December 2, 2007 / 22 Kislev 5768
“I’m having the most amazing time,” says David Gluck. The Australian business law student is in Israel as part of Kivunim - New Directions, a new program that offers young Jewish adults the opportunity to explore not only their homeland, but other countries around the world including Morocco, Greece, Turkey, India, Lithuania, Egypt, Spain, Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary, and Jordan. “It's an opportunity to see the world, to acquire a global consciousness, and to understand Jewish history," explains David.
David Gluck (r) with Kivunim friends at an ancient synagogue in Veria, Greece.
The nine-month Kivunim program is part of MASA – a joint initiative of the Israeli government and the Jewish Agency that has brought tens of thousands of young Jews to Israel since its inception in 2004. Participants, ages 18-30, can choose from more than 150 long-term educational and volunteer programs that last from one semester to one year. These programs give young people the chance to make Israel their own – to learn Hebrew, to interact with Israelis, and to actively contribute to strengthening the country.
The MASA experience is transformative; young Jews from around the world return to their communities engaged, inspired and connected. This year, more than 8,000 young Jews will come to Israel as part of MASA and the goal is to bring that number up to 20,000 each year. All participants receive grants of at least $2,000 and need-based scholarships are also available. This support is made possible through the generosity of Jewish Federations across North America, the UJC, Keren Hayesod-UIA and donors in Israel around the world.
“To be a MASA program, you need several components,” explains the Jewish Agency's Meryl Weissman. “There needs to be study of Zionism, Judaism and Hebrew. Participants also must have the opportunity to experience Israel, volunteer in some capacity, and meet Israelis. But each program takes its own direction and tries to reach a different population.”
Kivunim combines all of these elements. Designed for 18 and 19-year-olds in their gap year – the year between graduating high school and starting college – Kivunim participants are home-based in Jerusalem at Kibbutz Ramat Rachel. Since the group arrived a few months ago they have visited many of the traditional tourist spots in Israel including the Old City, Masada and the Dead Sea. But they are also enjoying all kinds of unique and compelling experiences – they spent two days traveling in the desert with one of the world's foremost experts on Beduins; they visited the Temple Mount and the Dome of the Rock where they learned about Islam in anticipation of their trips to Turkey and Morocco; and they lived alongside Israeli Arabs in the northern village of Mazraa as part of a special unit exploring coexistence.
A few weeks ago, David spent the weekend at a security seminar. “We saw the security fence, we learned about it, heard talks from professors and journalists and activists, and that was only one of many activities,” he says. Kivunim participants also volunteer on a weekly basis. “I go to an old age home and a soup kitchen," says David. "And other people are doing everything from working with babies to helping people with disabilities, a whole range of volunteer jobs.”
Clearly, though, the highlight of the trip is the world travel. “Our focus when we travel is Jewish history, meeting the Jewish leaders there and seeing the Jewish community,” explains David. There is also a Jewish roots component. David’s family is originally from Hungary, so he brought documents and photos in order to do some searching when he visits the country. “It’s a great mixture of having fun but also learning a lot,” he says. “Learning languages, meeting interesting people, it’s really amazing.”
For David, Kivunim is turning out to be the opportunity of a lifetime. “It’s a very pluralistic program,” says David. “There are people on the program from all walks of Jewish life. It’s also nonsectarian – there are Orthodox, Reform and Conservative kids, and it makes for some lively conversations and interesting practices. It has opened me up to seeing things that I’ve never seen before. It’s great.”