An agreement has been finalized that will allow participants in yeshiva and seminary programs in Israel who come from the United States and the United Kingdom to continue receiving grants and scholarships from Masa, the organization that runs hundreds of educational, volunteer and internship programs in Israel.
Under the terms of the agreement, the Jewish Agency will provide 75 percent of the funding required to maintain existing benefits on condition that the institutions themselves pitch in 25 percent.
With this goal in mind, the religious Zionist World Mizrachi movement will launch a 48-hour “emergency” fundraising campaign beginning on Monday morning. The money it raises will be used to help finance grants and scholarships for students enrolled in 50 yeshiva and seminary programs in Israel that come under the auspices of Masa. These include several that are ultra-Orthodox in orientation, like the Bais Yaakov schools, and not necessarily affiliated with the religious Zionist movement.
“Yeshivot and seminaries are the engine of Torat Eretz Yisrael and the educational ecosystem they nurture across the Jewish world,” said World Mizrachi Chief Executive Rabbi Doron Perez. “Few experiences transform Jewish lives more than a gap year in Israel. We are not allowing the corona crisis to weaken our incredible Torah institutions or deny even one student from this life-changing year. This is the essence of Mizrachi’s mission.”
Masa oversees dozens of yeshiva and seminary gap-year programs, which cater mainly to high school graduates. Typically, the grants and scholarships provided to students in these programs are not very large. In a statement, World Mizrahi said that roughly 3,000 students are enrolled every year in the 50 programs that stand to benefit from the campaign.
Last month, Masa announced that it had no choice but to eliminate certain grants and scholarships it provides because of unspecified cutbacks in its budget. Masa receives half of its budget from the Israeli government and half from the Jewish Agency. Its annual budget is typically on the order of 200 million shekels ($58 million). About three-quarters of that budget is allocated to grants and scholarships.
The organization said that the economic downturn Israel was experiencing as a result of the coronavirus pandemic had forced the cuts in its budget.
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On average, about 12,000 young Jews from around the world participate in Masa programs every year. Masa spokeswoman Talia Alboher Tevel told Haaretz that programs that typically begin in September were on schedule to open as usual this year, despite the global pandemic. She said registration for Masa programs was up 30 percent compared with last year and that the organization had not experienced any cancellations in recent weeks because of the spike in coronavirus cases in Israel.
“All Masa programs will operate with respect to the health and safety guidelines set by Israel’s Ministry of Health,” said the spokeswoman. “We are in regular contact with our program organizers to share any new public health information, regulations, and precautionary measures that need to be taken.”
Meanwhile, last week Interior Minister Arye Dery announced that any student from abroad enrolled in a program in Israel would be allowed entrance into the country. That would include all Masa programs, as well as yeshiva, high school and university programs that are run independently. All students will be required to spend their first 14 days in Israel in quarantine.
As part of the cuts announced by Masa last month, Jewish foreign exchange students will no longer be eligible for grants or scholarships if they are enrolled in year-long university programs. Funding will only be available for a single semester, Masa said.