June 11, 2007 / 25 Sivan 5767
Since the barrage of Kassam rockets began a month ago, the emergency security situation in Sderot and in the communities of the Gaza perimeter region has prevented me from sharing with you a very emotional experience that I had.
This powerful experience occurred at the annual gathering of the MASA program, which took place in Jerusalem in the presence of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Minister of Social Affairs Isaac Herzog and Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski. Also in attendance were Knesset members, public figures, senior Jewish Agency officials, and more than 5,000 MASA participants from all over the Jewish world. The event, which marked the 40th anniversary of the unification of Jerusalem, was poignant and moving in the way it brought together Jews from around the globe.
The walls of the Old City of Jerusalem and David’s Citadel formed a captivating backdrop to the story of national Jewish renewal in Israel, with Jerusalem as its capital. Thousands of young Jews were living witnesses to the deep connection between the Jewish people from around the world and the people that dwell in Zion, the people that write Hebrew poetry and sing Jewish songs. Thousands of voices singing together filled me with pride and great joy.
These days, we are celebrating three years since the launching of the MASA program, a joint venture of the Israeli government and the Jewish Agency for Israel. MASA began with the vision of connecting young Jews from around the world with Israel via participation in a range of study and volunteer activities.
This year, approximately 8,000 young men and women came to Israel for extended periods of up to a year, within the framework of 150 different work-study programs. In my many encounters with them, I have witnessed the amazing process that these young people undergo during their stay in Israel. The experiences of life in Israel, the Hebrew language, the many new friends that they make along the way, the close acquaintance they have with the Israeli landscape and its people, and the deepening of their Jewish and Zionist identities, all form a significant component of their lives and become a core of their beings as they enter adulthood. In every encounter I’ve had with them, my heart pulses with excitement from their spirit, idealism, motivation, belief and desire to be involved in Jewish life and to make a meaningful contribution to Israeli society.
This unique spirit was demonstrated during the Second Lebanon War last summer. MASA participants who had been here during that difficult period stayed out of sheer commitment that this was their place at that time. When the battles finished, many of them went up North with tremendous dedication to help with the recovery activities. They volunteered to clean up public gardens, assisted traumatized schoolchildren experiencing difficulties in returning to normal life and worked in old-age homes. They also worked in community centers, helped children with special needs and youth in distress, and volunteered to help with the wounded in hospitals. Even today, nearly a year later, MASA young people continue to work in the North with dedication, bringing a light of hope and a message of love and commitment to the Jewish people around the world and to the citizens of Israel.
This period of their lives, in which they live and work in Israel, also constitutes a personal journey of awakening in their search for a place in the Jewish communities from which they came. I am certain that as they return to their homes, they will be involved and committed to community life, and will continue to flourish, becoming future leaders of Jewish communities around the world.
MASA would not be possible without the support and partnership of the United Jewish Communities of North American, the Jewish Federations, Keren Hayesod, United Israel Appeal and donations from the Jewish world, Israel and the Israeli government. This is another opportunity for me to thank you for your commitment to this global Jewish partnership, to ensuring the future of the Jewish people and the State of Israel.