(June 29, 2020 / JNS) Israel is a land of opportunity. As young people now face uncertainty on a multitude of levels, long-term experiences in Israel offer them a way forward. This creates a unique opportunity for the Jewish community amid a crisis. By answering the needs of our younger generations, we can strengthen the Jewish future. Now more than ever, we must double down on Israel engagement experiences, with Masa Israel best positioned to be able to meet that call.
Over the last few months, we have witnessed the extraordinary impact that Masa programs have on individuals and their communities. Masa was one of the only organizations that continued operations throughout the crisis, quickly adapting to accommodate participants on the ground. As a result of this nimble leadership, thousands of Fellows chose to stay in Israel and complete their gap year, internships, academic studies and service-learning programs. In many cases, these same programs would have been put on hold, downsized or canceled elsewhere.
Israel is a place where all Jews can discover their role in Jewish history and realize their dreams. Israel is where Jews can physically experience being part of the global Jewish community by connecting with other Jews from around the world. Israel also boasts a population full of some of the brightest thinkers, entrepreneurs and doers on the planet that can inspire younger generations. Young Jews on long-term Israel experiences can learn from and work alongside experts forging the path forward for humankind.
While the pandemic has created significant challenges in our local communities, it also has created an opportunity to invest in programs that provide our future leaders avenues to live, work and study in Israel. Masa Israel is a steady, reliable solution to solve the gap in opportunity for our young people. As young Jews wait out the crisis, they long to have opportunities that will challenge them from a professional and educational standpoint, while also providing personal growth. It is incumbent on our Jewish communities to engage these diverse young Jews by meeting their current needs. By supporting them now, we will maintain and strengthen our Jewish peoplehood into the future.
Masa Israel is well-prepared to bring Fellows safely into the country and offer them meaningful, long-term experiences. In a recent agreement with the Israeli government, Masa visa-holders were granted entry to the country. Upon their arrival, participants are ensured safe and comfortable quarantine conditions that include virtual enrichment activities like orientations, Hebrew-language courses and educational seminars. Some participants will also be able to begin their internships and academic programs remotely.
This ability to support incoming participants and quickly adapt programs to meet new realities is a major advantage as college education and internships around the world are in flux. Many institutions are postponing courses and offering limited options for in-person learning and field experience. Internships are being put on hold, and the job market is tight. As many young people are underwhelmed by the options they face at home—and with a track record of success for long-term Israel experiences—it is no wonder that pre-registrations for upcoming Masa programs have more than doubled.
Young Jews long to gain a stake in the community through immersive experiences in which they can give back and use their talent, time and energy. We see this through the Fellows who remained in Israel during the pandemic and rose to the challenges by volunteering in their communities while continuing their programs. Some Fellows are committed at internships with companies and organizations working towards solutions to fight the pandemic itself. Others have even extended their visas to look for further opportunities within Israel rather than returning to their home countries with more limited opportunities.
It is clear that for many, Israel represents a bridge to a future full of possibilities and opportunities. It is imperative that we support programs that are moving us forward and bringing us closer together. Masa has a long history of helping young Jews advance their careers, become stronger leaders and emerge with deep connections to the Jewish homeland and people. This is a perfect match between opportunity and talent, and is a cause that Jewish leaders and institutions should support at this important point in time.
As we assess the impact of these changes on the global economy, now is the time to invest in this valuable program. Providing young Jews paths for personal and professional development will help us maintain the bridge between global Jewry and Israel, and will advance Jewish peoplehood. As we work to recover from this crisis, Masa is preparing young Jews to lead our communities into the future. We must ensure that future now.
Bruce Sholk is chairman of the Masa Subcommittee at the Jewish Agency’s Board of Governors and a member of Masa’s board of directors.
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