Despite financial woes, the Jewish Agency has launched a new initiative for the upcoming school year to foster aliya-minded communities on 20 college campuses across North America.
The program, called the Campus Aliya Fellowship, will "create a presence on the campus community for students to discuss aliya," said David Steinberg, the agency's campus aliya director.
Targeting campuses with large Jewish communities and strong pro-Israel and Zionist organizations, the fellowship is awarded to one student per campus to organize students interested in immigrating to Israel, provide space and tools for them to network with like-minded students and learn about the aliya process.
"Many Jewish students on campus are thinking about moving to Israel after college," said Liran Avisar, head of the agency's aliya department in North America, in a press release. "But they have no one to turn to for information or support. The Campus Aliya Fellowship will provide students the information and support they need and the opportunity to meet others who are also considering moving to Israel."
In 2009, there has been an estimated 15 percent increase in aliya from across the United States, according to the Jewish Agency Web site.
"Basically, the idea behind the fellowship is to create a comfortable environment to discuss aliya," Steinberg said. "There is no presence on campus that fosters aliya and the goal of the initiative is to form pre-aliya communities and provide support for students considering aliya."
The fellowship's budget comes exclusively from the Jewish Agency's Aliya department, even though the program has a partnership with Hillel International.
"Even with all the cutbacks, this is a priority," Steinberg said.
Each fellow will be provided with $500 each semester to host programming on the campus to educate students on aliya.
In addition to working on the campuses with other student groups, the fellows will be required to attend two training sessions, one before each semester. The Jewish Agency also plans on hosting a pilot trip in the winter for students interested in aliya to travel to Israel and network with professionals and olim.
The fellows will be educated on the elements of the aliya process and benefits for immigrants, and will also be expected to host social and cultural events to form a comfortable environment for students.
Meira Kreuter, a student at Florida Atlantic University who is spending her semester at Hebrew University and will be the campus representative for aliya back home, said she applied for the fellowship because she thinks it will help her with her plans of making aliya while helping others.
"I have a lot of different experiences working with Israel programs and with people so I'm excited to learn and to teach people about how to make aliya," Kreuter said. She came to Israel for the first time in her first year of college as a Birthright participant and has come to Israel a couple times a year since then.
Steinberg said other fellows have been selected at the University of Maryland, University of Pennsylvania, University of Texas, University of Massachusetts, Yeshiva University, University of Colorado and York University.
The agency is taking applications for fellows until July 15. Steinberg said there had been positive feedback from students and Hillel staff members at difference campuses, but that it was difficult to recruit students because of summer vacation.
The fellowship program is apart of the Jewish Agency's initiative to ease aliya absorption and provide unique opportunities for new olim, said Jacob Dallal, the agency's public relations and marketing director.
"The idea is to find the right people, then give them very attractive opportunities for when they make aliya," Dallal said.
The Jewish Agency has seen a steady increase in North American aliya since 2002. According to the agency's statistics, the majority of olim are single or young married couples between the ages of 18-34. The second largest age group is for North Americans under 18 years of age.