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OTZMA

About

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!

Founded
1983
Headquarters

2040 Bancroft Way #200
Berkeley, CA 94704
United States

Reviews

Default avatar
Alex
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

I signed up for Project Otzma looking for an inexpensive way to spend a year after college learning and adventuring overseas (in Israel), and it turned into one of the turning points of my life. Billed as a leadership development and volunteer program, I looked forward to teaching English and working with kids, with time to adventure and explore the country on top. The educational and leadership curriculum organized by the staff and facilitated by outside professionals added so much value to the program, it make me re-consider my professional goals and helped me find my life's calling.

Otzma arranges three 3-month sections, starting with language immersion courses and a few hours of volunteer work per day, moving onto full-time volunteering in one of several dozen communities across the country, and a final stretch of working on a kibbutz, serving in the army or doing some kind of internship. Each three-month chunk is peppered with enrichment events, either with the entire group or locally in the base city. Attendance at large-scale educational and networking events were also very common.

One of the best things about Otzma, aside from the attentive staff, is that the program organizes all the logistics you can imagine-- apartments, transportation plans, food stipends, curricula-- all you need to do is show up and jump in. Definitely among the best ways to spend a post-college year!

What would you improve about this program?
Work a little more closely with local programs to ensure quality and coordination for participants, on-site.
Default avatar
sandy
8/10
Yes, I recommend this program

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
9/10
Yes, I recommend this program

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!

Default avatar
bpasinko
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

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.

Default avatar
Jeremy
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

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!

Programs

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Alumni Interviews

Alumni interviews are in-depth Q&A sessions with verified alumni.

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

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.

Staff Interviews

Staff interviews are in-depth Q&A sessions with program leaders.

Sandy Schlenoff

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.