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Jewish Agency Plans $300M Initiative To Boost Birthright, Teen Programs And Aliyah
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At a time when Jewish organizations that offer Israel youth trips are struggling to compete with the free Birthright Israel experience, the Jewish Agency For Israel is working to boost participation even higher, the quasi-governmental agency told Haaretz.

A Jerusalem conference will unveil the initiative, a project of the Jewish Agency and the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that could ultimately cost $300 milion, in October. The target for implementation is early 2015.

Although the initiative seems heavily geared toward encouraging more aliyah, particularly among young Jews seeking high-tech careers, it also encourages greater support for programs for teenagers, says Marilynn Rothstein, a member of the Jewish Funders Network committee of activists and lay leaders hoping to double the number of high school students traveling to Israel. 


Related Story: Mission Impossible? Funders and activists want to double teen travel to Israel


"Supportive research shows that the most acute period for critical identity formation and ... Jewish identity formation takes place during the teenage years," Rothstein told The Jewish Week in an email in response to the JAFI initiative.  "We also know that a quality, experiential program in Israel during high school can have a huge impact on that identity and our youth's long-term connection to Israel."

Director-General Alan Hoffman told Haaretz he hopes to see an increased pro-Israel presence on more diaspora college campuses as well as more Israeli educators working in Jewish institutions as part of an effort to further boost Birthright, the 10-day program that has brought about 350,000 young people between 18 and 26 to Israel. The program currently has a long waiting list and is available only to people who have never before visited Israel on an organized trip.

According to Haaretz, some 32,872 people applied for 21,000 slots for Birthright trips this summer. Hoffman said Netanyahu has made a priority of improving ties between young Jews in the diaspora and Israel, and that Israelis as a whole are willing to invest in the relationship.

Hoffman also said JAFI wants to encourage more young people to make aliyah to work in the soaring high-tech sector that is driving Israel's economic growth, and that Birhright could play a role in that effort.

“Looking at the Israeli economy over next 10 to 15 years, one of the inhibiting factors is that in some of the most successful areas, including high-tech, we are not generating enough trained people to meet the expanding needs of the economy,” he told Haaretz.

Rothstein, who is director of alumni and board development and special programs for the Alexander Muss High School in Israel, told The Jewish Week she hopes the initiative will not only double the number of Birthright participants, but all Israel experience programs, including those that are specifically created for high school students."

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05/20/2014 - 14:18
Alan Hoffman, Benjamin Netanyahu, Birthright Israel, Jewish Agency for Israel
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Since 2008, Lapid – the Coalition for High School Age Programs in Israel, has earnestly sought to raise awareness of and to significantly increase participation in quality Israel educational experiences that take place during the critical years of high school age, when Jewish identity formation is most acute, and the impact is most far-reaching. From the outset, it was understood that this can only be achieved through strategic collaboration with the Government of Israel and the Jewish Agency, in addition to the well-backed college-age sector of Israel program providers (i.e. Birthright and Masa), along with funders and philanthropists. This is a classic example of "big tent collaboration".
The nearly 30 member organizations which comprise Lapid have worked tirelessly at trying to garner recognition as well as institutional support from the Government of Israel, the Jewish Agency and others, toward achieving the realistic goal of doubling the number of participants on teen trips to Israel to 20,000 every year. Collectively, Lapid has brought over 500,000 participants to Israel over the past 40+ years and has undoubtedly contributed greatly to the fabric of Jewish leadership in communities throughout the world, strengthening the connection of young Jews with Israel.
All those responsible for driving this field of teen travel to Israel forward, and for making these important meetings happen, through the Jewish Funders Network, the Prime Minister's Office and the Jewish Agency, should be commended.
We eagerly await the exciting developments to be seen in the field of teen travel to Israel in the near future.

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