November 8, 2009 / 21 Cheshvan 5770
Short- and long-term educational and volunteer programs are varied and in abundance in Israel. The Israeli government, working through the Jewish Agency and other organizations, has made it a priority to bring young Diaspora Jews to Israel to experience the culture, land, religion and more.
“I have a dream, that every Jew will visit Jerusalem at least once. I believe we must set a goal that every young Jew will live here at least one year during their lifetime.”
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s message to the UJC General Assembly in November 2003 has not gone unheeded and youth programs have increased in number. What follows is a synopsis of some of the programs in existence.
The Na'ale school program was established in 1992 as a joint initiative of the Prime Minister’s office -- through Nativ* -- and The Ministry of Education. Its mission is to invite Jewish high school students worldwide to study in Israel. Na’ale, which means ‘superior’ or ‘superb’ is fully subsidized through the combined generosity of the Israeli Government and The Jewish Agency.
Between 800 and 1000 students come to Israel every year to experience the Na’ale three-year program (10th through 12th grade), which leads to an Israeli baccalaureate degree (teudat bagrut – matriculation certificate).
Na’ale groups study at regular state-run schools, state-religious schools, Orthodox schools, boarding schools, kibbutzim, secondary education yeshivot, ulpanot for young girls, and more. The parents select the educational stream their children will attend before they arrive in Israel.
The staff provides professional guidance for the students´ absorption process and support for the educational institutions, the students and their parents. Students are entitled to one visit to their parents during the program, with fare paid by the Jewish Agency. The program fosters links between the students and Israeli volunteer host families that become their entry point to Israeli life and with whom they stay on weekends.
No commitment for Aliyah, not of the student or her/his parents, is required or even requested, although many of the students end up staying in Israel and their parents ultimately follow.
* Nativ is the organization that helps the Israeli government to prove Jewishness of potential new immigrants
Taglit-Birthright Israel provides the gift of first-time educational trips to Israel for Jews between the ages of 18 and 26. Taglit-Birthright Israel's founders created this program to send thousands of young Jewish adults from all over the world to Israel as a gift in order to diminish the growing division between Israel and Jewish communities around the world; to strengthen the sense of solidarity among world Jewry; and to strengthen participants' personal Jewish identity and connection to the Jewish people.
The Taglit-Birthright Israel gift is open to all Jewish young adults post high-school, who have neither traveled to Israel before on a peer educational trip or study program nor have lived in Israel past the age of 12. The Taglit gift covers roundtrip airfare (from designated cities), hotel, transportation, most meals and other associated land costs for the approved 10-day trips to Israel. Gratuities, personal purchases and travel/medical insurance are not included.
Taglit is the Hebrew word for ‘discovery’, hence Taglit-Birthright Israel is a way for young adults to discover their birthright as a Jew in Israel – with their peers. More than 215 000 young adults from 52 countries around the world have been to Israel on this program. They come from all Jewish religious backgrounds and degrees of travel experience. All return from Israel with a new understanding and appreciation for the people of Israel and the country.
MASA (Israel Journey) - The project for long-term programs in Israel is the culmination of dream expressed by Ariel Sharon that all Jews, and especially the youth, should spend a semester to a year in Israel. Officially established by the Israeli government and the Jewish Agency in 2003, there are over 150 long-term MASA programs in Israel.
MASA's ultimate goal is to significantly increase the number of participants in semester to one-year educational programs in Israel, the center of world Jewish culture and creativity.
MASA, which means ‘journey’ enables young Jews (18 to 30) from around the world to build a lasting relationship with Israel, strengthen their Jewish identity, and gain meaningful and beneficial experiences by participating in a long-term program in Israel.
These programs emphasize study, meaningful encounters with Israelis, volunteering and contributing to Israeli society, together with adventures, challenges and familiarity with young people from other countries as well as Israelis.
Studies indicate that the impact of the experience is lifelong. For example, a survey of Young Judaea Year Course alumni shows that they maintain a higher rate of Jewish involvement after their experience in Israel compared with those who did not go; 91% marry other Jews; 79% maintain synagogue membership; 71% return to Israel two or more times in the years to follow; 72% volunteer in a Jewish setting; 57% contribute to Federation campaigns and 36% send their children to Jewish day schools. (International Survey of Israel Program Graduates – Preliminary Findings: Survey by Professor Steve Cohen.)
Gap-year programs: The number of Jewish students who take a “Gap Year” to pursue volunteer, study and career-related opportunities in Israel before enrolling in college continues to rise. From 2007 to 2008, the number of participants on non-yeshiva MASA gap-year programs increased by 45% to more than 1 000.
While once considered a luxury for the wealthy, the gap-year, which costs less than a year of private college and is subsidized by MASA grants, is now seen as an economically-wise decision. Students often graduate from high school feeling ‘burnt-out’ and directionless. Top universities recognize this and urge students to consider the option and defer for the year, before investing in a four-year degree.
These gap-year programs in Israel help individuals mold and reinforce their Jewish identities before forging their own paths in college.
Kivunim: New Directions and Young Judaea Olami Year Course are two programs that have recently attracted a great deal of attention. In an age that emphasizes cultural exchange in order to build world consciousness, Kivunim and Young Judaea Olami, which are both based in Israel, allow their participants to embark on hands-on explorations of Jewish and world history.
On Kivunim, participants travel through India, Morocco, the Ukraine, Turkey, Greece, Spain, the Czech Republic, and Hungary, trekking through the birthplaces of diverse Jewish communities and understanding how their current Jewish populations connect to their religion in their contemporary lives. In order to facilitate participants’ ability to connect to their hosts and to work towards co-existence, they receive Hebrew and Arabic instruction.
On Young Judaea Olami, participants travel to different regions in order to explore the birthplaces of Israel’s many immigrant groups and to understand their past and continued cultural impacts on Israeli society. Divided into five tracks, including “Sephardic Judaism and Zionism” and “Israel, Africa and the Jews” that focus on different parts of the world, participants trace the steps of historical and current events, while connecting them to early and modern-day Israel.
In the spirit of social justice, Young Judaea is launching a Tikkun Olam track in 2009-2010 in which participants spend six months volunteering and studying in Israel and three months doing community service in Ghana.
Programs like Kivunim and Young Judaea Year Course allow participants to earn college credit, but some young adults prefer to spend their gap year on a program that mirrors the college experience, with Israel as the setting.
The Hebrew University “Academic Gap Year” is a quickly-growing program in which students take classes in Jewish, Israel and Middle Eastern studies, as well as general subjects frequently required of first-year students. While living in Israel, students are able to explore the landscape of their studies and need not worry about ‘losing time’ before college.
Different non-orthodox religious affiliations also offer gap-year programs in Israel. Nativ, which is affiliated with the Conservative movement and features academics, volunteering, and tours around Israel, had more than 100 participants last year. Tamarim – The Netzer Year (Shnat Netzer) is the Reform movement’s new gap-year program that is beginning to attract young adults all over the world, allowing them a full experience as Reform Jews in Israel. Habonim Dror and B’nei Akiva have similar gap-year programs.
In a country that is culturally, ethnically, and religiously diverse, Israel has a place for every Jewish young adult in Israel. Part of MASA’s goals consists of finding programs that speak to their individual needs.
MASA New Programs Incubator. MASA is making new program development a priority. When MASA first entered the scene in 2003, Israel had approximately 4 000 Diaspora young adults participating in fewer than 100 long-term programs. Today, the number of participants has doubled, and while no one can argue that MASA's presence has affected that increase, MASA is determined to do even more.
This determination is the inspiration for the MASA New Programs Incubator – an initiative that provides professional guidance, counseling and direction to organizers who want to develop new programs for MASA. Through the incubator, MASA is positioned to invest in new ideas for programs.
Among the 18 new programs MASA is now cultivating are the following:
- Budokan: A unique opportunity to study martial arts in Israel while following in the footsteps of Jewish Heroes. Participants can choose from a variety of martial arts such as Karate, Judo, Aikido or Krav Maga (the Israeli self-defense system that has become popular the world over) by the finest instructors in Israel. The program is headed by two world-class champions in Judo and Karate.
- Career Israel – HiTech, Business, Journalism, Medicine and tracks for French Speakers: Enhance your resume and advance your career with two new tracks from Career Israel. In addition to its many other successful internship programs, it's the perfect way to start your career.
- Dance Journey: A dance program for anyone, amateur to professional, interested in working with one of the top dance ensembles in Israel. Dance Journey is run by The Kibbutz Dance Troupe at Kfar HaMachol in Kibbutz Ga'aton in the scenic Galil area.
- Eco-Israel – Live the Land: "Green Technology" is the new model for the 21st century and allows you to live and work and experience "Green Technology" concept with a Jewish-Zionist flavor.
- Intensive Arabic Semester: Study Arabic and Hebrew in one of Israel's top academic institutions with a daily opportunity to enjoy and experience Middle Eastern hospitality and culture, attend workshops on leadership skills and a selection of courses offering Arabic and Jewish Studies.
- Saving the Stones: This program, approved by UNESCO, brings participants to work with the city of Akko (Acre), The Israel Antiquities authority, and the International Center for the Preservation of Akko on archaeological digs on site. Akko is a treasure trove of archaeology and this is a great opportunity for a budding Indiana Jones to get up close and personal with Israel's history from Biblical times to the present.
- Young Judaea Year Course – Arts Program: Unleash your inner artist with the Performance and Visual Arts tracks. Study drama, voice, movement, painting, sketching or drawing through classes, workshops, volunteer opportunities, field trips, and more.
- Young Judaea Year Course – Medical Program: Meet leading health professionals and work with Israeli paramedics in an intensive educational program offering hands-on experience on the ground and in top research facilities.
- Merchavim – Jewish Early Childhood Education Training Program: Merchavim is a program designed for Jewish educators and Jewish education students. The program’s aim is to train them for their work with young Jewish children in English-speaking Jewish Communities.
The increase in long-term program participants is proof of MASA's success and stability. In addition, new program development will help promote Israel by bringing it into the field of vision of a broader spectrum of potential participants. As Jewish young adults become increasingly involved in all spheres of life – academics, politics, technology, arts, sports – MASA is committed to creating new programs to meet the ever-widening spectrum of interests.
MASA Post-University Programs. Graduating college or university means starting your life's journey. So before you set out to follow someone else's track why not make your own? And what better way to do that than to spend a semester or a year in Israel.
Israel is a magnet for young Jewish adults from all over the world who are looking for a rewarding, transformative experience after college, and Israel is the place where you can start the journey to your future. In fact, adult learning is one of the fast growing fields of programmatic development in Israel. There is no better time than now, and there's no better way to experience it than with MASA, the gateway to long-term Jewish programs in Israel.
Fund for Lone Immigrant Soldiers
Each year, hundreds of lone immigrant soldiers bravely put their lives on the line to ensure a strong, safe Israel for Jews around the world. Standing on the threshold of adulthood, these young men and women have left family, friends and comfortable lives behind to make aliyah and serve in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).
Though they must struggle to make ends meet financially and are often still in the process of acclimating to a new culture and language, Israel’s lone immigrant soldiers serve their chosen homeland with commitment and purpose. Thousands of miles away from their families, they must find their own apartments and pay for rent, utilities, food, transportation, and other personal expenses. Standard army pay and the nominal stipend new immigrants are eligible for is not enough to cover these expenses.
The Jewish Agency Fund for Lone Immigrant Soldiers, established in partnership with the IDF and the Ministry of Absorption, was created to answer the urgent and immediate economic needs of these soldiers and to ensure them a dignified standard of living. All monies raised for the Fund go directly to the soldiers themselves to help them buy basic electrical appliances, cover the cost of living expenses and other special needs including calling cards to stay in touch with loved ones abroad.
In addition to financial assistance, the Fund matches lone soldiers with veteran Israeli families through the Jewish Agency’s At Home Together program. Soldiers are adopted by Israeli families who provide them with critical emotional and social support and help them acculturate to their new environment.
Through the Fund, lone soldiers also participate in a course designed to prepare them for transition to civilian life. Prior to their discharge, soldiers receive guidance and information about academic and employment opportunities and help in the process of joining mainstream Israeli society.
Other youth programs in Israel:
Beit Canada/Ulpan Etzion Campus, Jerusalem
Youth Aliyah: The rise in the number of children and youth at-risk constitutes on of Israel’s most serious social problems. The Jewish Agency’s five Youth Aliyah Villages provide a safe, normative environment where children receive both the academic and emotion intervention to heal and flourish.
Teen Summer Programs
High-school Academic Programs
Programs for Israeli and other youth
Youth Futures – for children at-risk
Young Communities - Israel's New Social Pioneers
Net@ - Advancing youth from high risk to high tech