OTZMA - It's your life. Use it well.

OTZMA is the PREMIER ten-month-long, high-quality fellowship for college graduates, aged 20-26, which combines volunteering, leadership development training and internships in locations throughout Israel.

DEVELOP yourself as a future LEADER in your field, community and society with cutting edge leadership training seminars. Make a real DIFFERENCE to Israel through meaningful service and volunteering opportunities. EXPLORE the beauty and excitement of Israel- hands on!

Program Info

Location: 
  • Israel
Volunteer Types: 
Elderly Care
Community Development
Education
Service Learning
Teaching
Sports
Program Length: 
6-12 months
Cost: 
See site for details.
See Additional Information
Languages: 
English
Hebrew
Housing: 
Apartment
Volunteer House
Travel: 
Participants travel to the program independently (not in a group with other participants).
Application: 
Online Application
Resume
Letters of Recommendation
Phone / Skype Interview
Age Requirement
Health Requirement

Videos

Program Reviews (54)

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  • Impact
    94%
  • Support
    93%
  • Fun
    95%
  • Value
    93%
  • Safety
    97%
  • sandy
    Age: 31-50
    Female
    San Diego
    Otzma 8 Still Impacting My Life
    05/04/2012

    Its been almost 20 years since I was on Otzma and yet my experiences impact almost every aspect of my life. I had the fortune to be there during both times of war and peace - and yet I never felt safer. I learned to speak Hebrew, not only in Ulpan, but from Ethiopian teenagers! I prayed in a synangogue where the 8 Oztma volunteers were the only caucasians in the shul - and we knew the least! I spent Simchat Torah at the Kotel, and danced with thousands of Jews in the Old City. I met real family, and I became family with my host family - they took me in and took me on vacation. I fell in love - with a man, with a city, with a country and with a people. Our people! Its an experience that has defined me. I would recommend Otzma to anyone who is curious about Israel, curious about the Middle East, curious about Judaism or curious about themselves.

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  • msamis
    Age: 19-24
    Male
    Washington, DC
    TCM International Institute
    Best Decision I Ever Made
    05/04/2012

    Going on OTZMA was the best decision I ever made. I met some of the closest friends I have today, had some of the most unique and wonderful experiences of my life, and found my future heading in a new and exciting direction. They do a great job integrating you into the society and exposing you to all sides of Israel, letting you make up your own mind about what to believe and feel in a way other programs don't. A life-altering program that I'll always remember!

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  • bpasinko
    Age: 25-30
    Male
    Brooklyn, NY
    Time of my life
    05/04/2012

    The overall experience on OTZMA was incredible and I would whole heartedly recommend it to anyone who is interested in such a program.

    As a participant, I would simply recommend saying yes to everything. They say the more you put into it, the more you get out, and that was certainly true from my experiences.

    Having never been to Israel before, highlights for me included seeing all of the sites, education seminars with people you wouldn't normally have access to hear speak and the freedom to do as you wish in Israel.

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  • Jeremy R
    Age: 25-30
    Male
    Mountain View
    Life Enriching. Life Changing.
    05/04/2012

    I spent ten consecutive months without being bored. Ever! Think about that.

    If you're willing to throw yourself into something new with an open mind and a can-do attitude (along with incredibly friendly and helpful support from staff) you will have an adventure. I certainly did.

    One of my favorite times on the program was the winter I spent in a small town called Kiryat Shmonah in Israel's north. Here was a typical day: wake up early, walk to the local elementary school to teach English, get coffee with some Israeli twenty-somethings studying at the local college, help teens collect costume donations for a Purim community fundraiser, shop for fresh veggies at the market, make a beautiful fresh dinner together with my room mates, try to bum a ride to a nearby kibbutz pub, and finally hit the hay, exhausted and happy back at the cozy apartment the three of us shared.

    This was the day-to-day adventure. OTZMA also planned fantastic several-day education days and trips to supplement the important social work I was doing.

    I work at a Hillel and recommend OTZMA to each graduating senior. And now I recommend it to you!

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  • lchaimliat
    Age: 19-24
    Female
    Boston, MA
    Best MASA Program Out There
    05/04/2012

    I think it can be summed up by a conversation with a friend in my last few days in Israel. He said, "Your departure will be a loss for the country." In Hebrew. Which means I had become fluent (enough), built meaningful relationships, made a positive impact on my community, and had created memories that will last me a lifetime.

    I got to mentor a high school delegation of teens going to America to educate their peers on day-to-day Israel. I translated a coexistence magazine from Hebrew to English. I visited the West Bank. I camped on the Kinneret at Pesach, where I was one of the only Americans around. I saw every facet of Israeli society and fell in love with it all, accepting the faults with beauty of the country.

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  • tamweisman
    Age: 25-30
    Female
    Los Angeles
    Impacted my life
    05/03/2012

    I learned incredible lessons about myself and my connection to Israel and the Jewish People through my volunteer work during Otzma. I met people who became my family and have continued to be close to since returning to the States.

    The volunteerism I participated in through Otzma exposed me to the varied aspects of life and varied communities in Israel. I lived in the center in Tel Aviv and worked with Holocaust survivors. Meeting them and hearing their stories inspired me to live my life to its fullest and never take one day for granted. Their stories will soon be lost, as time goes on, but I know that I will be an ambassador for what they learned from their horrific experience for generations that will never meet them.

    I worked with under privileged kids in Beer Sheva while I myself was learning Hebrew. I taught them English which really is key to their future. The impact that these students left on me inspired me to go into education as a career to continue to inspire youth to reach for their dreams.

    Finally, my journey in Jerusalem exposed me to the important work that the Joint does on behalf of the most needy of the Jewish People spread throughout the world.

    I would be remiss if I did not also mention my host family. I became incredibly close with my host family, joining them for holidays and celebrations. They took me into their home as if I was their own daughter and helped me to understand Israel from their point of view. I learned so much from their hospitality and continue to stay in touch with them.

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  • eblum7
    Age: 31-50
    Male
    Pittsburgh Pennsylvania
    University of Pittsburgh
    Amazing Program
    05/03/2012

    I was on Otzma 10. It was an absolutely amazing year. We started out on Kibbutz Revivim in the Negev learning Hebrew and working a variety of jobs on the Kibbutz. I worked on a farm, in a plastics factory, and I helped rebuild a dairy. Working with the cows was a very cool experience.

    We then moved to Kiryat Yam and we helped out in an Absorption Center near Tel Aviv. We worked with Russian, Ethiopians, and Moroccans. We planned Ethic nights where the residents could experience each others culture. The would prepare their ethnic foods and music. Ethiopian Night was incredible.

    We then spent 3 weeks volunteering in the army. We spent our 3 weeks on Tel Nof Air Force base. We helped clean out a warehouse.

    Our last stop was in Holon. We worked in a community center providing programming for the kids in the neighborhood.

    Throughout the program we would all meet up together to go on hikes and have some educational programs learning about the country.

    I met my wife on Otzma, and we have been married for almost 13 years now. Otzma was such a fantastic program, and it has completely changed my life.

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  • Michael Schwartz
    Age: 25-30
    Male
    Lake Forest
    California State- Monterey Bay
    My time with OTZMA
    05/03/2012

    The first 3 months of OTZMA were in a beach city called Ashquelon living in a dorms with all the other participants. A typical day was waking up and going to Ulpan for about 3 or 4 hours. The teacher was engaging and understanding of our different skills set. Then we would have time to rest and go volunteer.
    Since our main objective the first 3 months was to learn Hebrew, I volunteered twice a week along with another participant from our program coaching youth soccer at the local sports center. We had a good time helping out the kids with their soccer skills, and I even learned some Hebrew.
    When I wasn't at Uplan or volunteering I took full advantage of exploring the city, especially the beach. One of the highlights of OTZMA was about once a week during our first 3 months we would go on field trips to see different parts of the regions and get different perspectives from the various cultures in Israeli society.
    The next 4 months I moved to a different city up in the north called Carmiel, where I lived with 2 other participants. 5 days a week we would be volunteering in various places; a kibbutz for adults with special needs, a local high school, a Bedouin community, an after school program and a foster home. These were very meaningful experiences that gave me great introspection while helping others.
    The final months I spent in Tel Aviv, where I interned for a newspaper. It was a fast paced work environment, which I truly enjoyed. I was glad that Tel Aviv was saved for last because it was such a big bustling city compared to the first 2 cities I volunteered at, and it was a nice way to end the program.
    The 10 months flew by, I learned so much, made a ton of new friends and gained once in a life time experience. It was amazing!

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  • Rach
    Age: 25-30
    Female
    chicago
    the most rewarding program!
    05/03/2012

    OTZMA Israel is a great opportunity to meet lifetime friends, volunteer in amazing communities in any field that interests you. Amazing educational component. A chance to spend 5 or 10 months in the most amazing beautiful country in the world!

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  • Renee
    Age: 31-50
    Female
    Kensington, CA
    Life changing volunteer experience
    05/03/2012

    I did Otzma almost 20 years ago and still feel very connected to the experience. You are immersed in different communities so truly have an opportunity to learn Hebrew, meet Israelis, and help the local community in different ways.

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  • Shlulit
    Age: 25-30
    Female
    Los Angeles
    University of California- Los Angeles
    Great opportunity for growth and connection
    05/03/2012

    Otzma provided a wonderful opportunity for personal growth and connection to Israel as a whole, the communities we lived in, and the Jewish peoplehood. The program provided a safe and meaningful ways to connection with Israeli communities and allowed me to work in fields that were of great interest to me. I learned so much from the communities I worked with and developed a very strong relationship with my host family and still visit them when I go back to Israel. And if it weren't for Otzma, my Hebrew wouldn't be as good as it is!

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  • kvks
    Age: 25-30
    Female
    Miami, FL
    University of California- Santa Barbara
    Great People, Great Experience
    05/03/2012

    This is a great program. I became part of the local community, met fantastic OTZMA participants, learned new skills through my volunteer and intern work, and traveled around Israel and nearby countries on the weekends. For anyone who is looking for a safe, interesting, and fun adventure - OTZMA is for you.

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  • Sarahg
    Age: 25-30
    Female
    Berkeley, California
    McGill University
    Life changing!
    05/02/2012

    I went on Otzma 2004-05. It was nothing short of amazng. I delved more deeply into Judaism, fell in love with a country, had so many volunteer experiences that helped me discover myself professionally, experienced beautiful nature, bustling cities, learned Hebrew, made great friends, ans grew so much as person. If you are thinking about this prgram, do it! Bring you motivation, a can do attitude, roll up your sleeves, and carve your own path. What you put in, you will get back in spades!

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  • Otzma04
    Age: 25-30
    Female
    New York
    Life changing experience
    05/02/2012

    I participated in Otzma 2004-05. It was incredible. I delved more deeply into Judaism, fell in love with a country, made great friends, and got so many experiences I never could have gotten elsewhere. Before Otzma, I was conflicted about entering the finance career I had prepared for. All of the experiences I had in Otzma (volunteering at a teen crisis center, a kindergarden, a research insitute for counter terrorism, the Israeli yoga teachers' society, a therapeutic horseback riding center, etc etc etc) helped me to discover what truly makes me happy professionally: deeply connecting with others and helping others who are suffering to grow and thrive.

    After Otzma, I ditched my path towards finance and became an integrative psychotherapist. I work in California as well as for an NGO based in Africa. It is an amazing experience to take a year out of one's life and see what work you are drawn to when money is not a factor. As a volunteer with Otzma, I was working as much as I would in a full time job, but all of it was my choice based on my passions. This program has structure, but also allot of room to roll your sleeves up and just get in there, in whichever area you are most drawn. If you are thinking about this program, do it, and don't look back! Bring your motivation, a postive attitude, and hard work, and everything you give you will get back in spades!

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  • Yallah
    Age: 25-30
    Female
    Chicago
    Life changing
    05/02/2012

    What can I say... my decision to do OTZMA was one of the best decisions I made in the last 26 years of my life.

    The best way to learn about a country and connect with the people and connect on a personal level, is to spend a year there living and volunteering.

    Otzma provided me with a life changing experience, that allowed me to connect to Israel through volunteering and living in several areas around the country. It is this experience that has influenced many decisions that I made afterwards and gave me life long friends that I am still close with today.

    Most importantly, I was given the opportunity to give back and hopefully make a impact in the lives of the youth and teenagers that I worked with in after school programs, schools and community centers.

    Are you looking for a way to give back, learn, grow and have an out of the box experience? Than Otzma is the program for you.

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Alumni Interviews

  • Sarah in Israel
    Sarah in Israel

    Highlights: OTZMA was such a meaningful and varied experience in my life that it is impossible to choose just one or two highlights. I learned what my passions were when money was taken out of the equation. I learned and worked in a new language. I stood beneath waterfalls, hiked for days through the desert, swam in the Dead Sea, and danced all night at a party inside a deep desert crater. I lived for a month in Jerusalem, a city of such political, historical, and spiritual significance. That city has a palpable soul that never ceased to affect me, and make me feel more alive. I was immersed in a culture that is warm and embracing. I got informally adopted by an Israeli family, and made incredible friends. I got to experience ten months of consciously thinking beyond myself, and helping however I could. This has an immense impact on happiness.

    I signed up for OTZMA at a crossroads in my life. A recent college graduate, I had prepared for a career in Finance, yet when I went to my NYC interviews at investment companies, my stomach tied itself into millions of knots screaming, "NOOOOOOO!!!". My time in Israel gave me the confidence, experience, and self-knowledge to take a different path, and that has made all the difference.

    Morning: A typical morning in Ashkelon: Mornings in Ashkelon were all about language learning. We had about four hours of 'Hebrew Ulpan' each morning, and these were held at the immigrant absorption center where we stayed, so it was a treat to roll out of bed, make some breakfast, and already be at class. After three months, coming in with zero Hebrew, minus the ability to sound out words, and sing the alphabet, I became proficient enough to work with kids who only spoke Hebrew. The teachers were fantastic and taught us about Israeli history and culture while teaching the language. After class, I almost always managed to squeeze in an hour of beach time (we lived just a ten minute walk from the Mediterranean) before an afternoon of volunteering.

    Afternoon: My schedule in Afula was full and wonderful. Since there were few volunteers in the region, and more need there than in many areas of the country, the three of us in Afula had endless opportunities to get involved. Most afternoons I went to a school created for kids with Cerebral Palsy, and helped run their therapeutic art program. A couple times a week, I accompanied them to a therapeutic horseback riding program which was incredibly successful. Several of the children I met could not sit up on their own prior to the horse riding, but the horses motivated them, and riding requires core strength. After several months they gained the strength to sit upright, and received much joy from their time with the animals.

    Evening: In Ranana, I had two internships with OTZMA: one doing research and writing articles at the International Institute for Counter-terrorism, and another working with the Yoga Teacher's Society of Israel. The two experiences really balanced each other out! In the evenings, my friends and I would get home around the same time, then go into town for dinner, cook together, hang out with others in our building, or go to the nearest beach for sunset. There is a great sense of community within this program, and within Israel as a whole.

  • Wishing that time could stop
    Wishing that time could stop

    Highlights: There were a lot of highlights to the trip, however one of the main highlights was how connected I felt by the end, especially to my host family. I really tried my best to integrate into the communities I lived in and worked tirelessly on my Hebrew. I knew that learning Hebrew in Israel was my best chance at succeeding in being truly bilingual and that it would bring me closer to the people there. Among the people that helped me feel connected were my host family members and their extended family. I barely traveled on weekends during track 2 because all I wanted to do was hang out with the women that I met and learn how to cook from them, and then spend shabbats with them and their families, including my host family. I still keep in touch with them and really feel like they're family. These women and families in Netivot helped me feel welcome and a part of the Jewish peoplehood and took me to participate in really special things like weekly Israeli folk dancing with a religious group of women.

    Morning: Each track of the program looked a little bit different, but a typical morning during the first track consisted mostly of Hebrew class. I would wake up, have some breakfast, and go downstairs to a classroom in the absorption center. We had a great teacher for my class and would learn vocabulary and grammar, listen to the radio, sometimes watch movies, and come up with dialogues. Among the best parts of the morning experience was our teacher who was super sassy and personable and the breaks we took which allowed us to go back upstairs and eat fun Israeli snacks.

    Afternoon: A typical afternoon usually meant making lunch or going out for food, then splitting off from most of the group and heading to a volunteer site. I always enjoyed going to sites with fewer OTZMA volunteers so that I could really get to know other people in the community and engage with them in a different way. A lot of my placements in the first two tracks were helping out with English classes or after-school programs, so I often took a bus to a school and worked with kids on the sidelines of a classroom, ran activities, or taught lessons.

    Shaina in the classroom
    Shaina in the classroom

    Evening: Evenings during track one were my favorite. Typically we would cook dinner in small groups and then hang outside in the communal space of the absorption center. People often joked around and hung out, but I also would sit out there with my notebook. I made friends with some of the other students from the nearby college who also happened to live there. They were not only really nice and fun, but they put up with my many questions about Hebrew and helped me practice what I had been learning. This is the phase of the program in which I learned how to say "nerd" in Hebrew. Many nights we also would be go out as a group to a bar and spent time together.

  • Why did you decide to volunteer with OTZMA in Israel?

    Alex: I always knew that Israel was going to be a big part of my life, so I wanted the chance to experience the country on my own terms, putting roots down while making my own impact on the people there. I looked around for a program that would give me an realistic sense of Israel by putting me in different places around the country and give me the chance to live on my own; aside from arranging housing I was totally responsible for my own cooking, learning the bus routes and finding other people to hang out with after work.

    Unlike a lot of other programs in the center of the country, Otzma gives you the chance to live outside the bubble and only interact with Israelis-- definitely the best way to understand the country and learn Hebrew! Plus, with the different tracks, educational opportunities and workshops there were tons of new experiences to add to and enrich my own exploration.

    Alex enjoying her volunteer work on a kibbutz in the vineyard in Israel
    Alex enjoying her volunteer work on a kibbutz in the vineyard in Israel

    What made this experience unique and special?

    Alex: Otzma stands out for me by being the only program I know to send participants off the beaten track, to parts of the country where most visitors (and even Israelis!) never think to go. Aside from the intense language experience, that helps participants to forge a very deep bond with the places that they live because they have to discover everything for themselves and make their own way.

    The Israel-based staff and regional liaisons were incredibly warm and helpful, eager to have us and to make the experience the most educational and meaningful time of our lives. Also, as one of few programs with a variety of tracks and experiences during the year, it's the best way to see a lot of Israel, meet a ton of people, and build your own link with the country. For college graduates, it's the way to go!

    How has this experience impacted your future?

    Alex: My year on Otzma helped me, as a Jew, to figure out my religious identity and learn more about the incredibly diverse-- ethnically, geographically, culturally and philosophically-- Jewish communities that exist around the world. Israel is an unparalleled melting pot of Jews from every corner of the planet, and Otzma is a chance to see and experience them all. Because of the many Jewish characteristics of the country, every day-- not just the holidays-- is a learning opportunity, but it only gets religious if you want it to be. Just as there are religious kibbutzim to volunteer on, there are reform and secular ones, too. But no other place helped me better understand the global Jewish community as well.

    I decided, shortly after Otzma, to spend my career in the Jewish communal sector, and my experience and expertise from Otzma gives me an authority on many related topics that I would otherwise lack. There is no better way to understand Israel and world Jewry than by going on Otzma, if you want it. Otherwise, it's still a pretty spectacular place to eat foreign foods and meet amazingly warm people, all of whom will invite you over for shabbat without even knowing you.

  • Why did you decide to volunteer abroad with OTZMA in Israel?

    Adam: I had graduated university, and found my chosen field to be difficult to get into due to a struggling economy. After working for a year in Retail, I decided that I needed to spend time doing something for me and my culture, and I applied to the OTZMA program. 63 people were chosen across North America, and I was thrilled to have been one of them.

    What made this experience unique and special?

    Adam: This program was a wonderful mix of volunteering, learning, traveling and getting to know the people of Israel. It gave me an amazing connection to the land, its history, it's modern day face and its people. I truly feel this was the best year of my single life, and wish I could go back and do it again...

    Adam at the Israel / Lebanon border crossing at Rosh Hanikrah
    Adam at the Israel / Lebanon border crossing at Rosh Hanikrah

    Describe your day to day activities as a volunteer.

    Adam: My volunteer days varied immensely depending on where I lived. One of the strengths of the OTZMA program is that it allows you to explore many different facets of Israeli life, and locations throughout the country. I worked first in an eyeglass lens factory on Kibbutz Mayan Zvi. While I woke up at unprecedented hours - 5:30 AM - I was done by 1:30 each day and had lots of free time. I worked on an assembly line which was character building, and it allowed me to see an industry I would not have known otherwise.

    Then I worked in an Immigration Absorption Center in Mevasseret Zion. 3 days a week I would tutor English in a local high school, which was fun as I got to know a cross section of Israeli youth. The other 3 days a week I was a maintenance person and did all kinds of tasks - cleaning out bomb shelters, moving furniture around, and helping new residents settle in, etc. Then I lived in Jerusalem, and helped paint the public spaces of an apartment building in a challenged neighbourhood, and I also participated in an archaeological dig in the Kotel tunnels. Next was a week of basic training in the Army. Finally, I tutored English in an elementary school in Eilat, and participated in a variety of after school programs. One day after work I walked to Egypt - how many people can say they've done that?

    How has this experience impacted your future? (Personally, professionally, etc)

    Adam: Being on Otzma broadened my perspective on the world, and filled me with a sense of self confidence I had never experienced before. It also reinforced my zest for travel, and has helped me in my quest to work as a Project Manager managing teams around the world.

  • Why did you decide to volunteer with OTZMA in Israel?

    Lauren: Throughout my college years, I knew I wanted the year after graduation to be spent in Israel. I researched a variety of programs and, for me, OTZMA was the best fit. I wanted to solidify the conversational Hebrew I took during my undergraduate studies. I wanted to spend significant time in Israel so the shorter, 5-month programs were not the right fit. I was looking for an experience in which I could truly live Israel beyond the tour bus and I felt that living in an absorption center, in the periphery, and doing volunteer work was a wonderful way to feel a part of Israeli society rather than a tourist.

    I also loved the option of doing an internship for the last 3 months of the program; while I never viewed my year in Israel as a "year off", doing an internship would ensure that I get the experience needed to return to the US prepared to look for jobs. I was on OTZMA 19; the history of the program, the reputation, and my conversations with alumni assured me that I had chosen the program that was right for me.

    Volunteers in front of the mural they made as part of a beautifying project
    Volunteers in front of the mural they made as part of a beautifying project

    What made this experience unique and special?

    Robin: OTZMA always says that the program is what you make of it - I can't stress that enough. I loved OTZMA because it provided a support system and programmatic outline that gave me some structure while simultaneously allowing me to mold the program to my strengths and skills. Living outside of central Israel meant that fewer people spoke English. As such, living in Ashkelon for the first 3 months of the program, allowed me to take my ulpan classes and then put my new Hebrew vocabulary to use as I walked the streets, volunteered, spoke with the new immigrants living in the absorption center. I really used my structured time provided by OTZMA as a stepping stone for my free time and how I could apply all that I was learning.

    In the second part of the program, I lived in Yokneam. Our local coordinator met with us before moving to the program and told us all the needs of the community: schools that needed English tutors, sports clubs that needed coaches, a green house and petting zoo used as therapy that needed tending too, etc. I was excited by the variety of opportunities. I chose several of them while also requesting that my local coordinator find a way for me to teach swimming; I was on the Brandeis University swim team and had been teaching swimming since age 15 so I knew this was a great skill I could provide. So, again, I found a way to provide the community with its needs while also speaking to my strengths.

    My third and final section of the program was spent in Jerusalem. It was nice to be in a big city after 6 months of living in small towns. My Hebrew felt strong and I was ready for an internship. I worked with the OTZMA staff and we found a great fit at MASA. MASA was launching its first year of offering scholarships and I was able to do research for the program as it started up. Likewise, I had the unique experience of being the master of ceremonies for the MASA launching gala event. I met then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, invited David Broza to the stage, and celebrated this wonderful organization that would help many others, like me, find programs that fit their needs and receive financial assistance for participating in these programs. My internship was real, meaningful, and something that led to future job opportunities in and out of Israel. OTZMA provided housing, the three-track model, the education days, the Hebrew teachers, and much more. I took OTZMA and made it mine.

    How has this experience impacted your future?

    Robin: After OTZMA I was hired by the North American office of OTZMA at Jewish Federations of North America, as the Recruitment Manager. My experiences on OTZMA created the passion I needed to express to others considering the program. My job at JFNA led to several more years of working in the Jewish world. After 3 years of living in New York and working at JFNA, I moved to Israel and earned my MA degree in Middle Eastern Studies. Upon completion of my degree, I was looking for a job in Israel and found that the people I had met on OTZMA, the skills I garnered, and my comfort in Israel gave me the confidence to apply and get a great job at the University of Haifa. In short, my time on OTZMA has had a profound impact on my professional life.

    Personally, OTZMA taught me leadership skills and how to make the most of every situation. I also have lifelong friends from my time on OTZMA. I am in touch with many of the alumni from my year as well as years to follow since I recruited the following years. My closest core group of friends is from my year on OTZMA.

  • Why did you decide to volunteer in Israel with OTZMA?

    Rachel: I knew that I wanted to spend significant time in Israel but I wasn't sure how to choose a program. I had a family friend who participated on OTZMA Israel which is how I first heard about it. Then I started to explore it even further. I had just graduated from Indiana University with a BA in English and like any English major the question in my mind was - well what next? What do I want to do with this degree? I wasn't sure if I wanted to get my masters in Education eventually and become a teacher or if I would enjoy office work better...

    So, the first thing that really attracted me to the program was the diverse opportunities - I was able to volunteer in schools to teach English (and so many other things too) and had the opportunity to do an internship. This way I was able to experience different types of work to help me figure out what kind of work I like doing.

    The second thing that attracted me to OTZMA Israel was the "second track" of the program where we were able to spend time in our "partnership cities." Most cities in the US (and many other countries too) have partnerships with smaller cities in Israel. I've always been involved with Chicago's partnership which is actually a whole region and not just one city - Kiryat Gat-Shafir-Lachish. So, when I saw that I would be spending 3 months in the region, I knew this was the right program for me because I loved my previous experiences and work in that area (I had been there twice already in the summer to volunteer at an English speaking camp).

    Rachel giving an English lesson about her hometown of Chicago
    Rachel giving an English lesson about her hometown of Chicago

    The third thing that I liked about this program was the educational components to it. Although it was a program where you sort of designed your own volunteer activities - we also had seminars with our group quite often. We learned a lot about political issues in Israel, the minority populations in Israel, and we really got to see different parts of Israel that tourists and most other people don't get a chance to see.

    Describe your day to day activities as a volunteer.

    Rachel: This is a bit tough because there were 3 tracks and some times my volunteer work changed day to day. I will break it down by tracks as to what my days looked like.

    Track 1 - Learning Hebrew and Acclimating to Israeli culture, language, life, etc.

    9 am - 1 pm: Intensive Hebrew classes (5 days a week)
    Volunteer component: The volunteering in track one was meant to be short because it was really time to get acclimated to the country and to become friends with the group. I personally volunteered a few times a week for a couple hours at the beach helping with the kayaking, sailing, and wind surfing classes for kids.

    Track 2 - Partnership Region

    I can't remember exactly but...3-4 days a week I helped teach English at an elementary school for the entire school day. I would either sit in the class with the teacher and help teach the lesson or I would take a group out of the class to work on things.

    • 1 day a week I volunteered at a high school helping kids who were behind catch up with the rest of the class - this would be for about 2 hours
    • 1-2 days a week I worked at a community garden where I helped plant seeds and maintain the garden. The person who ran the garden would go around handing out food to those who were really in need in the community
    • 1 night a week I met with a group of "at risk" teens - I didn't do any work with them but I got to hang out and get to know the kids once night a week at their weekly fire-pit where they would talk, drink tea, make pita...etc.

    This program is really cool and very unique. It's kind of a long explanation and I will do the best I can at writing it: The program is called Sachi. It started with 2 men who were troubled by the amount of teens at risk of getting involved with bad things (such as drinking, drugs, violence). A lot of these kids have very little money and have parents or just one parent who are too busy surviving and helping their family to survive to really have time to give their kids structure after school. So, they decided to go in an area where there were a lot of these kids, set up a fire, make tea, and just let them come hang out and talk.

    Once kids kept coming back they started a program with them. Rather than tell them why there were troublemakers or that they were the ones who needed help, they decided to start discussing with them issues in their community and what they can do to help them. He and the kids one day went to the grocery store, spent $100 on groceries, and decided on a family in the community who could really use this money. They were not allowed to tell people that they were in this club, and were especially not allowed to tell people who they helped and couldn't even tell the people who received the food where it was coming from.

    So, they would pull up to the house, drop the food on the door step ring the bell and run off (while one kid would hide somewhere nearby just to make sure they took the food). This made the kids feel like they were actively doing something to help others and that they were part of some cool secret club. It was almost like they were doing something wrong because of the secrecy but they were actually doing something incredible. This formed more and more and now they do a lot of projects. There was a known homeless man in the area that they provided shoes and a jacket to in the winter and things like that. There was a man with no electricity in his home so they went in and installed everything for him and filled his fridge. In this last case, the man knew where the help was coming from because they had to get into his home. So - the group meets twice a week.

    Once to do projects and one night just to be together at the fire pit. So not only does this group help people in the neighborhood who need it, but they also help the kids have a purpose rather than let them be bored on the streets where they can be introduced to drugs and alcohol. The staff members told me that since these kids started participating in their program - more of them actively go to school (rather than ditch classes) and give more respect to their parents.

    Rachel with kids at the elementary school she worked in Kiryat Gat
    Rachel with kids at the elementary school she worked in Kiryat Gat
    Track 3 - Internship

    This was pretty much like a regular job - worked from 9-5 at an organization called "Stand With Us" which does Israel advocacy. I helped them do a lot of stuff on facebook and helped plan conferences with groups that were in Israel on a program.

    What made this experience unique and special?

    Rachel: We were in much smaller communities in Israel which is pretty unique to some of the other Israel volunteer programs. There were also a lot of educational seminars which made it really special. The best part is each person made their own experience - I made the best of it and volunteered a lot because that's what I wanted to do.

    How has this experience impacted your future?

    Rachel: I learned a lot about myself on this program and was able to take a year after college to really reflect on who I am and what I wanted to do next in life. I never thought I'd ever work a job in the Jewish community when I got back home but here I am working for the "Jewish Agency" helping people make Aliyah (immigrate to Israel). I also have something really important and well-known (at least well known in the Jewish community since this program has been around for 26 years now) on my resume.

  • Why did you decide to volunteer with OTZMA in Israel?

    Lauren: I decided to volunteer with OTZMA in Israel because I always had an aching to volunteer. Before Israel I had done different volunteer things, but nothing concrete that took up the majority of my time. I always knew I wanted to set aside at least a year where I would focus all my time and energy into volunteering. I also am a huge fan of traveling, and wanted to blend my aching of helping people and the environment with international travel.

    I chose to specifically go to Israel because I am in fact Jewish, and while I am not "religious," I do have a Zionist side of me that feels it is important I help the country in some way. I also wanted to have the opportunity to learn more about the country of Israel and the countries surrounding it and the conflicts internally and externally.

    On OTZMA we had weekly education days where we would travel all over Israel and learn about a wide-range of topics including Israeli politics where we would speak with government officials, the Israeli/Palestinian conflict where we were taken into Palestinian settlements and had a chance to speak with Palestinians (and of course hear about the Israel side as well), Israeli minorities where we visited their homes and schools and spoke with them, the history of the land where we visited historic sites, etc.

    I first knew I wanted to volunteer, then I knew I wanted it to be in Israel, and when I heard and read about OTZMA it was exactly the program I was looking for.

    at-risk youth at an after school center
    Lauren and another volunteer with some at-risk youth at an after school center

    Describe your day to day activities as a volunteer.

    Lauren: My day-to-day activities as a volunteer felt like a normal full-time job. I'd wake up around 7:00 a.m., get ready for the day, and ride my bike around the towns to my different volunteer sites. At the schools I would typically spend the whole day there helping in the classrooms, dancing with the students, playing games with them, etc. I did similar things at the after-school community centers, and I'd help them with their homework. I also volunteered in a Goodwill-style clothing store and helped to build parks and paint the inside of bomb shelters. Depending on the city you lived in your volunteering was not the same. It was what that Israeli town needed the most help in. So while my friends and I were on the same program, many times our volunteer work was a lot different, but this was great because it allowed us to all learn from one another.

    Lauren sitting on top of Gamla Mountain in Israel
    Lauren sitting on top of Gamla mountain in Israel

    How has this experience impacted your future?

    Lauren: The experience as a whole has changed me as a person. Personally I have become stronger, braver, and look at the world as a different place than I did before. I realized that I also want to learn all the time, and not just for a degree, but for myself. Professionally I am still looking for a job, but I majored in public relations and marketing and I know that I want to promote things I am passionate about. Part of why I chose to go to Israel was to learn more in-depth of my passions (helping others, the environment, international travel, etc.) and to be able to come home and work in the fields of them helping to promote and teach others.

  • Why did you decide to volunteer in Israel with OTZMA?

    Max: I was working right out of college and never had the chance to travel for an extended time and only had little glimpses into places around the world from week long vacations on resorts. I wanted to really experience a new culture, language, and meet new people. I felt that at the age of 24, this would be a perfect time to do something like this before I got too old. I knew that if I kept on working, I would become entrenched in my job and wouldnt be able to take a year off and see the world.

    Child in Israel
    Volunteer with kids in Israel

    What made this experience unique and special?

    Max: Otzma was a perfect fit for me because you have your independance, while still working in teams and living closely to people on your program. There is also something for everyone on the program. Everyone was able to find something that interested them and challenged them. The program is also split up into different parts, so you you gain different perspectives throught the time living in incredibly different areas. I also got to learn a lot about my backround of being Jewish.

    How has this experience impacted your future?

    Max: Otzma helped me learn about my Jewish backround and helped me find out what I want to do with the rest of my life. I had so many things going on in my life and when I left for a year to Israel, I was able to focus and realize what I want to accomplish with my life. I also have gained many amazing connections and networks in Boston and Israel. I also volunteer for a Jewish organization in Boston, where I help with audio/visuals and other tasks. Overall, Otzma was one of the most fufilling and rewarding decisions of my life.

Staff Interviews

  • Tell us a little about OTZMA and your role at the company.

    volunteer with OTZMA

    Sandy: OTZMA is a 5 or 10 month program that offers an unparalleled immersive experience by providing volunteer, community service and professional internships opportunities for each participant in 3 different communities across Israel. Backed by 26 years of success, the varied living experiences, top-notch and engaging educational program and exclusive Israeli adoptive family initiative provide an unbeatable opportunity for young adults to experience Israel, make an impact and reap the personal and professional benefits. My position at OTZMA is the North American Director, and I'm based in New York City.

    How did you get involved in the volunteer industry?

    Sandy: I can't remember a time when I didn't want to work in social services. I was a participant on OTZMA after I graduated college, received my masters in Non-Profit Management and have been working in the field ever since.

    What do you look for in a volunteer?

    Sandy: OTZMA looks for volunteers who are independent and self-motivated. Volunteers who are committed to Israel and giving back to the community in a meaningful and impactful way.

    How do you ensure your programs are sustainable and mutually beneficial for you, the community, and the volunteers?

    Sandy: OTZMA works directly with local professionals in all of our volunteer locations and have had relationships with these communities for over 25 years. We work with these professionals to ensure that our volunteers are using their skills and talents to meet a real and authentic need in the community.

    What makes OTZMA unique?

    Sandy: OTZMA has unparalleled experience in volunteer programming in Israel. For over 25 years, we have been the premier post-college program for young Jewish adults looking to explore their Jewish identity through service and education in Israel. We have an amazing educational program that gives participants the 'real' Israel - not as a tourist or a visitor, but as a member of the community.

About the provider

OTZMA - It's your life. Use it well.

OTZMA is the PREMIER ten-month-long, high-quality fellowship for college graduates, aged 20-26, which combines volunteering, leadership development training and internships in locations throughout Israel.

DEVELOP yourself as a future LEADER in your field, community and society with cutting edge leadership training seminars. Make a real DIFFERENCE to Israel through meaningful service and volunteering opportunities. EXPLORE the beauty and excitement of Israel- hands on!