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Israel Unfiltered: Ofer Gutman

I recently had Ofer Gutman on my interview series Israel Unfiltered!

Ofer Gutman has served as the CEO of Masa Israel Journey since 2019. He has dedicated himself to shaping a promising future for young Jewish professionals, the global Jewish community, and the connection to the State of Israel.

Ofer joined Masa in 2014 as the Vice President of Global Marketing & Sales, where he developed cutting-edge systems that increased the organization’s international reach and engagement. Masa has served more than 180,000 young professionals from over 60 countries since its founding, and its network continues to grow.

Prior to joining Masa, Ofer served as the CEO of Jerusalem Venture Partners (JVP) Community, Executive Director of the World Zionist Organization (WZO) in North America, and Director of Long-Term Programs at Israel Way. Under his tenure, Israel Way became the largest long-term program organizer for North Americans in Israel.

Ofer holds an L.L.B. and is an attorney. He served as a battleship fighter in the Israel Defense Forces. Ofer was born and raised in northern Israel in the town of Tivon and lives in Ramat Gan with his wife, Jaclyn.

Q: Did you always dream of working with Israel/Zionist-related organizations?

I wasn’t always set on working in this field. Initially, I studied law with the intention of becoming a practicing lawyer. My experiences within the Jewish world made me realize that my true passion lies in strengthening our collective connection to Israel and each other.

Q: What lead you to work at Masa?

I was a Shaliach for the World Zionist Organization from 2004 to 2008. This experience changed my trajectory both professionally and personally. Every opportunity to work with Masa alum who came back home was an amazing demonstration of the impact one year in Israel can have on Jewish young adults everywhere.

Q: What do you think Masa’s gift to the world is? Why should people attend Masa?

Masa facilitates dozens of programs every year that empower thousands of young adults to connect with Israel and each other. The benefits that come from these immersive trips are unquantifiable. Jewish identities are strengthened, organizations and young adults connect over matching interests, and countless bridges are built between Israel and Jews in the Diaspora. The impacts of Masa programs are felt economically, culturally, spiritually, and socially across the Jewish world and beyond.

Q: What are your current relationships with Judaism and the land of Israel?

I have always been connected to Zionism, Israel, and the rich Jewish history within it. I grew up surrounded by it. I left for my Shlichot as an Israeli, but I returned as a Jew. The experience taught me that life as an Israeli in Israel is very different than life in a minority Jewish community outside of Israel. This is one lapse in understanding that can be overcome through dialogue between Israelis and Jews from around the world.

For me, Judaism is not just a religion. Judaism is history, culture, tradition, and especially, family.

Q: What is your favorite Jewish holiday, and why?

The time between Passover and Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day. Passover symbolizes the moment when we became “the Jewish people.” This is followed by Yom HaShoah, reminding us of our darkest moment as a people. The intense hopelessness imparted by the Holocaust leads directly into Yom HaZikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut, symbolizing the bittersweet contrast between mourning our fallen victims of terror to our highest moment—the creation of our own modern state with self-determination and Jewish values at its core. The message of linking these two days is clear: Israelis owe their independence — the very existence of the state — to the soldiers who sacrificed their lives for it.

Q: What is your favorite book recommendation?

When I read, I prefer biographical books. I enjoy reading about leaders from all over the world and inside Israel—there are always lessons to learn from them.

Q: What role does Zionism/Judaism play in your daily life and career?

As someone who lives in Israel and works in Masa, I am connected to Zionism and Judaism from every possible angle. One particular interest of mine is Jewish history and archeology. I make use of my free time to read and study the subject as much as I can.

Q: What is one thing you know about Israel that even her greatest supporters may not know?

It was not certain that Israel would be named Israel. There were several options, including Judah, Zion, and more. After all, the last time the Jewish people had independence in modern-day Israel, it was called the kingdom of Judah. Israel is actually the name of the northern kingdom from the First Temple period that was eventually conquered by Assyria, resulting in the exile of the ten tribes of Israel that have since disappeared from the map of history. I think the idea of ​​naming the Jewish state after it speaks to the longing for a future in which all the tribes of Israel return and reinvigorate the land.

Q: Share an only-in-Israel moment. (we all have at least one!)

When you walk through a street in Israel and you see someone falling in front of you, you probably won’t have time to come and help before 10 other Israelis jump in front of you to do the same.

Q: What’s your favorite Israeli snack or cuisine?

Israeli breakfast is the best in the world. I also really like sweets, so I always miss Krembo, and Pesek Zman when I’m abroad.

Q: What do you miss most about Israel when you’re not here?

Sometimes you do not know what you will miss until you do not have it. I live at the center of the country, and my parents are in the north, and there are always traffic jams on the way north before Seder night on Passover.

The first year I was in New York for Seder night there were no traffic jams. I really missed it as part of the holiday experience, not because I like traffic jams, but because of the experience of being together especially on a holiday that the entire country celebrates. In a traffic jam on the way to Seder night, each car shows a different story as they travel to different places, but everyone travels for the same purpose: to do a Passover Seder with family and friends they love. I missed this very much outside of Israel.

Q: What message do you wish you could get through to the world about Israel?

We are an amazing country that has accomplished so much in just 70 years. We are a happy, optimistic people who love life and love to initiate and create new things for the world.

You can learn more about Masa and their programs at https://masaisrael.org/

About the Author
Yoel Israel is a digital marketing and real estate investor, with a passion for liberal Zionism. Yoel provides an out-of-box perspective and unique interviews about Israelis in the culture. Yoel lives with his wife and daughters in Pardes Chana. He is the founder of WadiDigital.com, Cyfluencer.com, and IsraelUnfiltered.
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