Immigration and Absorption Ministry launches Judaism project for new immigrants

Immigration and Absorpti

The Immigration and Absorption Ministry launched an educational project Tuesday to teach Judaism and Zionism to new immigrants and their children. In the first stage of the project the ministry will provide NIS 7 million, while private Jewish philanthropists, including the Wolfson Foundation, will help fund the project. In later stages the budget for the project is expected to grow to tens of millions of dollars, according to a ministry official. "There are today in Israel 1.3 million new immigrants, one million of whom are Jewish," a ministry press release said. "According to Immigration and Absorption Ministry data, a large portion of this population still does not feel a sense of belonging and has not fully integrated into Israeli society. Immigrants' experience with a Jewish environment produces a sharp conflict between personal identity developed at home and Jewish-Israeli society and culture they confront today." The goal of the new program is to facilitate integration into Israeli society by teaching Judaism and Zionism. The ministry kicked off the project with a field trip attended by over 600 high school-age new immigrants to historical and cultural sites in Jerusalem. Immigration and Absorption Minister Sofa Landver said that the new project targets young new immigrants who might lack the Jewish cultural and historical background enjoyed by their native Israeli peers. "There are kids on this trip who have never been to the state's eternal capital," said Landver, who accompanied the youths to Ammunition Hill and the Western Wall. "All of them have a Jewish soul and we want to give them deeper roots and strengthen their connection to the Jewish state. We are showing them places where Jews fought, and sometimes died, so that there could be a Jewish state." Avigdor Leviatan, head of the Jewish-Zionist Identity Department in the Immigration and Absorption Ministry, who is spearheading the program, said that the project would focus on high schools such as Shevach Mofet in Tel Aviv and other cities, Chavat Hano'ar [Youth Farm] in Jerusalem, and high schools in Hodayot, Or Akiva and Nazareth Ilit where there are large percentages of immigrant populations. "In the first stage we will be targeting between 5,000 and 6,000 high school students," said Leviatan. "Later it will grow to reach tens of thousands." Different educational institutions are being chosen to teach the new immigrants. According to Leviatan most of the organizations are religious Zionist. "We are talking about guys with crocheted kippot who served in combat units," said Leviatan. Tzohar, a coalition of moderate rabbis, will "adopt" young immigrant families in various cities and teach them about Judaism and Israeli culture. Ta'ir Theatre, which was established by graduates of the religious Ma'ale School of Television, Film and Arts, will perform educational plays. However, Levitan said that the main emphasis would be on culture and Jewish identity, not religion. "Both secular and religious organizations will be chosen to take part in the project which will teach in an experiential way," he said. Landver rejected the possibility of religious coercion or attempts to convince young immigrants to lead a religious lifestyle. "I am a secular Jew who is opposed to any form of religious coercion," he said. "No one can suspect the attempt to influence new immigrants to become religious. But I do want to strengthen their connection with the land of Israel and the Jewish people."