A global celebration highlights the achievements of Israel’s Masa relatives

Growing up in Cutchogue, New York, Jovan Booker was considered the only amputee in his small Long Island town.

Built largely by his late father and grandmother, the keeper also had no idea until he was 15 that he was Jewish – an identity that was later confirmed on a trip to Israel and through a time he spent in Jerusalem.

Now a graduate student at Hofstra University New York and basketball coach Booker, 27, decided last year that he wanted to find a way to return to Israel. He soon secured a five-month internship through Israel’s Masa Career program with a nonprofit organization that uses basketball as a platform to bring it together with Arabs. The internship, which runs through January, combines his two interests in sports and non-profit work.

Booker, whose right leg was cut below the knee at the age of 10 months, plays basketball, football and other sports with the help of a specially designed standard carbon fiber socket. for his remaining grip, or hybrid high-performance leg.

“I thought I wanted to go back to Israel in a way that could make a difference in people’s lives,” Booker said. “Coming back this time in a pandemic, I was “This feels like a full circle. I feel that this is where I should have been in the beginning.”

On December. 14, Booker was among several Masa Israel Journey volunteers who lit Hanukkah candles at a global event celebrating thousands of Masa relatives on long-running programs in Israel.

Around 50,000 critics from around the world were gearing up for the high-profile international rally, which aimed to demonstrate Jewish stability and unity. Despite the pandemics, 7,500 people in Israel are currently on Masa – sponsored programs, and thousands more are expected to arrive in 2021.

The Glocal Hanukkah event – a play on the words “local” and “global” – also featured a show by Israeli pop duo Static & Ben-El. By this time there was a happy hour for Masa and alumni networks, as well as online gatherings at 50 community building workshops around Israel.

Masa provides immersive, long-term educational experiences for adults ages 18-30. Since its founding in 2004 by the Jewish Organization and the Israeli government, more than 160,000 young people from more than 60 countries have come to Israel on Masa-sponsored programs for periods ranging from two months to a year.

This year, with the international pandemic limiting, Masa programs provide a rare way to identify from different places around the world to connect in person. Masa aims to create opportunities for young people to come to Israel and grow as individuals and as active members of the Jewish community.

Rachella Ferst was another volunteer to light the menorah at the Hanukkah event, which was broadcast from the Tel Aviv studio and broadcast live via Facebook worldwide.

He was raised in Singapore, Ferst, 24, took last year from Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts with a major in psychology and education and a minor in Mandarin Chinese.

She now teaches English as part of Masa Israel Teaching Fellows at a high school in the Arab-Jewish town of Ramle.

“I have always loved Israel. I’ve been here twice before and didn’t want to leave. I had such a connection to this country, it is almost inexplicable, ”said Ferst, who has a Singapore mother and an Israeli father. “But with the coronavirus, I felt like I wanted to come back despite the challenges. These students are more late than ever, especially in peripheral areas, and need personal attention. “

Although Ferst had little knowledge of Hebrew when she arrived, her background prepared for education and previous work in Southeast Asia – volunteering at an orphanage in Cambodia for children with HIV-AIDS – good for Ramle, where she did her classes at Amal Aleph High The school includes Arab, Orthodox, Ethiopian and Russian Jewish teenagers. Ferst is one of 160 Masa Israel teachers who teach young Israelis in English.

“I help and pay more attention one-on-one with an Israeli-speaking and Hebrew-speaking host teacher,” explained Ferst. “We are here to get the children to learn more English. With the language barrier, it’s becoming more challenging, but I’ve come to realize – more than in other classroom situations – you have to be very patient with the students. “

This year, among other things, Masa relatives have put together more than 55,000 COVID-19 test kits, and hundreds have volunteered in soup kitchens across the country.

“Against all odds, Masa is stronger than ever,” Masa Acting Chief Ofer Gutman said at the recent global event. “We are facing a post-apocalyptic future with hope.”

Jewish Group chairman Isaac Herzog and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also spoke at the event.

“This year has been a challenge for all of us, and I hope that, at this festival of lights, we will begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel,” said Herzog. and to commend all the Masa partners for coming to Israel in this difficult time. This is a true explanation of the value of ‘Kol Yisrael arevim zeh lazeh’ – all Israel is responsible for one another. “

Netanyahu described Masa as a “horrible program,” saying “Masa allows thousands to connect with the truth of Israeli society, strengthen the Jewish identity, and deepen their relationship with Israel and the Jewish people . “

The Prime Minister said, “If you want to be a part of that future, if you want to influence the future, Israel is the place to be.”

This article was supported by and produced in partnership with Masa Israel Journey, a leader in international immersion experiences in Israel for adults ages 18-30. This article was produced by JTA’s native content team.