Bill seeks to make Poland school trips more accessible
How tours to raise Holocaust awareness would be subsidized remains unclear.
By REBECCA ANNA STOIL
High school students from low-income families could soon find it easier to join their wealthier classmates on educational trips to Poland if a new bill submitted by MK Zevulun Orlev gets passed into law.
The bill would establish a maximum price of $450, or one-quarter of an average monthly salary - whichever is higher - for the annual visits, geared to raise Holocaust awareness and understanding among the younger generation.
According to the introduction to the bill, "the goal is to correct an injustice in the current law that has allowed the price of the trips to be so high as to prevent many students wishing to participate from doing so, and has led to a social inequality that has worsened the social gap and harms the principle of free education for all."
The bill was written and submitted following a campaign by Yedid: The Association for Community Empowerment's community organizing project in Ashkelon, which united with parents, teachers and students against the high cost of the trips.
Such trips now cost between NIS 5,500 and 6,000, over two-thirds the monthly income of a family in which both parents work full-time at minimum wage.
The Education Ministry has a NIS 1 million budget for such trips, which is used to provide subsidies of NIS 600 each to students who demonstrate financial need, an amount that covers barely 10 percent of the total cost of the trip.
Ran Melamed, deputy director of Yedid, said there were a number of ways in which the government could bring down the cost of the trip, in which approximately 20 percent to 25% of Israeli 11th-graders participate.
In addition to subsidizing outright the difference between the cost of the trip and the desired price-tag, he said, the state could seek donors from organizations such as the Jewish Agency.
Alternately, Melamed argued, the current eight-day-long trip could be reduced in scale so as to reduce costs.
Ashkelon residents, who have been waging this campaign for some time, say it is inconceivable that teenagers and their families have to fund a trip that costs as much as an average monthly salary.
"It seems to us," group members write, "that many parties receive a nice income by arranging trips to Poland and that the system has to work to significantly reduce the costs as well as arrange an extended payment plan."
One Ashkelon teenager, Ethiopian immigrant Efrat Ananiya, found herself waging a fierce campaign to find the financial resources to participate in the trip.
"Before the trip, I was always thinking about how I could get the money for the trip and fulfill my vision, but I always thought that there was no way I could do it. As time went on, each time the thought came to mind, my fears of not being able to go only grew," wrote Ananiya, in a letter describing her travails.
"I searched for work to no avail. My family knew of my dream but they also knew how expensive it would be. I am dependant upon my brothers and sisters, as my parents are divorced and unemployed since they came to this country.
"I have always been super-sensitive to the subject of the Holocaust. I always wanted to hear, to know more and more about the horrors and injustices that our people faced in Europe.
"In seventh grade, I wanted to be a Holocaust researcher, since the whole thing sounded so unreal to me, and I wanted to prove that it really did take place. The numbers of survivors are becoming fewer and fewer; but they still tell their stories so that we will always remember them and never forget."
Ananiya said that she "didn't believe that I would ever be able to go on the trip and my fears only increased as time went by. Two weeks before the scheduled trip in 12th grade, I almost gave up ... I didn't know what to do, and explored every option of raising the money. I felt that the students with financial means were moving forward, and leaving me behind."
In the end, Ananiya managed to fulfill her dream of going to Poland, but still shoulders a burden of debt that she incurred to finance the trip.
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