In Israel’s Largest Global Jewish Celebration Since COVID, Masa Celebrates its 18th Anniversary

Israel’s new president and other VIPs gather to welcome global Jewry to Israel.
October 26, 2021
Photos courtesy of Miller-Ink.

Thousands of young Jews from around the world gathered in Israel on Oct. 20 to celebrate the 18th anniversary of the founding of Masa Israel Journey in what was the first major international Jewish event in Israel since the COVID pandemic.

Dubbed Masa 18 Live, the celebration commemorated Masa’s nearly two decades of service, kicked off its upcoming programming year and featured addresses from a range of senior Israeli officials, including President Isaac Herzog.

“By choosing to immerse yourself in Israeli society and by sharing your unique stories and skills with us, you are 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 in his greeting at the event. “I am eager to see how our journey together, here, in your and my Israel, will make your lives so much richer.”

The event consisted of 3,000 Masa participants and featured community-building workshops, games and an art wall where Masa Fellows were encouraged to contribute in a way that represents their forthcoming journey. The Israeli band Hatikva 6 also performed for the crowd, driving home the overall theme of celebration and unification.

The event was packed with major leaders committed to connecting and strengthening the Jewish people, beginning with an address from Masa CEO Ofer Gutman and followed by live speeches from Minister of Diaspora Nachman Shai and Acting Chairman of the Executive of The Jewish Agency Yaakov Hagoel. Many of the speakers noted their appreciation for the thousands of diaspora Jews who have chosen to visit Israel through Masa’s programs, which facilitates long-term work and study abroad programs in Israel for young Jews from around the world.

“At a time of widening gaps between Jews in the diaspora and Israel, this event was the first major gathering of world Jewry—including fellows, alumni, and partners—since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.” said Masa CEO Ofer Gutman. “As we welcome our newest cohort to Israel, the entire Jewish world will benefit from their efforts to educate, volunteer, work, and grow in the Jewish homeland.”

Since its founding in 2004, Masa Israel Journey has accompanied over 170,000 students from 60 countries on study abroad and professional development trips to Israel. Masa Israel Journey trips range from four to 12 months and place students in internships, Hebrew language programs and nonprofit roles across Israel.

While the COVID-19 pandemic caused significant disruptions to Masa’s mission—which is centered around international travel—Gutman noted that the organization has continued to grow over the last 18 months. Several Masa programs have grown over last year, including Masa Career, which has doubled in registrants. Masa Gap and Academic programs have seen similar growth, Gutman said.

The celebration of Masa at 18, or chai, references Masa’s unique role in empowering young Jews to shape their lives, aptly summarized by Chairman of the Executive of The Jewish Agency Yaakov Hagoel.

“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,” Hagoel said to Masa participants in his address at the event. “What other nation in the world can feel pride in having one event with so many people from all over the world?”

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