Israel to Spend $280m Over Next Four Years to Attract Young Jews

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Israel plans to spend $280 million over the next four years, and $100 million annually thereafter, to bring thousands of young Jews to visit and learn more about their roots, officials said yesterday.

The program, targeting people between 18 and 30, is meant to strengthen ties between Diaspora Jews and Israel. During stays of six to 12 months, participants will be offered access to university classes, volunteer programs and other projects.

Last year, some 4,000 Jews from this age group spent six to 12 months in Israel, said Elan Ezrahi, the official overseeing the program for the quasi-governmental Jewish Agency. Next year, the government hopes to attract 8,000 young Jews, with the goal rising to 20,000 by 2009, he said.

The "Masa-Israel Journey" program will focus primarily on North American Jews. It will also target Russian Jews who did not come to Israel when the Soviet Union collapsed, but may have family here and are looking for a stronger link to Judaism and Israel, Ezrahi said.

The Jewish Agency and the Israeli government will offer participants in the program full and partial scholarships, depending on their economic circumstances, but they will have to purchase their own plane tickets, Ezrahi said.

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