Jewish Agency to recruit soldiers as emissaries abroad
The Jewish Agency and the Defense Ministry plan to offer soldiers an alternative to the self-financed, self-directed journeys of self-discovery that often follow the completion of their army service: a chance to serve as emissaries to Jewish communities in the Diaspora.
The agency said yesterday that it hopes to recruit hundreds of soldiers, who after their army discharge will work to persuade Jewish youth abroad to come to Israel for a semester or a year of academic studies in the "Masa" program.
Jewish Agency Chairman Ze'ev Bielski said yesterday that he hopes the discharged soldiers - who often travel after being released from the army - will choose to be sent abroad as emissaries through the Jewish Agency rather than venture off "into the unknown."
"Rather than suffer a year in India or working alone in New York, they can receive a traveling program from us which is structured and organized," Bielski said.
Bielski also said that the number of immigrants arriving in Israel this year is expected to climb to 27,000, up from 22,000 in 2004.
This would be the first time since 1999 that number of new arrivals will be higher than the preceeding 12-month period.
The Jewish Agency, which already sends emissaries to large Jewish communities in North America and elsewhere, hopes that this new program will help recruit more young Israeli emissaries to travel for a few months abroad to convince young Jewish students in the Diaspora to come to Israel to study for their "year abroad."
The agency will finance the emissaries' stay abroad and provide them with pocket money.
Under the Masa program, the agency plans to bring up to 20,000 young Jews from abroad to Israel to study for a semester or a year. The cost of the program is estimated to reach $200 million a year, with $50 million coming from the agency and an additional $50 million from the government.
The agency also intends to invest $20 million a year on a new project to reduce the educational gap affecting youths in distress, in particular in areas far from central Israel.
The total cost of this program, which will be called "Youth Future," will reach $60 million, and will be funded evenly between the Jewish Agency, Jewish communities in the Diaspora and Israeli philanthropy.
Bielski and Jewish Agency treasurer Shai Hermesh said that since funds from abroad have decreased in recent years, the agency would step up the effort to raise the funds to finance these promised projects.
"We have taken upon ourselves very large commitments, and it is necessary for us to run all over the world to find the funds," said Bielski.
Hermesh said the scope of funds from North America, the agency's main source of funding, has fallen over the last three years from $175 million to $140 million.