JERUSALEM – The late Prime Minister of Israel Ariel Sharon had a dream when he created Masa Israel Journey together with The Jewish Agency for Israel in 2004: "That every young Jew should spend one year of his or her life living in Israel."
On January 1, 2006, just days before Sharon was hospitalized, he hosted young people who made his dream come true by coming to spend a year studying and volunteering in Israel as part of Masa Israel Journey, a partnership between the Government of Israel and The Jewish Agency. Sharon sang Hanukkah songs with them and told them: "We need your support, but more than anything, we need you to live here."
Ariel Sharon was one of the founders of Masa Israel Journey. The initiative, which is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year, was created by the Government of Israel, headed by then-prime minister Ariel Sharon, and The Jewish Agency for Israel, with then-Chairman of the Executive Sallai Meridor, in order to enable young Jews between the ages of 18 and 30 to spend between five months and a year in Israel on a variety of programs, all in order to strengthen their Jewish identities and their connections to Israel.
At the event marking Masa's establishment in 2004, Sharon said: "In order to ensure our unity, we must reimagine our partnership with the next generation, the youth of the Jewish people. The Masa program is the bridge upon which this partnership will be built.
"I have a dream that every young Jew will view one formative year in Israel as an integral part of his or her life. I prefer, of course, that this be one stop on the path toward Aliyah (immigration to Israel), which is my most fervent hope. This is a dream that can, I believe, be realized, if not in total than at least in part.
"Your personal journey will be our collective journey."
Symbolically, on January 1, 2006, just days before he was hospitalized and in one of his final public appearances, then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon hosted a group of 21 Jewish students from twelve countries, who had realized his dream by coming to Israel through the Government of Israel and The Jewish Agency's Masa Israel Journey program.
Alan Hoffmann, who today serves as The Jewish Agency's Director-General and at the time headed the organization's education department and was one of the founders of Masa, was present, as well.
During the event, Sharon greeted the Masa participants and told them, "We need your support, but more than anything we need you to live here, in Israel, the homeland of the Jewish people."
Since the creation of Masa Israel Journey, some 86,000 Jewish young people have come to experience life in Israel through the program. Studies have shown that the Masa experience has a striking impact on participants' connections to Jewish life and to Israel, leading researchers to note that "the apparent impact of Masa Israel is profound in ALL areas of Israel-related and Jewish engagement" (see here).
Masa participants have contributed some one million volunteer hours to Israeli society and they are involved in all areas of Israeli life and the Israeli economy.