'Teacher's birthright' may get $100m. boost

Post learns thousands of Diaspora Jewish educators may be brought to Israel.

birthright  248.88 (photo credit: Taglit-birthright)
birthright 248.88
(photo credit: Taglit-birthright)
The plan to bring thousands of Diaspora Jewish educators to Israel on free trips could receive over $100 million in state funding, according to initiatives being developed in the Prime Minister's Office, The Jerusalem Post has learned. The government plan to develop a "teachers' birthright," modeled on the free birthright-Israel trips taken by some 180,000 college-age Jews from the Diaspora, was first revealed in the Post last month. At the time, an internal meeting of advisers in the PMO chaired by Cabinet Secretary Oved Yehezkel had discussed developing a new track for Masa, a government agency which brings Diaspora Jewish youth for five- and ten-month programs in Israel. Planning work within Masa over the past month has confirmed the initial perception that "something like this [program] is needed, it is possible, and there's an identifiable target audience for it. But it still needs a few more months' planning," according to a government official familiar with the program. Though still in the planning stages, the new teachers' track could already be underway by 2009, since the funds are available in unused budgets slated for Masa participants. The Masa program is expected to bring a record 9,000 young Jews aged 18 to 30 to Israel in the coming year, up from some 4,000 four years ago, according to the organization's figures. But the government has offered to pay its part for up to 20,000 participants annually. Though it can boast 28,000 alumni from dozens of Jewish communities worldwide, participation has not grown as quickly as hoped. The programs are poorly advertised in Diaspora communities, and remain expensive despite the government grants, which average some $4,000 per participant, a small part of the $15,000 average cost for a ten-month program. In recent weeks, the government has taken steps to team up with organizations in Israel and abroad already running such trips, including the Robert I. Lappin Charitable Foundation of Salem, Massachusetts, and Israel's Oranim Educational Initiatives. These existing programs, say officials, allow the government to skip the pilot stage and begin implementing preexisting programs on a larger scale. "As demonstrated by the successful Teachers to Israel program, created and funded by the [Lappin Foundation], I believe that Teachers to Israel is transforming Jewish education in the Diaspora," Yehezkel wrote last week in a letter endorsing the Lappin Foundation program, which this year has invested some $93,000 of its own money, together with $18,000 from Oranim and matching funds from local communities, in bringing teachers on free trips to Israel. Since the program's founding in 2006, it has brought 146 Jewish educators on such trips. "At a cost of approximately $4,000 per teacher, Teachers to Israel is easily replicable in any Jewish community and it is one of the best solutions at hand for the crisis in Jewish education, namely apathy and lack of basic Jewish survival knowledge, or instinct to remain Jewish, marry Jewish and to be connected to the larger Jewish Family," wrote Yehezkel.