During his Peace Corps service in Paraguay, Matthew Lebon unexpectedly found
himself working on a permaculture farm – a sustainable, minimally wasteful type
of food cultivation. He was so captivated by it that he signed up for a Masa
Israel ecological farming program near Modi’in.
Lebon, 25, completed his
Peace Corps program two months ago and will arrive at the five-month Eco-Israel
program in February, which he heard about through an e-mail advertisement sent
to Taglit- Birthright Israel alumni.
“I got really into permaculture and
learning about it,” Lebon said on Friday. “The idea of educational farms like
this one is to promote and innovate sustainable ways of living to bring
awareness to people and connect them with the land, in hopes that they will
disseminate this information in the same way I was inspired by my experience in
Lebon plans to take the tools he acquired during his two years
in the Peace Corps to his new service opportunity in Israel, a trend many of his
North American Jewish peers seem to be following – in both directions,
particularly during today’s less than robust economy.
Taking note of this
interest by young adults in both volunteer and paid service opportunities
worldwide, Masa Israel Journey, a joint project of the government and the Jewish
Agency, brought representatives from 19 leading American services organizations
to Israel last week for a seven-day “study tour” to brainstorm the best
practices in leadership development and community service.
fastest-growing segment of Masa in recent years has been the post-college
population, and to some extent we think that’s because of the economy,” said Avi
Rubel, Masa’s North American director.
“We’re seeing that slow down a bit
now, possibly because the economy is getting back on track. But in Israel, to
come on a Masa program is definitely something that’s more and more
He added, “We wanted to bring a group of organizations that
have a lot of experience in building leadership development to come and look at
our programs for a week and let us know how we can best build
Masa organized the American- Israeli think-tank in
collaboration with City Year, a Boston group that facilitates volunteer work in
local schools and communities. Other Jewish and general American organizations
represented in the study tour were Teach for America, the Peace Corps, the
Corporation for National and Community Service, the American Jewish World
Service, UJA Federation of NY, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee,
Avodah, Hillel, Jewish Funds for Justice, the New Israel Fund, Repair the World,
Uri L’Tzedek and Ve’ahavta.
“It’s a collective exploration as to how to
develop leaders through long-term volunteer programs. Pretty much every
discussion has focused on that question,” said Max Klau, director of leadership
at City Year.
While Masa did bring these American organizations to Israel
for the weeklong trip, Rubel said there was no hidden agenda aimed at those
“The focus of the people here is to think about how to use
models that they’ve encountered and how we can transfer those to the Israeli
context,” he said.
“This is a think-tank type of thing – this is not a
recruitment type of initiative,” Rubel continued.
“That being said, we
are talking to the different people here about doing two things – recruiting
from their populations, but feeding our populations into theirs.”
day of the trip had a different theme, ranging from service and leadership in
nonprofits to community development, policy, coexistence and education. The
group visited Masa program sites associated with the different themes, such as
the Yahel Social Change Program in Gedera during Tuesday’s “Community
Development Day,” where they observed volunteer work with the local Ethiopian
Leslie Jaffe, an independent consultant from Austin, Texas,
who works closely with Jewish Funds for Justice in New York and the Rockwood
Leadership Institute in California, most enjoyed Wednesday’s “Coexistence Day”
when the group visited Tikkun Olam in Jaffa and met four recent female college
graduates volunteering in Jewish- Arab relations.
“I was so incredibly
impressed with their state of being, their level of intellect, their willingness
to get in here and struggle with their own personal views about what’s going on
here in Israel,” Jaffe said. “They were coming in and doing the work here and
thinking about how that would shape them and how this would contribute to their
After visiting the sites and speaking to participants,
the group typically convened in a conference room to discuss the positives and
negatives of what they had observed and hear presentations from the Israeli site
director as well as one North American participant from the group.
sites visited included Masa’s programs at the Givat Haviva Institute, which also
focuses on Jewish-Arab relations, the Otzma – Israel Teacher Corps and the World
Union of Jewish Students.
The participants who spoke to The Jerusalem
said that they were able to give and take much from their weeklong
experience, and emphasized the importance of the project’s location in Israel,
as opposed to gathering together somewhere in the US to talk about
“Everybody agrees that there’s unique power and complexity to
service in Israel – the politics, the history, the level of culture in society,”
“There’s a complexity here you don’t find in other places. And
that was part of our purpose here – learning how to deal with that
“It’s a very different experience to
discuss leadership through service when you’re walking through the absorption
center rather than sitting at a table in California,” she said.
could’ve done it in California or Pennsylvania or New York, but it would have
been in a very different context,” Jaffe continued. “The context here is about
creating an understanding around the idea that North American Jewish kids can
have an on-the-ground experience of what it means to be in
Although they didn’t participate in the study tour, former and
current alumni of both Masa programs and American service organizations, like
Matthew Lebon, were hopeful that last week’s visitors were able to learn as much
from each other as the alums had during their own service
“In Israel there’s a good institutional framework for
volunteerism, for programs where they have people abroad come,” said Shai
Fierst, 29, who volunteered through Masa at the Arava Institute’s coexistence
school and then went on to serve in Suriname for the Peace Corps.
for an organization like Peace Corps, which also sends volunteers abroad, it’s
great to exchange ideas and really go over what works for them. The Israeli
organizations can emulate organizations like Peace Corps, and Peace Corps can
try to take from the Israelis,” Fierst said.
Meanwhile, Sam Buchbinder,
24, in part credits his Masafunded semester at Ben-Gurion University of the
Negev, where he was able to witness inequalities among Israeli ethnic groups
firsthand, for his ability to become a better classroom instructor in the
Central Bronx through Teach for America.
“Israel and the US have similar
issues of having a wide array of ethnic backgrounds in their countries, and
that’s where a lot of inequalities stem from,” he said.
27, agreed, using her personal experience as a Masa Israel Government Fellow for
the Ministry of Health and her upcoming Peace Corp term in public health as a
testament to the potential of these American and Israeli service organizations
“Learning to deal with a lot of different people from a
lot of different cultures and backgrounds will help me immensely,” she said.
“Israel Government Fellows and Masa really helped me to further that learning,
and that’ll be a big part of serving in the Peace Corps.”