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Israel will offer more than $3,500 to any foreign Maccabiah participant who decides to stay, the Immigrant Absorption Ministry announced yesterday. For the first time, the ministry is offering overseas participants a special assistance package to the tune of nearly NIS 15,000 in addition to the standard assistance afforded to immigrants.

The ministry official responsible for implementing the plan said it focuses on young participants. "We have no projections as to how many participants will take the package and make aliyah," said Hannah Koren, senior director of the ministry's department for immigration promotion.

She said the plan will be offered to participants during activities, through encounters with athletes who already immigrated to Israel. "We expect the plan to appeal mostly to athletes from South and North America," she said.

Koren added that family members of foreign Maccabiah athletes who came to Israel and choose to settle here will also enjoy special perks. "The package is meant for athletes, but we can work something out for visiting family," she explained.

The grant will include a one-time allowance of NIS 4,000 for sports equipment and a monthly stipend of NIS 1,200 for nine months during the first year in university or college for anyone beginning school before 2011. Additionally, the ministry will subsidize salaries paid to the new immigrants by their employers for a period of 24 months.

"Currently, each athlete marches under his or her national flag," Absorption Minister Sofa Landver said. "I hope that in future tournaments, many of them will march under one flag - the flag of the State of Israel."

As part of the effort to persuade athletes to stay, the ministry was to have held a mega welcoming event yesterday in Ramat Gan for foreign participants.

"The ministry has taken upon itself to help with the 18th Maccabiah, which is an opportunity for thousands of Jews from all over the world to acquaint themselves with the charms of the State of Israel," Landver added. "Having athletes, coaches and their relatives stay in Israel after the tournaments would be like winning gold for us."