Volunteers from USA, Canada, France, Brazil, and Russia, in Israel through the Masa Israel Journey program, staff the International Media Center in Jerusalem.
November 20, 2012 / 6 Kislev 5773 11 am Israel Time
On Monday, November 19th, The Jewish Agency for Israel and Masa Israel Journey opened an International New Media Center in Jerusalem which is staffed by volunteers from around the world who are participating in Masa programs. The center will allow the volunteers to share their personal experiences of living in Israel under rocket fire with people around the world through social media, in multiple languages.
The volunteers were briefed by the Jewish Agency’s Head of Social Media, Avi Mayer, on Israeli public diplomacy efforts and on the use of social media to get one’s message across. Members of the local and international media also reported on the opening of the Center and interviewed the volunteers, with several additional news outlets - IBA news in English, Channel 1 in Arabic, Kol Israel Radio, and Ha'aretz among them – due to visit Tuesday.
Benjamin Dannenberg, a volunteer on the Israel Teaching Fellows program, from Connecticut in the U.S. said: “It feels great to contribute in some way, if not to the IDF, then to the state of Israel. We came to volunteer in some capacity. Since we can’t teach now, this is a great way to broaden our message to the world.”
The volunteers come from English, Spanish, Russian and French- speaking countries and are working in various capacities through Masa, volunteering as English teachers in Israeli schools (ITF – Israel Teaching Fellows) and interning in various government offices (Israel Government Fellows (IGF), and Real Life Israel). Many members of the group are living in Be'er Sheva and Ashdod where, over recent weeks, they have experienced how difficult life is for residents of southern Israel living under rocket fire.
At the initiative of the Masa Israel Journey program, the International New Media Center opens at The Jewish Agency's Kiryat Moriah Campus in Jerusalem
Josh Neuman is a 22-year-old graduate of Penn State University where he studied Political Science and History. It was his experience volunteering at an arts and sciences day camp for elementary school children that made him choose the ITF track of the Masa Israel Journey program.
Masa Israel Journey's International New Media team opened their initiative on Monday by meeting with The Jewish Agency's Chairman of the Executive, Natan Sharansky. The Chairman asked the young people if their parents were pressuring them to leave Israel. Lena, an Israel Government Fellow from Moscow, said her mother was very worried, and she joked with the Chairman, saying, “You know Russian-Jewish mothers!”
Most other participants also felt the fear and pressure of their parents. “But we want to stay,” they said.
Sharansky’s question proved to be the perfect segue for the groups to then present their initial ideas for a campaign entitled “We are here.” Their idea is to use this statement to preface their personal experiences and goals. Some variations might include: We are here - to talk; We are here - to act; or, We are here - to witness.
He tells of how, last Sunday, he was teaching an elementary school in Be’er Sheva when a siren was sounded. He had to evacuate his students from the second floor to the basement, even having to carry a young girl who was too shocked to run. “I consider myself to be mentally tough, but seeing these children crying and praying and hugging each other for comfort, I almost lost it. But I had to keep it together for the children’s sake.”
Josh said he became extremely angered by the ignorance of the international media, which he had not until that point understood as clearly. He feels that no children anywhere should undergo the kind of trauma endured as a matter of course by the kids in southern Israel. He began his own campaign to update his community back in the Bay Area. “I joined this initiative of the Masa program because I want to help create a network that ensures the flow of truth – of both sides of the story – and maybe balance out the tides of the media war – which is the war itself! Half the battle is won with the support.”
Deborah, a Brazilian from Masa's Real Life Israel program, agrees. She has secured a live interview on Tuesday with the largest radio station in Brazil, in which she intends to share "the real story."
Meghan, 21, from Paris, also wants to convey to her friends and family back home the Israel that she has discovered since her internship with IGF started three months ago. She graduated from The Sorbonne with a degree in History and Political Science, and is now volunteering at Israel's Ministry of Environmental Protection.
The International New Media team with Natan Sharansky, Chairman of the Executive of The Jewish Agency.
On her social media streams, she finds it difficult to bridge the gap between being accused of being blindly pro-Israel, and conveying what she has personally experienced to be true. “I need to stay. I need to show them [back home] what is happening. I am not going to change my plans because of this. They [the terrorists] will not win.”
Meghan was walking with a friend in Jaffa last Shabbat when they heard the Code Red siren. She saw the missile explode after it was intercepted by the Iron Dome. Her terrified mother told Meghan that she had booked a ticket for her to come back to France.
But she told her mom that she feels safe. “We trust the country,” added Meghan.
The International New Media Centre is being opened in coordination with the National Information Directorate, the Foreign Ministry, and the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit. The volunteers will use social media tools such as Facebook, Twitter, Blogs and web comments, among others.
Natan Sharansky, The Jewish Agency Chairman of the Executive, meets with the International New Media team, which is staffed by participants of the Masa Israel Journey program
Masa Israel Journey is a joint project of The Jewish Agency for Israel and the Government of Israel. Participants spend 5-10 months in Israel and can choose from a wide range of programs involving volunteer work, studying or professional internships. Over 10,000 young Jews from 60 countries participate in Masa programs each year. Graduates become" ambassadors" for Israel upon their return to their home countries.