Thousands of Masa Israel Journey Fellows, alumni, partners and community members came together on October 20 at Hayarkon Park to celebrate the start of Masa Israel Journey’s 2021-2022 programming year and Masa’s 18th year anniversary of transformative work.
Since its 2004 founding by The Jewish Agency and government of Israel, Masa has served over 170,000 young people from more than 60 countries.
The event marked Israel’s largest-ever single gathering of global Jewry volunteering and working in Israel since COVID-19. The event was also livestreamed, bringing the global community together for this momentous occasion.
More than 3,000 attendees enjoyed a special performance by Israeli sensation HaTikva 6 and an address by Masa’s CEO Ofer Gutman. A special greeting was played by Israeli President Isaac Herzog, with speeches by Minister of Diaspora Nachman Shai and Acting Chairman of the Executive of The Jewish Agency Yaakov Hagoel.
Attendees also participated in community-building workshops, consisting of games, and an art wall where Fellows were encouraged to leave their creative mark representing their journey ahead. The event also included activity and food booths with countries from around the world, representing the global cultures that make up the Masa community.
Despite the coronavirus crisis, Masa’s numbers have remained strong, and even increased significantly. Masa’s career programs have seen a 153% increase in demand this year, and demand for its volunteer programs has increased 50% in the past two years. Masa Gap and Academic programs also continue to climb. There are currently around 7,500 participants in Israel and thousands more are expected to arrive over the course of the year.
Among this year's Masa Fellows is Ben Katz from Vancouver, Canada who is interning at Israeli bio-tech company Sonovia.
“In these crazy times we are living in, I am so grateful that I have been able to come to Israel for a life-changing experience with the help of Masa," he said. "With my background in materials engineering and experience in textiles manufacturing, I got an internship at Sonovia working with one of the most impactful Israeli companies in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s been a great opportunity for me to build on my engineering skillset and learn the startup culture, while working on products that help save lives.”
Gutman said: that "I am especially grateful to be here with you because today we mark our first large event since the pandemic began. It’s inspiring to see just how far we have come.
"As I look at you today, on Masa’s 18th anniversary, I am filled with a sense of pride for this growing community that has traveled far to be here to contribute to the Israeli society. You are making lasting connections and contributing to strengthening our global Jewish community!
"You are the next generation of leaders, and we feel privileged to support you as you learn more about Israel and yourselves," he concluded.
“By choosing to immerse yourself in Israeli society and by sharing your unique stories and skills with us, you’re contributing to Israel’s growth, and you are becoming partners in the critical mission of strengthening the ties between Israel and the Jewish people—especially the next generation," Herzog said. “I am eager to see how our journey together—here—in your and my Israel will make your lives so much richer. As President of the State of Israel, I look forward to continuing to work with Masa and I thank you all for making this incredible project a reality for so many years. May you enjoy many more years of success and meaningful impact.”
Shai also weighed in, saying that, "As I look at all of you, I can't help but reflect on how remarkable it is that young Jews around the world have the ability to freely come to Israel -–the Jewish and democratic state of the Jewish people. This is truly a dream that our ancestors could only imagine for over 2000 years. Today, we take it for granted."
He added that "I encourage you to keep in your hearts and minds what it means to be a young and free Jew in our nation-state today. Take advantage of every moment and opportunity that comes your way while here. Adding, “Finally, as Diaspora Minister, let me share, that we, in Israel, welcome your voice, ideas, and participation. The people of Israel are also lucky and honored that you chose to invest your time and energy with us here. Your presence enriches our schools, companies, institutions, and society-at-large. My door is always open to you.”
And finally, Hagoel told the young participants, “You are young people from all over the world, who have come here, to this country, to study, to volunteer, to intern, to enjoy, to get excited, to photograph, to pray and to feel at home. What other nation in the world can feel pride in having one event with so many people from all over the world? The people of Israel began their lives in the journey (Masa) of one man - Abraham our father. A long journey, that lasted for generations accompanied with countless challenges, hardships and difficulties. You, young people are starting the most significant journey in your life. We are one people, with one history and with one long journey--the journey home. This is your Masa.”
This article is written in cooperation with Masa.