After a year of steep decline in numbers, blamed on the global financial crisis, Israel gap year program officials report across the board report that registration is on the upswing. The newest program, Aardvark Israel, expects to have 50 participants for its inaugural year. As of this week the program reached its target of 50 American and Canadian students who are fully committed and paid-up, program director Keith Berman told Anglo File.
Aardvark was officially founded in February, right after Berman resigned as Young Judaea Year Course director, but had been in the pipeline for months. Berman said in an interview at the time that he hoped Aardvark would sign up at least 100 participants for the fall. But last month he told Anglo File he "quickly reevaluated" that forecast because competitors have often already completed their recruiting by February.
Berman says none of the anticipated participants on his program were likely to have applied for Year Course, as the programs serve different clienteles.
Headed by London native Adam Jenshil, Hadassah-sponsored Year Course currently expects its numbers for the upcoming season to rebound "slightly" from last year, when registration dropped by 42 percent from a record number of 540 to 312. As of this week, 320 students from the U.S., U.K. and Israel have registered.
Nativ, the post-high school program of the Conservative movement, also blamed its drop last year - almost 30 percent - on the recession. This year, the numbers are up by from 80 to 95 students, or 18 percent. "People are getting used to the crisis and are making the right financial adjustments," David Keren, director of the United Synagogue Youth's Israel branch. "On the other hand, we also conducted aggressive marketing."
Bnei Akiva, too, registered a steep increase, after registration for its Hachshara program plummeted from 300 to 240 last year. For the 2010-11 season, again 300 participants from all over the world - 170 of them from English speaking countries - are registered for the national-religious youth movement's flagship program.
"The crisis isn't as bad as it was," explained spokesman Zvika Klein. He added, however, that there are still "many parents which cannot afford the program." Registration recovered also because Bnei Akiva recruited for the first time 15 students from Germany, Klein said.
Enrollment for Kivunim, an unaffiliated gap-year program that is Israel-based but features field trips to different countries, also reports a significant increase. Out of nearly 200 applicants - up from 175 in 2009 - Kivunim accepted 55 students, nine more than last year. Kivunim is the only major gap year provider that did not see a drop in numbers and has even raised its tuition. "The financial crisis does not seem to have had any effect upon our program," founder and director Peter Geffen told Anglo File.