With 7,000 young Jews participating in its programs this year and more than 10,000 expected next year, Elan Ezrachi, executive director of Masa, told The Jerusalem Post Thursday that without a doubt his program was succeeding despite certain bureaucratic issues surrounding the distribution of scholarship funds.
"As the first director of Masa I am overwhelmed by the positive response to the program," Ezrachi told the Post. "We are fulfilling the dreams of thousands of young Jews to come to Israel."
"Since Masa started we have given out 3,100 scholarships to participants," said Ezrachi, highlighting that 85 percent of Masa's annual $100 million budget went towards scholarships enabling young Jewish adults to volunteer and study in more than 120 programs around the country.
Ezrachi, however also acknowledged that there had been some "teething issues" for the program now coming to the end of its first full year of operations.
"We do have issues to deal with," noted Ezrachi. "This is a complex endeavor. There are thousands of Masa participants from all over the world. Because the population we are dealing with is spread out all over the world, Masa does not interface directly with the students but rather with the individual organizations and institutions acting as brokers. In the few cases where participants did not yet receive funds it was solely because of a slow bureaucratic process."
The Post reported on Tuesday that some of Masa's participants had yet to receive the scholarships promised to them even though their programs here are drawing to a close.
Sam Krentzman, a WUJS participant who finishes his stay in Arad in two weeks, said that so far he has only received half the money promised.
However, he added, "it was a pain and took a lot of effort to get the money promised but on the other hand I got to come to Israel."
Ezrachi said that Masa was currently examining new ways in which to expedite the process and make it much more user friendly.
"We plan to upgrade the administration process and improve the technology for applying for grants," said Ezrachi. "Soon participants will be able to apply on-line and track the status of their scholarship on the Internet. This will help ease the pain."
Part of the problem, explained Ezrachi, is that once a participant qualifies for a Masa scholarship, paperwork then has to be signed between Masa and the participant's chosen program.
"We are talking about lawyers having to read over contracts and accept the demands of the Israeli government. Some organizations were quicker than others, they received the money and passed it on to their students," said Ezrachi, adding, "We know that we can improve communication in this area."
At the Schechter Institute in Jerusalem, where 14 of the 24 students studying there were late receiving their Masa scholarships, Eitan Cooper, vice president of Development, said that it had taken a while to smooth out technical details between Schechter and Masa before the scholarship money could be received.
"[Students] were warned at the beginning of the year that there was a chance there would be a delay in getting the money," said Cooper.
As for Schechter student Laurie Matzkin, who told the Post that she was still waiting for her scholarship money, Cooper said that the institute had received the money from Masa this week.
Ezrachi warned that students thinking about applying for scholarships for next year's programs should do so at least six months in advance. This will allow enough time for the administrative process to take place, said Ezrachi.
"There were unfortunate delays in scholarships this year," said Cooper of the Schechter program. "However, partly thanks to Masa we are now expecting 50 students on our program next year, this year we have 24."
"I see mostly pluses in this program and as long as Masa keeps bringing students to Israel then it is fulfilling its role."