Masa Israel Journey |


Now marking 13 years since its founding, Masa Israels innovative long-term programs have brought thousands of young people to Israel every year to study, intern and volunteer. New, groundbreaking options are constantly added to the list of exciting choices

Wendy Elliman
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Young adults who choose to invest up to a year in Israel should be getting more out of it than an amazing or awesome timeout, insists Avy Leghziel, Director of Personal & Professional Development at Masa Israel Journey and an expert in educational R&D. Their lives shouldnt be on hold while theyre here. On the contrary. They should be leveraging the Israeli spirit, trying the new, and incorporating it into personal and professional growth to explore who they are. At the end of their program, we want to hear: It was amazing... because I overcame my fear of confrontation because I had a great idea and implemented it because I learned how to lead because I discovered Im far stronger than I knew

Leghziel is talking about some 12,500 18- to 30-year-olds who spend up to 12 months in different Masa Israel programs each year. Participants come from all over the world (60 countries over the past 13 years) to intern in start-ups, permaculture farming or coexistence programs, to teach English in remote or underserved Israeli townships, to learn to code, to volunteer with immigrants or child refugees, to network in business or industry, to study at university in graduate or undergraduate programs, and more. Product lines are developed with both market needs and national priorities (such as bringing more CS engineers and English teachers to Israel) in mind. 

Being part of something bigger

Created jointly by the Prime Ministers Office and the Jewish Agency for Israel in 2004, Masa is a relatively recent and highly innovative arrival on the Israel Experience scene. Why would I need them? was my first reaction, says Lior Argaman, who directs Netzer Olamis ten-month leadership training program in Israel, which was gathered up under Masa. Shnat Netzer had been running successfully since 1994. But I quickly came to appreciate them. Not only is there the sense of being part of something bigger, of having experts to consult when I need support, and advisors if I want to create a new track; theyve also brought new programs and methods, new techniques and perspectives — the kind that once you have them, you wonder how you managed without them.

Reflecting on an intense journey

Helping participants internalize what they learn during their time in Israel and use it for both personal and professional growth is Masas guiding philosophy.  We call the program Reflections, says Judith Werchow, Masas Director of Education. Its curriculum allows the young adults who come here to go on an intense journey, with every component of their life in Israel helping them grow in the direction they seek. The tools they develop as part of this initiative nurture their inquisitive approach to life and Israel. They become more mindful of themselves and their surroundings, including the places and people they meet and interact with.

In structured sessions, in groups and one-on-ones, Masas young adults look at what their Israel experience brings to their consciousness. They articulate the challenges they face, improve their coping skills, develop crisis thinking, address conflict resolution, clarify personal life-goals, and reflect on the ways that their time in Israel helps them grow. Developed with Dr. Max Klau, who designed a similar curriculum for the 30-year-old U.S. program City Year that helps students and schools succeed, Masa integrates Reflections into the Israel experience.

Weve been implementing the methodology with about 40 programs in the past three years, but its still a work in progress, says Leghziel. We developed it with a broad methodology, which we tweak to make it relevant to specific groups. Cultural nuances, he says, are one key. Around 3,000 of our participants each year — almost a quarter of the total — come from the former USSR, and most will stay in Israel once their program ends. Their cultural mores differ significantly from those of young people who come from Europe, say, or North and South America, Australia and South Africa, so weve adapted the approach to help them understand their experience in Israel.  

Another tweak was needed for those who come principally to add an international experience line to their resums. For this group, career development is the emphasis, rather than personal growth, continues Leghziel. Theyve come to intern in Israeli start-ups or engineering companies in order to move forward professionally. So, using the tools of the basic program, the Reflections focus has been shifted to core questions that relate to future careers: What are their goals? What skills and mindsets boost careers and how can they be acquired? How have I experimented professionally? What has worked and what hasnt? We help young professionals leverage their talents, evolving into a new generation of effective leaders, whether in Jewish communal life or in their respective fields. Built from recent academic and nonacademic research, the programs pilot version is to be introduced during this years second semester.

Asking the big questions

None of this could work, of course, without the professionals on the ground. Clearly, we need to know how to use the tools that Masa provides, how to expose new fields, and how to ask and respond to the big questions, says Argaman.  Ive been to several Masa professional development courses, and theyve given me both the techniques and the confidence to guide discussion about anything my groups raise. One question, for example, was: Its known that youth movements are counterculture. In what way are we counterculture, and does it matter? There arent simple answers, but they trigger discussion, which can be directed toward a valuable sharing of thoughts and examining of ideas.

Along with professional development, Masa provides its counselors with enrichment days. A fair on Innovation and Thinking Outside the Box, for example, brought together start-ups, large companies, venture capitalists, managers and more for demonstrations and briefings. The Conflict assembled Israelis, Palestinians, leftists, centrists and rightists in a day-long discussion. Its essentially a continuing education that helps us make our programming fresh and relevant, says Argaman. 

In a simpler world, immersion in daily life in Israel, where Zionism and Judaism are breathed in with the air, would be sufficient to motivate and inspire. Todays sophisticated young adults, exposed to a steady outpouring of hostility toward Israel, need much more.

Masa programs and their unique approach are among the best in the international experience space, says Sara Eisen, Masas CCO. The starting-point is Israel as a perfect platform for young adults, a place where they can explore the issues that matter to them, network with likeminded peers, develop skills, and thrive in different ecosystems — from the heart of high-tech to the social and geographic periphery. Masa programs help them learn how to contribute more, in addition to getting better at what they do. The experience here gives them a unique opportunity to develop their individual sense of purpose while discovering a deeper sense of the collective.

Start-up immersion

A good example of an initiative developed by Masa, by virtue of its central place in Israels educational and entrepreneurial ecosystem, is the Princeton Startup Immersion summer program, developed with Princeton University's The Keller Center for Innovation in Engineering Education, Destination Israel, and the Adelson School of Entrepreneurship at IDC Herzliya. The pilot program matched international students with internship opportunities. Twenty-three Princetonians spent ten weeks in Israel this past summer, interning at top-tier Israeli start-ups such as Windward and Nexar, living independently in Tel Aviv, and taking a weekly venture creation course at IDC, which focused on challenges faced by start-ups in global markets and how to address them. The summer not only added international experience to my resum, it gave me a glimpse into my future! attests Princeton International Relations student Katherine Trout, who took part in the pilot.

For more information about Masa Israel Journey, visit