Do you have a college-age Jewish relative or friend in the United States? If so, an $800,000 public relations blitz launched by the Masa Project wants you to convince them to come on one of its five-month to yearlong programs.
The campaign targets Israelis through television spots and Internet ads, calling on them to "take responsibility for Diaspora assimilation," in the words of Masa CEO Ayelet Shilo-Tamir.
It launched Wednesday with the broadcasting of television spots featuring "Lost" posters with the photos of college-age Diaspora Jews.
The voice-over, done by veteran television anchorwoman Ayala Hason, tells Israelis that "over 50 percent of Jewish youth abroad are assimilating and becoming lost to us. Do you know a Jewish youth abroad? Call Masa, and together we will strengthen their connection to Israel so that we don't lose them."
"We want Israelis to view assimilation [in the Diaspora] as a national strategic problem," explains Shilo-Tamir. "This is a media campaign that's trying to educate Israelis about the strategic aspect of the Diaspora."
In launching the campaign, Shilo-Tamir notes figures from recent studies that examined American Jewish and European Jewish assimilation. With intermarriage hovering around 50 percent in the United States and Europe, and estimated at over 80% in the former Soviet Union, the total worldwide Jewish population "is on the verge of negative growth," she warns.
Since one-third of Jews are estimated to have relatives in Israel, Masa, together with Israeli advertising and public relations firms Shlomi Drori and Scherf Communications, believes they can be reached through family networks.
"In the eyes of the Israeli public, the Diaspora is a UFO, a satellite," campaign architect Motti Scherf explains. "So it's not going to be an easy campaign."
There is little doubt that Masa has expanded the participation in long-term Israel programs among Diaspora youth. But five years on, it seems to have peaked at some 8,000 annual participants. The problem may not be so much the lack of coaxing from distant Israeli relatives, as the sheer cost of participation.
The average nine-month Masa program - they range from five months to a year - costs some $15,000. While there are special grant programs, the average participant gets just $3,000 toward that cost.
"We have to convince these young people to give not just their time, but also their money," says Shilo-Tamir - a harder sell than ever in tough economic times.
Thus, the polished high-profile campaign is aimed as much at Israeli decision-makers as at the public. If Masa can lower the participant's share of the program cost - that is, if Masa can get much more funds from its contributing bodies, the Prime Minister's Office and the Jewish Agency - "it would double and triple participation in the blink of an eye," noted Alon Friedman, Shilo-Tamir's deputy and the director of Masa's Israel operations.
The total Masa budget is approximately $40 million, according to Shilo-Tamir.
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