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The next generation of innovators tap into Israels vibe through a variety of internships, volunteer and study programs

Sara K. Eisen
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Israels X factor – the secret ingredient behind the countrys innovative edge – has been the subject of much speculation and interest.

For Masa participants, Israel is a living laboratory for independence, personal growth and professional development Credit: Masa

A major part of the phenomenon is a certain comfort with complexity, tempered by a feeling of being backed by family. This is a place where there is no such thing, really, as the familiar millennial expression Awkward! No shame in failing, or in direct, honest criticism and discourse.

This nexus of familiar collegiality with relentless, jagged ambition is at first surprising to visitors. But in that place outside ones comfort zone, creativity and personal agency blooms. This type of adaptive leadership philosophy is the stuff of seminars and talks around the globe, and in Israel, its especially easy to cultivate.

At Masa Israel, we believe that taking a few months to a year in a different place, physically, puts one in a different place, metaphysically, says Rabbi Judith Werchow, Director of Education of Masa, a project which brings young Jewish adults to Israel for a variety of internships, study and volunteer programs. Masa participants come from diverse backgrounds and places, and with a range of motivations, connections with Jewish life, the Jewish people, and Israel. They also have much in common: They are searching for meaning, discovering who they are and their sense of purpose, and what skills and ideas can help them make progress in all aspects of life.

The gift that keeps on giving

Masa has to date brought 120,000 young people from 60 countries for long-term experiences in IsraelCredit: Alon Shafranskyn

Indeed, the word is out: Israel is a place where raw, authentic, self-discovery is celebrated. Its much of what brings between 12,000–13,000 young people annually to study, intern, teach, and volunteer on Masa programs in Israels living laboratory for independence, personal growth, and professional development. Since its founding in 2004 by the Prime Ministers Office of the the Government of Israel, together with The Jewish Agency for Israel, over 120,000 young people from more than 60 countries have participated in Masa Israel programs.

Mariana Antoniuk grew up in Sao Paolo, Brazil, and was trained as a teacher. Passionate about education (I agree with Mandela, she says, Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.), Mariana served as the principal of a school for disadvantaged children, travelling during vacation time to train teachers in Mozambique. 

In 2015, she arrived in Israel to volunteer with the BINA / Tikkun Olam program as a teacher in an unchartered school in south Tel Aviv.  Deciding that she would stay after her program only if she could get a serious job in the sphere of supporting refugees, Mariana did just that:  Today she serves as the director of a school in south Tel Aviv, educating the children of migrant workers and providing support to their families.  At Masas November 2015 Global Leadership Summit (in conjunction with the Global Leadership Initiative of the Jewish Agency), Mariana shared her Mozambique experiences with fellow participants in a TED-style talk on education as an instrument of change. She is now on the Leadership Accelerator team as a facilitator – a trajectory that is common for outstanding alum.

Walking the walk

This journey of discovery, service, and leadership-oriented learning leverages Israels creative energy, deep history, close-knit entrepreneurial ecosystem, warm people, and flat business and social culture.

One Masa Israel intern was wandering the halls of his company looking for the maintenance man. The air conditioning had broken and his Tel Aviv workspace had become unbearable. He ran into the CEO, who, upon finding out that the repairman was nowhere to be found, grabbed a chair and fixed the air conditioner himself. That ability to improvise, and the refreshing lack of hierarchy, has been widely documented, most famously in Senor and Singers Startup Nation.

But there is something else, too, something that impacts careers and individuals for life: the real-time modeling of leadership, from a place of great humility, and practical action as a primary value.

This theme cuts across Masa programs. English Teaching Fellows in Israels social and geographic periphery find themselves in a language exchange with their fourth grade students: Ill teach you English, if you teach me Hebrew. And well both sound funny. The impact of modeling risk-taking is dramatic, with students far more willing to speak English with their new American and Anglo friends than they are with their teachers.

Joining the innovation journey

Israelis proudly share their  recipes, including the one for success. Thats how it came to pass, for example, that Masa has developed, with Princeton University, a startup immersion summer program in Tel Aviv, in partnership with IDC Herzliya.

We work with top companies, world-class universities, and top educators to create opportunities, programming, and curriculum that make us competitive in the international experience space. If we are bringing thousands of young people to the most innovative place on earth every year to discover themselves, their network, and their Israel, we ourselves had better be innovative. We work hard to stay ahead of the curve by tapping into the entrepreneurial mindset that is in the air here, notes Liran Avisar-Ben Horin, Masa Israels CEO.

And this spirit is contagious, beyond the classic definitions of the Israel experience community. Graham Bottrel of George Washington Universitys Career Development Center led and helped organize a Masa delegation for campus career and study abroad for professionals to discover the endless career growth opportunities for students in Israel.

He was so inspired by Masas portfolio of internship and study programs, and by what Israel has to offer, that he, himself, was bitten by the innovation and discovery bug. After his return, he founded the soon- to-be-launched Heritage Project which focuses on internships, heritage discovery, and motivating Palestinian-American college students to contribute to the peaceful resolution of the conflict. At the heart of Israel is the drive to innovate, he explains.  This drive guided me in my exploration of how I can be a part of Israeli history. 

The science of bringing new talent

The drive to innovate also brought Lauren Glass of Seattle to Israel in 2014 to study Data Science and Cybersecurity as a Fellow at the elite Israel Tech Challenge program. Tech Challenge Fellows, in cooperation with Masa, offer talented young professionals a unique, heavily subsidized 10-month opportunity designed to give participants an international Silicon Wadi edge, as Israels high-tech hub is often dubbed.

At ITC, Lauren worked on software to automatically detect new malware with a team at Check Point Software Technologies, and then spent five months working as a data science intern there. At the conclusion of her fellowship, Lauren uploaded herself to Israel via Aliyah, working as a data scientist at a hedge fund. She is now focused on an independent project and, like many star alumni, works as a volunteer for Israel Tech Challenge to help bring more people like her to Israel.

Whats incredible about working in Israel, she notes, is how quickly any person can make an impact. Things move so fast and there is always more to be done, especially in the tech industry. When I started talking about my plans for new ventures, I noticed that my vision gained such rapid support from the Israel Tech Challenge community as a whole. The energy, focus on community, and achievement here is special. I hope that never changes.

Sara K. Eisen is a veteran journalist, creative director, content consultant, and innovation advocate. She is the Chief Communications Officer for Masa Israel Journey, the leader in immersive international experiences in Israel for young people ages 18-30.

For more info, visit:, (Blog of Adi Bar-El and Adi Hila Yoffe, Biz Dev Directors for Masa)