Education Minister Naftali Bennett predicted Monday that “every 11th-grader in Israel will go on Masa Israeli,” referring to a week-long journey aimed at fostering Jewish identity and promoting Zionism among high-school students and soldiers.
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Bennett was speaking at the Knesset at the fourth conference of Masa Israeli, known in English as the Israeli Routes Odyssey.
“I know this is an important venture,” he said. “You are doing wonderful work here, helping to turn Israeli children into human beings – ‘mensches’ – and we, for our part, are committed to backing you in this endeavor.”
Some 180,000 Israeli youths, including soldiers and officers in the Israeli Defense Forces and students from abroad, have participated in the Masa Israeli project since Mibereshit – The Foundation for Jewish Renaissance launched it 12 years ago.
The trip takes participants to a variety of sites around the country to help shape their Jewish, Zionist and Israeli identity. It also features what organizers define as “a deep and relevant discussion on our essence and our special identity as Israelis and as Jews who are part of a chain of generations.”
Masa’s website portrays the program as “a unique, life-changing educational experience, designed to reinforce individual, Jewish and Zionist identities, while strengthening the connection and sense of belonging of the participants to the people, land and State of Israel, as well as to the specific communities from which they come.”
The project was expanded twice during the tenures of former Education Ministers Gideon Sa’ar and Shay Piron.
Mibereshit has received a total of some 30 million shekels ($8.3 million) from the Education Ministry since 2009. Support from Masa totaled 11.4 million shekels in 2015, which covers expenses incurred during two academic years. These sums do not include additional support that the Education Ministry provides within the framework of its Jewish cultural programs, which constitute another 200,000 to 300,000 shekels annually.