By Shalom Elcott
As Israel celebrates its milestone 70th birthday, I am vividly reminded of the significance and weight of questions about our future, Jewish leaders and what the next 70 years will look like for Israel and the Jewish people. As we prepared to mark this moment, I watched 4,000 of these future Jewish leaders and another 3,000 who have already taken up the mantle of leadership in communities across the United States participate in Masa Israel Journey’s ceremony for Yom Hazikaron. The ceremony took place at the Armored Corps Memorial Site in Latrun, with 10,000 more joining by livestream from around the world, including Jewish communities in Mexico, Russia, Argentina and across North America.
I hope this experience was as meaningful for them as my early Israel experiences were for me. As a child of a Holocaust survivor, my commitment to Jewish life was fostered through the access that I was given by an earlier generation of Jewish leaders to a diverse set of Israel-related experiences. These formative experiences laid a foundation for me that led to a lifelong commitment to the Jewish community through my work as a foundation and federation professional as well as a facilitator for hundreds of trips to Israel.
I have witnessed the growth of our community through synagogue life, Jewish camps, day schools, Hillels, donors, foundations and organizations around the world, which are all providing Israel experiences for the next generation. The commitment from so many different parties to ensuring that global Jewry has access to immersive Israel experiences is stunning, and I am thrilled to see the influence and innovation involved in bringing this to fruition.
One of the most important experiences for so many young Jews has been Birthright. It has lit the flame of so many young people to bring them closer to Israel, to the Jewish community and to a commitment to our future. Masa has gone on to provide thousands of these Birthright participants with a vehicle to continue their journey of exploration and to give them the tools to lead.
Masa’s long-term international career development and leadership experiences in Israel for young adults from around the world are an unparalleled opportunity that makes immersive Israel experiences accessible and possible for the next generation.
Over the past 13 years, Masa Israel Journey has taken the sparks created by our Jewish partners and figured out how to sustain the flame by bringing 13,000 participants back annually to live and breathe everything that Israel encompasses.
As I continue to meet the “humans of Masa,” I keep reverting back to that same question of what is the future for global Jewry and the State of Israel. I remain hopeful as I see our program participants leave Israel with a greater sense of Zionism, a heightened sense of Jewish identity and leadership and professional development growth experiences they would not have been afforded elsewhere. As one of Masa’s young professionals once said, “Our roots are much more deeply sown into the country now. Even though we no longer live there, our commitment to ensuring the Jewish homeland is part of us.”
The Masa Israel DNA is reinforced by the team we have created for ourselves, which includes 95 professionals in 62 countries in the world, many of whom are Birthright and Masa alumni.
I am deeply honored to facilitate our community’s support for Masa, which is fostering the next generation of strong supporters of Israel and Jewish communal leaders. The Jewish world’s persistence in getting the next generation to Israel to create the initial spark, and Masa Israel’s ability to feed those sparks, is creating the pipeline that makes myself and my fellow leaders confident that our futures are well lit.
As I think about my mother’s legacy as a Holocaust survivor and her commitment to establishing the state of Israel, I can only imagine how proud she would be as we celebrate Israel’s 70th birthday this Yom HaAtzmaut. I am confident that our community is well equipped with the leaders necessary to keep the torch burning.
The next 70 years are on us.
Shalom Elcott is the North American CEO of Masa Israel Journey, the leader in immersive international career development and leadership experiences in Israel for young adults ages 18-30. Masa is a cooperation between The Jewish Agency and the government of Israel, made possible by the generous contributions of The Jewish Federations of North America, Keren Hayesod -UIA and other donors worldwide.