Ever since her Taglit-Birthright trip, 24-year-old Boglarka Palko had been
looking for an opportunity to come back to Israel.
“I wanted to either
study or work here, but I already have a master’s, so coming to study wasn’t
really relevant,” she told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.
while thinking about returning to the country, Palko had already figured out her
career path: She was working at the Hungarian Foreign Ministry, and she knew she
wanted to keep working in the governmental field.
After speaking to
workers at the Israeli Cultural Center in Budapest, she was advised to look into
a program that would enable her to both keep on doing what she loved while
living in the country she had been missing.
Palko is among 24 other young
Diaspora Jews who arrived earlier this month to participate in the Israel
Government Fellows program, during which they intern in government offices,
including the various ministries, the government press office, and the Israel
Antitrust Authority, for 10 months.
The program, which is operated by the
Menachem Begin Heritage Center in affiliation with the Masa (Hebrew for
“journey”) project, is endorsed by the Prime Minister’s Office and begins with a
month-long orientation seminar.
While they complete their internships in
government offices and policy and diplomacy organizations, participants also
attend weekly seminars, which deal with topics such as Israeli politics or
Ulpan, trips around the country and meetings with officials,
policy makers and journalists are also part of the experience.
very exiting to work for the Israeli government,” Palko, who is interning at the
Public Security Ministry, said. “The things they have to take care of every day
are complicated and huge responsibilities.
“Now I see it from the
inside,” she added. “I’ve always looked at Israeli politics from a European
point of view, and it’s a whole different perspective.”
Palko added that
from her experience so far, she feels that she can “really learn from the
program,” which provides her with “invaluable experience.”
“People ask me
what it is that I like so much about the Israeli political system.
don’t understand it,” she said. “I tell them I am envious that here you have a
very well-functioning democracy.
In some democratic countries, people are
afraid to voice their opinions; but here – from the cleaning lady to the prime
minister – everyone has an opinion, and they are not scared to express
“I think that learning about both historical and current issues, and
politics, and interacting with speakers, having debates with them, grants me a
very unique opportunity,” Palko added. “I really feel like it was made for
Herzl Makov, head of the Menachem Begin Heritage Center, told the
Post that to get accepted into the program, candidates – who must be between the
ages of 22 and 30 – have to have at least an undergraduate degree and two years
of work experience. Most participants hold degrees in domains such as law,
international relations, economics, and health.
“The applicants are
usually people who are interested in Israel,” he explained. “They haven’t
necessarily grown up with a Zionist education, but they are interested in
exploring their relation to Israel. Some are not sure what that is
“They are also people who see themselves working in public service,”
According to Makov, the goal of the IGF program, which is in
its seventh year of activity, is to “strengthen the connection of young
international Jews to Israel.”
“We found that the connection to
government offices is something that gives them quite a good picture of what
Israel is, what happens here,” he told the Post. “In many ways, this becomes an
aliya program, too, because a lot of them – after experiencing work in Israel,
which is always one of the more problematic factors in the decision-making –
realize that they can work and live here.”
Makov said that in some of the
previous years, the percentage of fellows making aliya was “very
Upon their arrival, all fellows are placed in internship
positions, according to their areas of interest. The selected participants are
charged close to $11,000 each for the project, an amount that varies depending
on their financial ability, the country they come from and the amount subsidized
for them by their Masa scholarship. This fee includes accommodations, meals,
travel and the cost of the program activities.
The government offices
they work for during the 10 months reimburse them for expenses such as
transportation, for example.
“It’s a unique experience,” Makov stated. “I
think these people go through a formative experience both for them and for their
connection to Israel... They go back home with a lot of Israel in their
Another participant in this year’s program, 23-year-old Yair
Cohenca, told the Post that for him, the IGF program is a way to “get a foot in
the door of Israel government offices.”
Cohenca, who has a bachelor’s
degree in international studies – with a Middle East focus – and architecture
from the University of Washington, grew up in Israel and the United
His 88-year-old grandfather, who had been an Israeli ambassador
in six countries of South America, has very much inspired Cohenca to pursue a
career in diplomacy. He is interning at the Foreign Ministry.
definitely something that runs in the family,” he said, “Even during my
university years I engaged very much in international affairs. It was always
something that interested me.”
His early childhood in Israel left a mark
in Cohenca’s mind.
“I always had this desire to come back at some point,”
he explained. “The program for me is also a test to see if I can really live
here, independently, with a more mature perspective. It allows me to consider
moving back to Israel.
“I want to get a feel of everyday work in the
ministry, and I think regardless of what I do in the office, it’s about the
experience and the relationships I build for the future,” Cohenca
According to organizers of the program, many of the IGF graduates
have gone on to work in Israeli and Jewish organizations abroad as well as
Israeli consulates back in their home countries.