Three years after my OTZMA Fellowship, the adjectives I still use to describe my experience are clichés. But they’re all true: Amazing. Life-changing. Inspirational.
When OTZMA (which means “strength” in Hebrew) began 28 years ago, its goal was to connect North American Jews and Israeli Jews in a way that didn’t exist at the time, by bringing young American Jews to Israel for a 10-month, immersive experience.
Thanks to Masa Israel, young Diaspora Jews can now choose from dozens of programs to take them on their extended journey to Israel. Yet OTZMA remains uniquely positioned to offer the most authentic Israel experience and one that challenges its participants to shape and re-shape their individual Jewish identities, along with their responsibilities to be part of klal Yisrael.
OTZMA’s dynamic education curriculum takes its participants aged 21-26 on study tours throughout the year to enhance their understanding of what they experience in their daily life, placing topics featured in the news media into their proper context. OTZMAnikim spend a full third of their year living and volunteering in Partnership 2Gether communities, which pair a North American Jewish community with one in Israel, partnerships that are supported and funded by the Federation movement. By living in major cities as well as towns in the periphery, OTZMAnikim return to North America with a greater understanding of the challenges these communities face, and how they, as emerging leaders, can play a part in building a better future for the Jewish people, both in Israel and the Diaspora.
OTZMA combines everything that Jewish communal professionals and lay leaders have set as goals for major institutions: engaging the next generation, strengthening connections to Israel, and promoting social action. Alumni consistently point to their OTZMA year as the one that changed the way they related to their Jewish identity and inspired them to be an active member of the Jewish community.
As we celebrate the 65th Yom HaAtzma’ut and honor everything Israel has done for Jews around the world, let’s also invest in those who choose to move thousands of miles from home and dedicate a year of their lives to giving back, to community service, and to bettering the Jewish people. OTZMA is the best program for promoting true engagement within the Jewish community – I’m looking forward to seeing another amazing group get this unique opportunity.
Please visit www.otzma.org for more information and to apply for OTZMA XXVIII, which runs from August 21, 2013-June 29, 2014.
Matt is an alumnus of OTZMA XXIV (2009-10) and was the founding editor of the Boston-Haifa Connection blog. This piece originally appeared in The Times of Israel
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