new experiences.”
Since its 2004 founding by the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office and the Jewish Agency, Masa continues to grow every year, serving more than 120,000 young people, half from North America and representing more than 62 countries.
‘Part of a bigger family and people’
Gutman also announced the full-fledged launch of the MasaTech program, which together with the National Economic Council and the Israel Innovation Authority will provide full-time employment in Israel for Jewish high-tech coders, programmers, developers and engineers from around the world.
“This will transform the way Israel’s robust high-tech industry conducts business, recruits talent and engages with the global workforce,” he said.
Long-term programs, he added, offer participants social, cultural, physical, professional and spiritual perspectives. Through Masa’s gap-year programs, academic studies, volunteer and internship programs, participants not only have the opportunity to jump-start their careers, but live in Israel like a local, “enjoying Israeli flavors and smells, learning about our history and building your Israeli network.”
As Israel is the heart of the Jewish people, spending time in the country often builds “a special connection to this place as participants engage with Jewish identity like never before, study Hebrew, and become more affiliated and connected with something that is bigger than themselves—feeling part of a bigger family and people.”
While Birthright and Masa similarly target young Jewish adults, unlike Birthright’s 10-day programs, Masa Israel Journey’s immersive, long-term educational experiences range from two months to a year, allowing further interaction and therefore impact.
When participants return home, said Gutman, many become advocates for the Jewish state, as they “feel more secure and educated to stand up for Israel on campus.” More than 70 percent stay in touch with friends they met on the program, and hundreds have found themselves working for Jewish organizations after their programs.