Tomorrow's Jewish leaders.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
At the beginning of 2010, 25-year-old Londoner and college graduate Danielle
Abraham was simply looking for a short-term Israel program that could provide
her with a meaningful real-life and authentic Israeli experience. That fall, she
was fortunate to be accepted into the prestigious Menachem Begin Heritage
Center’s Israel Government Fellows Program, which combines a 10-month internship
in government offices along with educational seminars and Hebrew language
Little did she know at the time but her internship
placement within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Mashav Division (The Agency
for International Development Cooperation) would have a great impact on her
professional career as well as on her life as a whole.
In June 2011 –
while still an unpaid intern with the Fellows Program – Mashav sent Abraham to
New York to serve as their sole representative to the annual executive board
meeting of the United Nation’s Development Programme (UNDP). Hesitant at first,
Abraham not only went, but she shined.
Impressed with how well she
represented Mashav, and after reading her reports on the meeting upon her
return, the ministry offered her a fulltime position at the consulate in New
York. But Abraham realized that she wanted a life in Israel and turned the offer
down, insisting on making aliya and requested to work for Mashav as a paid
employee in Jerusalem.
After intense negotiations with the ministry, her
request was accommodated. After making aliya a reality, Abraham was offered a
position as a Jerusalem-based policy advisor for Mashav, working to help
strengthen quality of life in developing countries via Israel’s relationship
with international aid organizations, including the prominent Organization for
Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
Paul Gross, The Israel
Government Fellow’s program director, himself a fairly recent oleh from England,
is not surprised by Abraham’s success story. He says that “there are at least five other program alumnae currently
working in the Foreign Service.”
He attributes their accomplishments
primarily to the program itself, saying that “through the experience we provide
our fellows, they gain a real understanding of the importance Israel plays in
the world, and most importantly develop a connection between Israel and their
own personal Jewish identity.”
According to Gross, the goal of Israel
Government Fellows, which was founded in 2007, “is to strengthen the connection
future Jewish leaders have to the Land of Israel. We provide them [through their
internships] with professional skills they will utilize in their careers, while
at the same time we help them experience real-life Israel – living here and
working here, truly as part of society.”
IN ADDITION to the internship
aspect of the program, which consists of a demanding Sunday-Wednesday full-time
placement at a government ministry, Thursdays are dedicated to comprehensive
educational seminars at the Begin Center, where participants are able to hear
from speakers representing the top of their fields in academia, journalism and
government, among other professions.
Gross says the goal is to “give the
participants a glimpse into all aspects of Israel society, so they can gain a
real understanding of the complexities facing Israel’s leaders
Participants are also taken on extended overnight trips
throughout the country during the year, to learn firsthand about the land itself
and its diverse populations. At the beginning of the program they are also given
an intensive Hebrew language course (ulpan) to help them with a quick
integration into their placements.
Gross is proud that nearly a quarter
of the program’s alumnae, numbering approximately 100 participants since its
founding, have made aliya.
“Most of those that haven’t,” he says, “remain
active members of their Jewish communities at home, and are involved in Israel
activism. In addition, through their experience they now have the ability to
answer questions about Israel effectively if engaged at home, since they know
what they are talking about.”
Gross says the program, which is a
recognized partner of Masa – a joint project of the Government of Israel and the
Jewish Agency for Israel, which offers young adults from abroad educational
opportunities here – accepts a diverse group of participants each year, from
countries around the world and that come from a broad spectrum of political
“It doesn’t matter if you are to the Right or the Left,”
says Gross, “we are looking for Jewish applicants who are already extremely
accomplished in their young lives, and are committed to working hard in making a
contribution to Israeli society.”
Gross says the application committee is
“highly selective” in seeking out tomorrow’s Jewish leaders.
is certainly not inexpensive, with tuition fees around $15,000 per session not
including housing. However, Masa does grant each student around $4,500 to
participate, while the Begin Center itself chips in with $2,000 per student.
Also, daily transportation costs to and from the participant’s placement are
This year there are 19 fellows on the program and they have
taken on internships throughout a wide variety of ministries including Foreign
Affairs, Justice and Finance.
Once a placement is chosen the fellows are
given a “mentor” at their respective ministry who assigns them projects and
looks after their progress.
“Our interns are given serious work including
writing reports, ministers’ speeches, event planning, or hosting delegations
from abroad. Most of the work is in English. The mentors understand that these
interns are here to take on serious responsibilities, and are not here to make
photocopies, or coffee. They truly become part of the
Gross says that the feedback he has gotten from the various
ministries over the years has nearly universally been positive, and ministries
are always eager to accept new fellows, year after year.
Barnett, who was born in South Africa and now lives in Australia, is a current
participant in the Fellows program.
He describes his internship as an
economist for Israel’s Securities Authority (ISA) as being “intense.” His
responsibilities include working on projects involving both local and global
Barnett says that while he’s only an intern “I have
been given a great deal of responsibility, working with an intimate team, and I
feel like I am really making a difference for Israel.”
Upon completion of
the Fellows Program, Barnett plans to return to Sydney and pursue a career as a
cooperative adviser in the banking industry. He says that spending time
experiencing real life in Israel has enriched his sense of Zionism, while at the
same time has left him somewhat more conflicted with his personal
“Living here and experiencing Israel firsthand [as opposed to
hearing about Israel from abroad], it is difficult to turn a blind eye to what’s
going on when everything is staring at you in the face.” He adds that “for sure
I’ve become more emotional and passionate about Israel, but definitions and
solutions [to the conflict with the Arabs for example] seem more open-ended when
you are living it.”
AN EXAMPLE of Barnett’s passion for Israel is a
grassroots social action initiative he along with three other Fellows started,
which goes above and beyond the program’s requirements.
Known as the
“Clean the Land,” movement, Barnett and his peers are aiming to create a
litter-free and more eco-friendly Israel.
They are doing so by calling
for all current Masa participants, and the Israeli public at large, to take to
the streets, beaches and parks in their local communities and pick up
In fact, the inaugural “Clean the Land Day” took place across the
country last month.
According to Barnett, hundreds of Masa participants
broke off into teams and along with members of local Israeli communities around
the country went out into their neighborhoods with gloves and garbage bags to
pick up all trash in sight.
Barnett is confident that the inaugural Clean
the Land initiative will become an annual event where Masa joins with their
local neighbors to beautify the country.
He says the idea came about when
he and his friends were looking for a way to contribute to their homes in
Israel. “We live here, eat, sleep and play here,” he says. “While not all of us
might make aliya, we are here now so this is our home. We wanted to give back to
the community and do something that will benefit the public, and might one day
benefit those of us who do come back full time and raise our families
Herzl Makov, the president of the Menachem Begin Heritage Center,
is proud of Barnett and the other Israel Government Fellows, both past and
present, for their accomplishments within their placements and their overall
contributions to Israeli society.
It was Makov that came up with the idea
for the program, seeking in his words a way to “combine the legacy of Menachem
Begin – his beliefs in government quality, government ethics and the need to
serve the people – with offering Jews from the Diaspora a way to strengthen
their relationship to the Jewish homeland.”
Makov is convinced the
program is accomplishing its mission. He has received great feedback from
participants, the ministries themselves, and feels that “the fact that a
substantial amount of Fellows are making aliya is an accomplishment within
itself. In short,” he says, “I feel the program truly represents the Begin