The Masa (journey) program provides scholarships to young Jewish adults to spend from a semester to a year in Israel studying, exploring the land and immersing themselves in Israeli culture.
Lital Carmel is with the Jewish Agency office in San Francisco where she coordinates the Masa program. She was in Portland in early April to meet with Jewish leaders and groups to discuss the program.
"This is a new initiative building on the success of birthright Israel," said Carmel. She was referring to the Taglit-birthright Israel program that underwrites short-term, first-time, peer-group trips to Israel for Jews between the ages of 18 and 26.
"We know that people come back to their home country (from birthright trips) energized and enthusiastic, and want to connect with Jewish life," said Carmel.
"Masa gives them the option to come back to Israel and really live it—not just get to know it," she added. "When you take this time—between a semester and a year—and just live in Israel, you get friends for life, you connect with your peers, you have this opportunity to explore your homeland, your Jewish heritage, Jewish roots, what is Jewish for you."
How does Masa work?
The Masa program does not, itself, send people to Israel. Rather, it underwrites, in whole or in part, a person's participation in existing long-term Israel programs such as Young Judaea Year Course and Otzma, among many others.
"Masa is an umbrella for existing and new long-term Israel programs," said Carmel.
She likened Masa to a gateway to some 150 programs, not only like Young Judaea and Otzma, but also to Israel university programs and post-college programs, yeshivas, outdoor adventure programs such as Artneuland, volunteer programs, internships, women's programs and much more.
Carmel said that Masa carefully screens programs before adding them to those for which they will provide scholarships.
"It's like a quality check. We go to the organizers and give them a check: You have to have this, this, this and this, and then we go back and make sure it's properly fulfilled and executed," she said.
When you see the Masa logo on an Israel program, said Carmel, "you know it's a high quality program."
The scholarships provided by Masa are significant.
"The average scholarship in North America is $3,500," said Carmel.. "All the ones I know of are much higher."
She added, however, that in America 100 percent scholarships for Masa programs are less common than they are in, say, the states of the former Soviet Union or some Latin American nations.
"Kids from U.S. don't usually need 100 percent, but if they need it, they'll get it," said Carmel.
Although just two years old, Masa is an ambitious program that has experienced considerable early success. Masa leaders plan to stay on that path, according to Carmel.
"This year, we have 6,000 participants currently in Israel. Next year it's going to be 7,500," she said. "The year before, the year we started Masa, it was 5,800 people. The ultimate goal is in 2010 to have 20,000 people."
Masa is funded chiefly by the government of Israel and the Jewish Agency.
The government of Israel has committed up to $50 million to the program.
The Jewish Agency, which is funded largely by the North American system of Jewish federations, has committed $18 million.
Other funds come from foundations, private donors and others.
To learn more about Masa, visit their Web site: www.masaisrael.org. Call Carmel in San Francisco at 415-512-6425.
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