Masa cuts funding to yeshivas, religious institutions due to COVID-19

The Jewish Agency said it was working to get the gov’t to match donations made to program organizers.

Participants in a Masa Israel Journey program (photo credit: MASA ISRAEL JOURNEY)
Participants in a Masa Israel Journey program
(photo credit: MASA ISRAEL JOURNEY)
The Masa program has cut all funding to yeshiva and seminary students under the age of 22, citing budget cuts made by the Israeli government and the Jewish Agency, which funds it. Most of the students are from the US, Canada and the UK.
The announcement affects programs beginning in the 2020/2021 academic year, which for yeshivas and seminaries starts on August 21. The institutions were informed of the policy change on Tuesday.
Grants and scholarships for Masa participants in university programs will still be available.
The length of programs subsidized for participants from the former Soviet Union and academic programs will also be affected, Masa said.
“With the significant economic downturn due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Jewish Agency and the government of Israel reduced Masa’s budget,” Masa acting CEO Ofer Gutman said.
Demand for Masa programs actually was increasing due to tighter job markets and because universities abroad have remained closed, he said, adding that it is unclear if and how they will reopen for the new academic year.
“With over 7,000 preregistrations, together with our funders, we had to make difficult choices that advanced our strategic priorities while maximizing our funds,” Gutman said. “Adjustments were made in multiple areas to ensure that we can provide as many people as possible meaningful, long-term experiences in Israel.”
Masa gives grants to many Jewish youths from the Diaspora as well as needs-based scholarships that can total several thousand dollars.
The cessation of funding to yeshivas and seminaries could have a significant financial impact on those institutions.
The cut of funding to religious institutions but not universities reflected “a decision to value secular studies over Jewish studies,” an administrator of the overseas program of one yeshiva said, adding that “from a Zionist perspective, [this] is painful.”
In response to the report, The Jewish Agency released the following statement: “We want to clarify there is no specific exception in the cuts made to the Jewish Studies program, which is very important to all parties concerned. Unfortunately due to the COVID-19 implications, we are facing a year where we had to reduce and adapt our overall Masa annual work plan and budget, as both the GOI and The Jewish Agency are facing significant budget cuts.
We therefore had to adapt many of the Masa programs and scholarship models, not only the Jewish Studies programs.
For the Jewish Studies programs, we have actually created an exclusive arrangement where the GOI will match funding raised by program organizers. We are working, along with their donors, to try and secure this funding, as well as some of the basic support to these participants.
No less important to note is that Masa will provide its special Masa visa to any participant that comes for a semester-year program in Israel, such as any Jewish Studies program, regardless if they receive a scholarship from Masa. In this very challenging year, this is of most significance to the thousands of young Jews from all around the world who are ready to come and explore their identity and strengthen their connection to Israel."