Karen Klein will always remember childhood summers visiting her mom’s family in Tel Aviv. Raised in the U.S. with a strong love for Zionism, she founded and ran a pro-Israel advocacy organization at her college, and sought out other ways to support the Jewish homeland from abroad.
But she was looking for a deeper connection to Israel—a connection she could only get by living there. When she met a representative from Masa Israel Journey, an initiative supported by the Government of Israel and by the Jewish Agency for Israel, a Jewish Federation partner, she knew she had found the perfect way to take this next step. She applied for one of Masa’s more than 200 opportunities to intern, volunteer or study abroad, and was soon on her way.
Here’s her story.
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Q: Why did you decide to pursue this opportunity with Masa?
A: Masa often had a table at the pro-Israel events I ran in college. After I graduated, I worked full-time with an Israel advocacy and education organization. I knew I wanted to move to Israel but I wasn’t sure how, or what to do there. So I thought a six-month program with Masa would be a great way to transition.
Q: Tell us about the experience you gained during your Masa internship.
A: I managed a small social enterprise that focused on global Israel education in new media, like communication training videos and online networking groups. I worked with the board of investors, recruited and managed a volunteer board and developed a marketing and communications plan.
Q: How did Masa help you connect to your Jewish identity and develop as a Jewish leader?
A: Masa took us on tours and hikes together and to concerts, so we could really experience Israel as a whole. I also participated in the Masa Israel Leadership Summit, five days of workshops and training to help us be strong Jewish leaders. It felt like Masa was really invested in me and in my development as an individual and as a Jew. But I also had lots of time to explore on my own. I felt like I had a real independent life in Israel, but I also had a lot of support, so I never felt alone.
Q: What did you do to continue your Israel experience even after your Masa experience ended?
A: I attended graduate school and studied towards an MA in Counterterrorism and Homeland Security Studies at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzliya’s Lauder School of Government. And while I was studying, I worked in international business development for an Israeli subsidiary of an American company in the aerospace and defense industry.
After three years in Israel, I realized that I missed working in the Jewish professional world—and that that work would be best done back in America. I also missed my family! So I came back to my hometown.
Q: How did your experience in Masa contribute to your current work in the North American Jewish community?
A: I strongly feel that the best leaders in the Jewish community are those who have had long-term experiences in Israel. I am now a member of the Masa alumni board in my city. We organize programs to keep people engaged when they return to the U.S., and keep us connected to Israel and each other.
At our programs, we love to mix fun with good deeds. Last month, we participated in a fundraiser with Save a Child’s Heart, an organization that provides pro-bono life-saving heart surgeries in Israel for children from around the world. I also volunteer my time with the young adult division of my Jewish Federation.
Q: Now that you’ve had this immersive Israel experience, what do you see as the most pressing issue for young Jewish adults?
A: Engagement. Now is the time to act, get involved, and get others involved. Programs like Masa and Taglit-Birthright Israel—who I’ve led trips for—help connect young adults right during this transitional time and offer us transformative experiences. And after participating in Masa, I know that this is my passion, to work in young adult engagement and development and ensure the rising generation of Jewish leaders are connected and committed for life.