Masa Israel Journey, founded by the Jewish Agency of Israel and the government of Israel, launched its 16th programming year on Monday at an online event attended by thousands of its fellows from countries around the world.

Every year, thousands of young Jews arrive from more than 60 countries to learn, teach, volunteer and intern in the Jewish state.

Despite the coronavirus outbreak, Masa has seen a significant increase in applications from young Jews to come to Israel. According to the organization, there was a 36 percent increase in Masa program participation and a 40 percent increase in volunteer program participation.

Currently, some 7,500 Masa participants are in Israel, arriving in the country in the last few months. Thousands more are expected in the upcoming year.

“Masa gives thousands the chance to strengthen their Jewish identity and to deepen their relationship with Israel,” said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the event. “Israel is the cradle of the Jewish past. Israel is where the Jewish future is being forged. And if you want to be a part of that future, if you want to have an impact upon that future, Israel is the place to be. Welcome home.”

“This has been a challenging year for all of us,” said Jewish Agency chairman Isaac Herzog. “I want to salute and applaud each and every one of the Masa fellows for choosing to come to Israel during this difficult period, to connect and contribute to Israeli society.”

Masa acting CEO Ofer Gutman added that “the thousands of fellows who have arrived in Israel this year are a testament to the deep commitment of young Jews from around the world to Israel and their desire to make an impact and connect to their roots. I believe that this event, designed to connect the different ends of the Jewish global community, provides an unforgettable, exciting and powerful experience.”

This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.

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