By Dr Ron Weiser
Lapid – the Coalition for High School Age Programs in Israel, considers programs for teens visiting Israel during high school age (vs. during University or later) to have distinct advantages. The benefits of such an experience before entering university influence the building of the participant’s Jewish identity and have an impact on his\her motivation to create a Jewish-oriented family.
If structured properly, such a trip also has a great chance of ensuring a second programmatic experience in Israel post High School (what some have referred to as the ‘spiral effect’).
In order to encourage families to send their teenagers to Israel on high school age programs, we must do all we can to enlarge the support of these programs. Supporting teen-trips to Israel means:
- Giving equal exposure to teen trips as 18+ programs receive.
- Subsidizing the trip fully or partially.
- Government / Jewish communities’ support.
Australia is an excellent example: As of today, Australia is very advanced in encouraging teenagers to travel to Israel during their high school years. The schools and local Jewish communities situate the funding of these trips as a top priority. To elaborate:
- In Melbourne for instance, two Jewish Day Schools (Mt Scopus and Bialik College) are well advanced in bringing Year 10 students to Israel – this is generously assisted by some local benefactors.
- In Sydney one school (Moriah College) and one organization (NSW Board of Jewish Education – BJE) have held regular Year 10 programs. Although the numbers in these two examples aren’t as high as the others, they continue to run year after year with the optimistic vision of the numbers increasing.
- Prior to 2013, Lapid, spearheaded by Gideon Shavit, met with several influential people in the Jewish world in Australia, a move that led to a pilot program which was introduced by The Jewish Agency. The uniqueness of this program was providing non-means tested subsidies for the first time.
- With the help of local benefactors, we were able to reduce the sticker price, that later on lead to a dramatic increase in the number of Year 10 students at Moriah and Masada College who came to Israel.
- As a result, in 2014 a leading benefactor stepped forward with a cornerstone commitment of AUD$500,000 per year for TEN years to make a transformational change to Year 10 Israel program participation.
- The impact of this move was huge. Aside from an even further increase in participation from Year 10 students at Moriah College to include almost the entire cohort, there was more than a doubling of participation from Masada College and the introduction for the first time of a Year 10 Israel program at Sydney’s Emanuel School with almost a 50% participation rate.
- The local Jewish Communal Appeal (JCA) – took this under its wing and with the co-operation of our local Keren Hayesod, are looking at creating an endowment fund to provide non-means tested subsidies across the board to bring all Year 10 Jewish teens, who wish to participate on an Israel Experience – with the aim of this experience leading to another one post High School.
Despite the fact that airfare from Australia to Israel is higher than almost any other country (if not the highest), a great system has been built with the collaboration of different organizations such as the Jewish schools, local generous donors and with the help of the Jewish Agency.
This system has helped many young Jews come to Israel during a very critical period of their personal and Jewish development and has led to many of them choosing a longer term Israel Experience when they turned 18 than they otherwise might have.
Once we realize that subsidizing these valuable programs will create a drastic increase in numbers that eventually leads to young, committed supporters of Israel, and a stronger Jewish local community, it is our responsibility to gather and raise funding for this extremely important cause.
Australia should be looked to as a replicable model for other countries to follow, and a positive example of how financial aid for Israel teen programming has been positioned as a primary and central communal goal. The vision of Lapid for every Jewish teen to have to have an Israel experience so as to strengthen Jewish identity is indeed achievable, provided that communities care enough about the future of Jewish continuity and Israel engagement.
Dr Ron Weiser AM is a past president of the Zionist Federation of Australia and a member of the Board of Governors of The Jewish Agency. He is also Honorary Life President of the Zionist Council of NSW.