Shalom, readers!  Here I sit here in the #JFNAGA plenary, listening to….oh, who am I kidding, I’m barely paying attention.  If ever there was an event created for the purpose of multi-tasking, multi-schmoozing, and multi-social media applications, this is it.  It’s hard to pay attention when you’re live-Tweeting, meeting the person sitting next to you (and behind you, and in front of you, while adding them on Facebook), and writing up a Jewlicious blog post.  If anyone says anything so critical, I can always read about it on Twitter, or hear about it at the Rocky Mountain Schmooze tomorrow night.  We’ll see if I can churn out this blog post without missing anything too important.

As detailed by CK here, many college students walked away from the 2010 GA feeling like the event hadn’t catered to them.  It would be hard to imagine that would again be the case if the last Masa Israel session is an indication of this year’s programming.  Jewish Agency for Israel chairman (and as he is better known, former Soviet refusenik) Natan Sharansky joined the Masa campus interns for an informal dialogue over lunch.

Tangent:  This session came on the heels of a Shabbat devoted to brainstorming ways to keep the Jewish community on campus engaged with Israel, culminating in a hilarious stand-up comedy performance Saturday night by American oleh (immigrant) Benji Lovitt.  Benji may or may not be writing this very blog post, but rest assured, it was funny, dammit (I swear on Pinati chumus, ask anyone who was there.  Now where were we….)

I could write out a lengthy article summarizing the session but I already live-Tweeted it; why reinvent the wheel?  Some closing comments at the end. A few themes will make themselves very clear.  (This looks a bit long but really, they’re just Tweets.)

Natan Sharansky joins @MasaIsrael, sits on floor next to interns.

Avi Rubel introducing Sharansky even though he says he needs no intro.

@MasaIsrael interns going around circle, introducing selves to Sharansky who literally just came from airport.

Sharansky jokes about lack of men in room among @MasaIsrael interns. Crowd laughs.

We believe Israel programs are very important for Jewish identity but we also have aim to build global Jewish leadership.

That was Natan Sharansky, BTW.

Sharansky: To what extent did @MasaIsrael program help you in challenging atmosphere of campuses?

Sharansky asking for areas of improvement for @MasaIsrael, positives and constructive criticism.

Sharansky jumping right into dialogue with @MasaIsrael, asking for their input. @yjyearcourse most represented, I’m beaming.


Area of improvement to Sharansky: Israeli uni programs need higher interaction w/Israelis, 1 girl made no Israeli friends.

Sharansky asks if she learned any Hebrew…tough in J’lem (no surprise).

Sharansky: It’s tough, on 1 hand, he hears not enough programs in English, on other, not enough deep involvement in Israeli life.

To Sharansky: @MasaIsrael intern says making friends w/Israelis was most beneficial, I can come back to USA and talk about Israelis.

Sharansky: For olim chadashim, Bayit B’yachad allows Israelis to adopt immigrants. To do it for @MasaIsrael participants also? YES!

@MasaIsrael intern got to live w/Israelis, had different experience, had many Israeli friends…and she speaks Hebrew!

@MasaIsrael intern says to Sharansky we need option mid-year to start interacting w/Israelis for those who 1st felt otherwise.

Fellas, overwhelming majority of @MasaIsrael interns are females. Time to start advocating for Israel!

@MasaIsrael intern: great living w/tsofim on @yjyearcourse, learning Hebrew, going to their houses.

@MasaIsrael intern from TAU says to Sharansky he didn’t study w/Israelis, hard to really grasp culture and society.

BTW, it’s suggestion time w/Sharansky…don’t be fooled. @MasaIsrael interns LOVE Israel!

RT @MasaIsrael: Some internship programs also had a buddy system to meet Israelis (@destinationisrael)

@MasaIsrael intern: Community service in neighborhoods allowed for understanding of Israeli communities.

@MasaIsrael intern: all my friends who’ve studied abroad, they don’t come back passionate like those who studied in Israel.

@MasaIsrael intern from TAU tells Sharansky she lived w/Palestinian, completely life-changing. Went against pre-conceived notions.

Sharansky: We have Israel Fellows on some campuses. Are you connected to them? Are you using them?

How many of you (@MasaIsrael fellows) have Israel Fellows on campus? Most hands go up.

@MasaIsrael to Sharansky: worked w/Israel Fellow to create support structure in Israel for all those studying in Israel.

Sharansky pushing for feedback, “we’re learning all the time.” This man truly cares what people think.

@MasaIsrael intern: my school won’t give credits to study abroad b/c of US State Dept. Hard to get people to study in Israel. Grr…

Campuses who don’t give credit to @MasaIsrael grads can sit on a Negev cactus.

2:18 PM: 1st chumus reference by a @MasaIsrael intern. Now we’re having fun!

How is Sharansky sitting on floor w/o repositioning? My back is killing me.

(Editor’s note: Somebody responded with the expected answer. I didn’t want to say it.)

“Anything else?”-Sharansky (Bueller? Bueller?)

By my count, 9 male @MasaIsrael interns, 27 ladies. #uselessinformation

Highlight of Sharansky’s talk so far to @MasaIsrael: his casual nature. Lowlight: dropping tomato on my slacks.

Sharansky: you are the ones who need to engage unaffiliated, to come on @TaglitBRI and @MasaIsrael programs.

Thank you to Natan Sharansky for coming, applause ensues.

This should go without saying but Natan Sharansky was more than receptive to the interns’ feedback; he was genuinely curious in what they had to say.  This wasn’t even a talk; the dude entered, sat on the floor with them, and basically said, “talk to me.”  Some conclusions which also probably go without saying:  while Masa programs are awesome, they would be even more awesome if participants had more interaction with their Israeli counterparts.  Heck, I live in Jerusalem and I’m pissed that I don’t have more interaction with Israelis.  If I could improve one aspect of my life after five years in Israel, it would be Hebrew proficiency.  Screw money, language is the gateway to everything:  a social life, following the news, being able to fight with Ars McNecklace when he tries to cut in line at Melech Falafel.

Next conclusion: these programs will only continue to improve. How could they not?  One of the Jewish world’s biggest leaders is sold on the importance of these programs, Diaspora-Israel connections, and Jewish education.  I may not have access to Mr. Sharansky’s personal calendar (he blocked me after the last GA) but it’s clear that this wasn’t lip service.  I’m guessing the guy has too much to do to fly across the world just for a photo op with college students.  He gets it.

The moral of the story?  Send your kids to Israel.  We’ll all be better off for it.  And if you’re going to live-Tweet a one hour event, stretch first.

About the author


Since making aliyah in 2006, Benji Lovitt has spent roughly every waking moment doing one of the following: trying to make people laugh, eating chumus, or writing about chumus to make people laugh. In addition to working with tons of Jewy organizations to promote Israel, Benji has performed stand-up comedy about Israel for groups including Hillels, Birthright Israel, Jewish Federations, and of course, at Jewlicious Festival. His perspectives on aliyah and life in Israel have been featured on Israeli television and radio and in publications such as the Jerusalem Post, Haaretz, and the Jewish Daily Forward. It is said that every time he calls CK "Mr. Jewlicious", a tree is planted in the Jewish National Fund forest. For a hilarious comedy show, contact him at [email protected].