Participants in yeshiva and seminary programs in Israel who come from North America or Britain will no longer be eligible for grants and scholarships from Masa, the organization that runs hundreds of educational, volunteer and internship programs in Israel.
In a statement issued on Tuesday, Masa also said that exchange students from anywhere overseas would no longer be eligible for grants or scholarships for year-long programs and that funding would be restricted to one semester, due to cuts in its own funding. It said, however, that no cuts were planned in grants and scholarships to participants in other gap-year programs from North America, including those run by the non-Orthodox movements and various Zionist youth movements.
The organization said it had no choice but to eliminate certain grants and scholarships because of unspecified cutbacks in its own 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.
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Masa’s acting CEO, Ofer Gutman, said that the economic downturn Israel was experiencing as a result of the coronavirus pandemic had forced the cuts in its budget. “At the same time, demand for Masa programs [from overseas] is increasing significantly as job markets tighten and universities remain closed for in-person classes,” he said. “With over 7,000 pre-registrations, together with our funders, we had to make difficult choices that advanced our strategic priorities while maximizing our funds.”
He said the organization was “actively seeking out new fundraising opportunities to close the gaps” created by the budget cuts, on the one hand, and increasing demand for Masa programs, on the other.
The Jewish Agency said in response to the news that it had reached an agreement whereby the Israeli government would provide matching grants for any funds raised to support yeshiva and seminary program participants. “We are working alongside their donors to try to secure this funding as well as some of the basic support to participants,” Jewish Agency spokeswoman Hagit Halai said.
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On average, about 12,000 young Jews from the Diaspora participate in Masa programs each year. Participants in the programs require special visas that confirm that if they wished, they would be eligible to immigrate to Israel under the Law of Return. The programs are open to participants from the ages of 18 to 30.
Students in yeshiva and seminary programs in Israel account for about half of all participants in Masa programs from North America. The organization oversees dozens of such programs, which cater to post-high school students.
Typically, the grants and scholarships provided to students in these programs are not very large. Masa declined a request for figures. It also declined to say how much of its budget had been cut by the government and the Jewish Agency.
Masa is the first organization involved in Israel education to announce the opening of programs for the upcoming school year. It was one of the few organizations to continue running programs in Israel after the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.