For Young Adults, Israel Their Way

A new Masa Israel Journey option lets Conservative/ Masorti participants customize their trips

by Bonnie Riva Ras

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With more than 200 different options, MASA Israel Journey helps provide young adults with an abundance of ways to immerse themselves in Israeli life through study, internships, volunteer programs, and more. You can do a gap-year program like Nativ or a semester abroad at an Israeli university; study in a kibbutz ulpan or in the year program of the Conservative Yeshiva. Despite this embarrassment of riches, if you wanted to do several things in multiple locations for short time-spans, there wasn’t a MASA provider for you.

To fill the vacuum, a company called Israel Experience teamed up with Marom Olami – the worldwide youth movement for Conservative/ Masorti Jews – to create yet another MASA program. But instead of offering a pre-packaged experience for five to 10 months, this program, Israel By Design, lets young people create a tailor-made journey based on where they want to be and what they want to do in Israel.

For those who are interested, the group also offers a Conservative/Masorti track that lets participants do the exact kind of volunteering, interning and study they want, but in a Conservative/Masorti environment.

The Conservative track includes weekend and holiday seminars at the Conservative Yeshiva or Schechter Institute in Jerusalem; visits to Conservative/Masorti kibbutzim; spending time with a host Masorti family; and meeting other Conservative/ Masorti young adults. If they’d like, students can volunteer with a Tali school – Israel’s version of pluralistic Jewish schools – or a Masorti kehilla.

So far 20 students from Europe and South America have participated in the Israel By Design Conservative/Masorti track, and it opened this year to young people from North America.

Israel By Design’s first Masorti-track participant was Shlomo Perarnaud, 30, from France. “I told them what I wanted to do: study Hebrew and Yiddish and Judaism. And I wanted to live in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa. They put it together,” said Perarnaud.

His 10-month program included studying Hebrew at an ulpan, Yiddish in Tel Aviv and a semester at the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem. He finished by studying Hebrew in Haifa. Perarnaud also spent Shabbatot in Beersheva, at Kibbutz Hanatan, and at Masorti kehillot in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

Perarnaud converted to Judaism when he was 25 and became active in a Marom group in Paris. “I wanted to connect to my Jewish identity and to Israel,” he said. “The Masorti track helped me understand what it is to be a Conservative Jew and how to define myself.”

Next summer, Israel by Design will offer a two-month summer program specifically for college students, including graduates of gap-year programs who have already used all of their MASA benefits.