Masa Israel Journey

by Brie Stimson July 26, 2018


masa-participants-living-it-up-like-locals-photographed-by-mruwka-photographyMasa Israel Journey facilitates bringing approximately 13,000 young adults each year to Israel for immersive experiences.

“Masa offers grants and scholarships to people to choose from several hundred different opportunities from six months to a year-long, designed as opportunities to have a longer experience,” Shalom Elcott, the North American CEO of Masa told me over the phone. He says Masa’s programs are the “best answer to what’s after birthright.”

Shalom explained that Masa’s programs differ from Birthright in that participants can choose what they want to do in Israel – anything from working in a technology company to teaching English to living in an eco village on top of a mountain. With Birthright, the itinerary and messaging are all prescribed in advance. “Birthright is clearly the spark, but a lot of those people come back, some even stay, some go right onto Masa programs from Birthright,” Shalom said. He explained that when Birthright participants come back after their 10-day trip they often want to spend more time in Israel, and Masa gives them the chance to integrate themselves into daily Israeli life.

Mariana Dorenbaum, 21, is from San Diego. She studied abroad with Masa at the IDC Herziliya, a college about 10 miles north of Tel Aviv. “Last October I decided to take on a challenge that changed my life—living in Israel for a year,” she said of her time in Herziliya where she received her BA in biology. “Every day here is a growth experience. Whether it is learning a new word in Hebrew, making a new friend from a completely different culture than mine, or understanding and getting to know myself better, every day I’m growing and exploring different aspects of life and myself that didn’t even cross my mind before this big move.”

Along with the participant’s area of focus, Masa also provides wraparound programming – from personal and professional development to the geography of Israel, politics, conflict resolution, Jewish identity and spirituality. They also focus on how the program fits into context in the participant’s life. “And of course they take the bus and they go to the market and go food shopping and they enjoy everything Israel has to offer,” Shalom added. “They live life as an Israeli pretty much in these programs.”

“The goal of Masa was to provide a really, really strong connection to the people and land of Israel, and today it’s really about career development, personal development, job and job internship,” Shalom said. “It’s about teaching chutzpah and why that’s important, it’s encouraging people to find their own connection to Israel in their own way with gentle support.”

Masa has a team of about 90 people in 62 countries. “These individuals that are coming from around the world – 135,000 alumni – that have been through our programs, are young adults who got the Israel spark, wanted to deepen it and do so through these kinds of immersive experiences,” Shalom said.

Elana Canales, 23, is also from San Diego. She participated in a Masa Career Israel Internship. “I had a wonderful experience on Career Israel these past few months,” she told the Jewish Journal. “I did an internship at the David Intercontinental Hotel in the Pastry department.” While she was there she learned the fundamentals of the pastry kitchen and was able to travel the country with other Masa participants. “It was an experience that I will never forget … I was given real responsibility and was challenged … It was an amazing experience; I will bring back so much, including friendships I made over the last five months.”

In Sha’ar HaNegev, San Diego’s sister region, they are recruiting people to teach English as part of the Teaching Fellows Program. Participants go and live in Israel together with the support of the San Diego Jewish community. “We hope when these people come back to San Diego they acknowledge the fact that it’s the San Diego community as well as other Jewish communities around the world that has helped support them for this experience, and that they often pay it forward, be[coming] mentors and inspir[ing] other young people,” Shalom said.

“This is the first time that there’s a focus in organizing a cohort that would be part of Sha’ar HaNegev. The truth is that it will be among the first of a handful of those kinds of programs ever created at Masa,” Shalom added.

Shalom was in San Diego at the end of June to discuss a new program called Masa Tech. “We have been building the concept of Masa Tech from the ground up,” he told me. “Basically there’s a deficit in Israel of qualified employees in the … high tech arena. Israel produces about 10,800 new jobs a year and the number of graduates graduating in the top five percentile is only about 6,800 students right now.” He said the lack of people able to fill high-tech jobs is a brain drain issue in Israel. “People aren’t studying STEM, so Masa Tech became as a result of this deficit. Israel was about to begin to import workers from India and then, like the Teaching Fellows Program, somebody turned to Masa and said is there anything you could do in this arena?”

Shalom has spent the last year working with people across the country, including Larry Acheatel, the former head of the San Diego Jewish Academy, who lives in San Diego. Acheatel now chairs the Israel Committee at the Federation. “He and a group of guys from San Diego created an investment company, [Southup, a technology incubator founded in 2015] that is investing in Israeli startups, and they’re doing it as a social innovation venture,” Shalom explained to me.

He’s also been working with Jane Fantel of the Federation who is one of the county’s leading experts on Israel and with Gary Jacobs, president of the Federation. Together they have been helping develop Masa Tech. “The goal is to bring 600 coders, programmers and engineers to Israel starting next year for fulltime paid positions in multinational or startup companies,” Shalom said.

From the recruitment side of things, Masa will provide plane tickets and housing, which is paid by Federation and the government of Israel. “To recruit 600 coders, programmers, and engineers is not insignificant. It is a major effort, and I hope when all is said and done that lay leaders with the support of the Federation and Southup from San Diego will have been essential components to the development and success of Masa Tech.”

Masa Israel Journey is open to people with one Jewish parent as with Birthright. Age requirements depend on the program. Most participants are between 23 and 36 years old. To learn more or find a program go to


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