[by Phyllis Shaikun]
Editor’s note: Masa is a joint project of the Israeli government and the Jewish Agency for Israel that provides grants and scholarships and enables Jewish young adults, ages 18-30, to spend five to 12 months in Israel interning, volunteering or studying in one of more than 160 programs. Participants in Masa Israel build lasting relationships with Israel – the land and its people – and strengthen their Jewish identity with meaningful life-changing experiences. From time to time, Community will share information we have received from young Louisvillians taking part in a Masa Israel Journey. )
Laura Verwest, a member of our Louisville Jewish community, is studying in the master’s program in government (with a concentration in Counter-Terrorism and Homeland Security) at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) in Herzliya. Her visit was made possible, in part, through a Masa grant. She sent the following information via email.
I heard about Masa when I was in Israel last summer. I had a few friends who received Masa scholarships, so when I came back to the US, I applied. My Masa program funding included both a regular grant and financial-aid. The regular grant was very easy to access since you apply on the Masa website. For the needs-based scholarship, you have to provide evidence of the need for monetary assistance.
I am not actually doing the full master’s program, but I am in Herzliya for a semester while I do an internship affiliated with the university at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism. As an intern, I am working on my own research project. My topic is focused on potential security threats, namely terrorism, to energy sectors such as oil and natural gas in the Caspian Basin areas (post-Soviet regions like the Caucasus and Central Asia).
Although school and research take up the majority, if not all, of my time, I have managed to travel on occasion and to create some amazing, lasting friendships. Since I arrived on October 13, 2011, I have traveled to the Negev, Jerusalem, Haifa, Rosh Hanikra, Netanya, Akko and the Golan Heights. I’ve enjoyed every moment of exploring the country, which is absolutely beautiful, and, in my opinion, impossible not to appreciate.
Living in Tel Aviv and studying in Herzliya has given me tons of opportunities to meet fellow students as well. Most of my friends here are also in my program. They are fellow American Diaspora Jews or Europeans (mostly Belgians and Germans) who are ethnically part Jewish or simply interested in Judaism and the state of Israel. These people have become very close friends with whom I will certainly stay in touch.
My friends have all connected on such a strong level via our serious discussions on identity, religion, ethnicity, politics, peace and hope even through our rather silly and ridiculous chats late at night. These relationships have been the most important part of my time here. It has been an invaluable experience to meet other young Diaspora Jews from all over the U.S. and the world as it creates a connection and link between us all.
Unfortunately, my time here is coming to an end. I’m actually a Russian and Eurasian Studies specialist, so there’s only so much I can do here on that topic. In mid-February, I will be moving to Russia to complete a Master’s in Russian and Eurasian Studies at the European University at St. Petersburg. While I am excited to pursue my career goals further; I’m also quite sad to be leaving Israel. It’s going to be hard transitioning from life in the Jewish state to a country where being Jewish isn’t exactly welcomed. However, I’ve lived in Russia extensively before and I know I’ll be back in Israel at some point soon in the future.
Overall, I am very grateful that Masa gave me the financial means to return to Israel and do my internship and studies at the IDC. I think Masa could help a lot of young people to travel to Israel. Most college students think of Birthright as their only option to go to Israel, but that’s definitely not true. Plus, with MASA, you get to stay way longer.