Dec 1, 2014  By Jewish National Fund  Category: Education,

What do Facebook exec Sheryl Sandberg and singer Matisyahu have in common?

Chances are you know Sheryl Sandberg as chief operating officer of Facebook and author of the much-talked-about best-seller "Lean In: Woman, Work, and the Will to Lead." But did you know she attended Alexander Muss High School in Israel

And she's far from the only big-name alum of the JNF-supported international study-abroad program for high schoolers.

Award-winning Hasidic rapper and alternative-rock singer/songwriter Matthew "Matisyahu" Miller went there. So did film director and producer Brett Ratner, who's best known for the "Rush Hour" series, "The Family Man," and "X-Men: the Last Stand." Seen the "Hunger Games" movies? Another Muss alum, Debra Zane, cast them. Novelist Lauren Weisberger, best known for "The Devil Wears Prada," spent time on the Hod Hasharon campus as well. 

Muss alum have also risen the ranks of Jewish communal life. co-founder Robert Diener serves on many boards, including AIPAC, Hasbara Fellowships, the National Board of Directors of Israeli Bonds, HonestReporting, and Aish HaTorah International. Lawyer Wayne Firestone heads the Genesis Fund, which aims to enhance the Jewish identity of young people. He formerly served as president and CEO of Hillel.

How did attending Muss impact these prominent alumni?

Musician and Muss alum Matisyahu's most recent album, 
"Akeda." He sings about Judaism and Israel often. 
Ben Barokas, a successful entrepreneur and angel investor and a general manager of Google’s Global Marketplace Development team, credits his bond with Israel to the time he spent at AMHSI, an accredited program that turns Israel into a living classroom.

"AMHSI definitely reinforced my connection to Israel and Judaism," Barokas was quoted as saying in a recent alumni profile by Yael Tamar on the AMHSI blog"You know how most Jewish teens have this ephemeral connection to their Jewish identity, and once they actually see Israel for themselves and experience the history of the Jewish people, this connection is reinforced 1,000 times over. That’s what AMHSI has done for me."

Barokas started a company, AdMeld, an exchange platform for advertisers and publishers that he turned from a two-person operation into a corporation with more than 150 offices worldwide. Google acquired the company in 2011 for $400 million, integrating AdMeld's “best features into [a Google’s product,] DoubleClick Ad Exchange,” according to a Google blog

Some 22,000 international high school juniors and seniors have spent time at AMHSI since 1972. Following his stint at the school, Barokas attended Virginia Tech and got a graduate degree from the University of Hawaii. After grad school, he returned to Israel. First he lived on Kibbutz Revivim in the Negev and then started an Internet cafe in Tel Aviv. Barokas still visits Israel three to four times a year.