A potential merger between Taglit-birthright israel and MASA, two different programs aimed to give Diaspora Jewish youth an Israel experience, may provide a break to the thousands of youth who are currently wait-listed.
"Philanthropists are lobbying to try to have the two programs unified," said Michael Jankelowtiz, spokesman for the Jewish Agency. "They want more establishment money to go to birthright."
The possible union of the two programs will be discussed at the Jewish Agency's Board of Governors meeting at the Dead Sea on February 19-21.
Interest on both sides has mounted following a formal overture made by birthright founder Charles Bronfman to MASA. Birthright brings youth for a 10-day visit, while MASA offers year-long programs.
Tens of thousands of youths are forced to wait to come on heavily subsidized trips to Israel due to overwhelming demand, according to birthright spokesman Gidi Mark.
"We had some discussions with the Jewish Agency about the possibility of cooperation with MASA and hopefully the Jewish Agency increases its funding share in Taglit birthright israel," he told The Jerusalem Post. "We have to deal with tens of thousands wait-listed participants, from North America and all over the world."
Birthright, created as an "out of establishment" program, has emerged as one of the most successful projects internationally. Funded mainly by philanthropists and Jewish communities worldwide but also in part by the Israeli government, birthright provides youngsters aged between 18 and 25 with a 10-day Israel experience.
The newest MASA initiative, slated to begin in 2008, involves a partnership between the Jewish Agency and the Israeli government, which will increase MASA's budget by an addition $50 million annually. "The government of Israel will submit $50m. a year to match the $50m. of the Jewish Agency and the Jewish communities all over," said Jankelowitz.
The goal of MASA is to increase aliya by providing youth with a year of deep integration into Israeli society, according to Amos Hermon, chairman of the Jewish Agency Education Department.
"MASA is going to be the flagship of the Jewish Agency for the next 10 years," Hermon told The Jerusalem Post. "Prime Minister Ariel Sharon chose the Jewish Agency generally, and particularly the Education Department, to be the subcontractor of the government of Israel in order to bring 20,000 students... for a significant and meaningful year in Israel."
Hermon is confident MASA will succeed. "According to our experience in the Education Department, a meaningful year can do it, and bring another million immigrants to Israel," he said.
While the Jewish Agency welcomes the prospect of this union in theory, the practicality of such a merger is more difficult.
Hermon made clear that difficulties lie in the complex nature of MASA's overall goal and the "strategic partnership between the government of Israel and the Jewish Agency."
"We have to be very careful [and] sensitive, if we would like to successfully implement the mission of the prime minister and the Jewish Agency," Hermon said. "Before bringing in other partners, which we are very, very honored [are interested], like the philanthropists who initiated birthright, we should discuss the issue, talk about all the implications.... If we can find a common interest and common thoughts, I don't see any problem to suggest and to offer other partners to join our program."