Cash-strapped Nesiya Program for Teens Faces Closure Unless Partner Is Found

Charles Herman, the founder and executive director of the Nesiya Institute, estimated that of the 2,400 American Nesiya alumni, about 200 had immigrated to Israel after completing the program.

Andrew Esensten
Andrew Esensten
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Andrew Esensten
Andrew Esensten

For the second time this month, an Israel trip organizer has announced that it will shut down a long-running program unless it finds a partner organization to implement and finance it.

Charles Herman, the founder and executive director of the Nesiya Institute, which has led Israel trips for groups of North American and Israeli high school students for the last 28 years, told Anglo File that since informing alumni of the Institute's uncertain future and soliciting donations in an e-mail last Wednesday, he has received inquiries from both nonprofit and for-profit organizations about a potential partnership and has met with one of them, though he declined to say which one. He also said approximately $20,000 had been raised from concerned alumni and friends.

In his e-mail, Herman wrote that Nesiya had canceled its winter and summer programs and planned to close its offices in New York and Jerusalem after failing to "secure sufficient multi-year funding to ensure Nesiya's future as an independent agency."

The families who had already paid for the winter program had their checks returned to them, he said.

Herman also explained that the search for a new executive director to take his place as he battles Parkinson's Disease was discontinued in June after five months.

"I'm very grateful for the letters of support I've received, personally and professionally. It's really a testament to how much people appreciate Nesiya," Herman said. "Miracles do happen and we're trying to make a miracle happen."

The ideal outcome, he said, is to find a partner "that is committed financially and educationally to building on Nesiya's high-quality model and standards," which include text study, arts workshops, community service and intensive staff training, as well as the full participation of Israeli teenagers.

"Finding someone who's both committed to those standards and who's willing to help subsidize it is the challenge," said Herman, who developed Nesiya with the Bureau of Jewish Education in Chicago and later with the Jewish Community Center of Cleveland before taking it independent in 1987.

Galit Heller-Farkash, a counselor-educator for the six-week summer program in 2009, called Nesiya a "character-builder" and one of the most unique, pluralistic Israel programs she has encountered.

"Nesiya takes pluralism to a completely different level in terms of bringing Americans and Israelis together, bringing all different streams of Judaism together, bringing completely different ideologies together and creating a community out of them," she said.

The New Jersey native added that her experience as a counselor convinced her to make Israel her home. "I had been struggling with the decision of whether to stay here permanently, and being part of Nesiya really solidified that decision for me," she said.

Herman estimated that of the 2,400 American Nesiya alumni, about 200 had immigrated to Israel after completing the program.

Earlier this month the Jewish Federations of North America announced that after 27 years it would no longer run its flagship gap-year program, Otzma, citing market saturation for quality Israel education and leadership programs.

Shir Goldstein, left, and Joshua Levitt, participants in Nesiya’s six-week program this summer.Credit: Tamar Ashdot



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