$1000 Kickback Per Student From Gap Year Israeli Yeshiva To Day School Principals
11/09/2010 - 19:30
Jonathan Mark

Here's a shocking post at the "Lookjed Digest" (Nov. 9) -- the Lookjed list is a project of Bar Ilan's Lookstein Center for Jewish Education.

"I recognize that recruitment for Israel yeshivot is a cut-throat business, but I was (perhaps naively) shocked at a recent proposal made to me be a somewhat prestigious yeshiva to remain nameless. Every student from my school who ends up in this yeshiva will earn me $1,000 cash. In my seven years doing Israel Guidance, this is the first time I have been approached in this way. I am hoping that this post and the ensuing conversation will somewhat bring this to light and discourage such practice."

Rabbi Eli Mandel
Vice Principal, Jewish Studies / TanenbaumCHAT / Toronto, Ontario

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I am shocked and surprised. You mean the reason that the year in Israel business has proliferated hasn't been "Leshma" for the sake of Torah. You mean that the thousands of unwary American yeshiva students streaming in to Israel every year to be treated to bad food, inferior accommodations and very little supervision (look there's another kid who spent Shabbos at my house walking down Emek Refaim in the middle of the school day) are just a cash cow. There is big money involved in this business. I had the privilege of sitting next to a Rosh Yeshiva of a very small Yeshiva for overseas students in Jerusalem on a very long flight from Israel. He was decrying the fact that his board wanted to encourage recruitment in America because each overseas student means big money to the institution. The Rosh Yeshiva was fighting to keep his institution small and specialized but the money was too tempting. Somehow we have a tendency to take the sublime that was meant for a small group and super-size it. We've done it with Yeshivot like Lakewood and Mir where they have become a brand like Coke and we've done it to the year in Israel. I look back on my Yeshiva time in Israel when I wanted to transfer to an Israeli Yeshiva and they had no idea what to charge an American since the consensus at this Zionist Yeshiva was that since I was in Israel, I had become a "de facto" Israeli. Finally, they came to the conclusion that since I would be in the dorm they would charge me $25 per month. We need to bring back that innocence, that feeling of Leshma. Torah doesn't always need to be monetized. Otherwise, we will soon see the Israeli programs selling year in Israel derivatives for those that weren't able to go.
I hate to burst your bubble, but I doubt your fellow-traveller’s board wants him to recruit American students so that it can cut its shareholders a bigger dividend this year. More likely it’s to help dig the yeshiva out of a few hundred thousand dollars of debt (at least). Why do you think that, aside from recruiting students, these institutions are forever putting the touch on donors? Gas money for the corporate jet? I’m the chairman of the board of… oh! yeah, we always do these articles anonymously, like those redacted CIA files one sees in spy movies. So let’s see… “a prominent Israeli yeshiva”? Too cliché? Then again, I used my real name on this posting… Okay, I Have this Friend who’s the chairman of the board of a prominent Israeli yeshiva, and according to him, and to the dozens of others I know on the boards, administrations and faculties of these institutions, nobody goes into this because they think it’s the next hedge fund. There may be career issues and other personal motivations, but by-and-large they’re doing it despite the financial hardship it entails, out of a sense of mission. The reason there are so many of these programs is, again, not because they’re all looking to cash in on the tremendous opportunities for profit, but because the field attracts too many chiefs and not enough Indians. That, and the fact most of these educators got their needles stuck on “Teach the youth according to his own way,” so that we end up with programs catering to left-handed distance runners with mild speech impediments.