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'Israel to fund high-school programs'
By HAVIV RETTIG GUR
23/06/2010
Exclusive: Gov't, JA launch major effort to extend funding to youths.
 
After spending tens of millions of dollars in recent years to bring college-age Jewish youth on subsidized trips to Israel, the government and Jewish Agency are launching a major new effort to offer similar funding for high-schoolers.

Together, Israel and the Jewish Agency have spent well over $100 million in recent years to help fund short-term trips through Taglit-Birthright Israel and long-term stays in the country in the framework of Masa.

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In recent days, the Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Ministry and the Jewish Agency have offered $2m. to the Lapid organization, an umbrella body of 27 trip providers for high school-age kids, to start a pilot funding mechanism that will offer financial assistance to Diaspora youth applying to Israel programs.

“Identity and Jewish education are formed before college,” explained Gideon Shavit, CEO of the Alexander Muss High School in Israel and volunteer co-chair of Lapid.

“That’s not a criticism of the college-age programs,” he added, “but a call to look not just at Birthright and Masa, but at the whole tapestry of Israel programs for Diaspora youth. Lapid programs take place during what studies show are the most formative years for identity formation.”

Some 12,000 Diaspora youth come to Israel during their high school years, and a new plan being developed in the Jewish Agency hopes to help raise that number to some 20,000 annually in five years.

“Each annual cohort of Jews has 90,000 people in it,” explains Dr. Elan Ezrachi, who is advising the Jewish Agency on a long-term strategic plan for expanding Lapid programs. “Of these, we estimate that 50,000 members of each year are not relevant for our purposes, either because they are haredi or disengaged and uninterested in Israel programs. Of the remaining 40,000, we believe we can bring half to Israel each year.”

At a meeting last week that included agency chairman Natan Sharansky, Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein and Deputy Finance Minister Yitzhak Cohen, two years of campaigning for recognition and funding from the government came to fruition as Lapid was formally offered government funds to help offset the cost to participants.

“This is an important program, and we haven’t paid it enough attention until now,” Edelstein told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.

The developing plan calls for combined government-agency funding totaling some $20m., at a rate of $1,000 per participant once the 20,000-participant figure is reached.

While $1,000 is only a small dent in the cost of participation, which can easily reach $5,000 and higher, Shavit believes government participation will enable easier fundraising both for the member organizations and for the participants themselves.

“We believe that once the government gets into this and gives it formal recognition, it will be easier to get donors,” he said. “You can’t overstate the importance of recognition. It will fundamentally change Lapid’s relationship with the Jewish world.”

The government money will also help participants raise funds back home, he added.

“It’s important to understand that a lot of the participants run a miniature fundraising campaign of their own to be able to go on the program,” he said. “They may go to their parents, grandpa, the rabbi, the federation, and collect some money from each as they put together the sum.”

The mere knowledge that the government and agency are putting in the first $1,000 “will make it easier for the participants to ask for money” from their families and communities, Shavit believes.  
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