The education and diaspora affairs ministries plan to spend as much as 136 million shekels ($35.8 million) over the next four years to develop programs for Jewish schools overseas, the first time Israel has engaged in such a big educational undertaking in diaspora schools.
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The two ministries, which are both led by Habayit Hayehudi Chairman Naftali Bennett, plan to develop programs on Israel, the Hebrew language and Jewish history as well as provide schools with expert advice, teacher training and pedagogical services. Initially the program will be offered to 65 Jewish schools in Europe and countries of the former Soviet Union.
“Ensuring the existence of Jewish communities in the Diaspora depends entirely on Jews’ desire and decision to live as Jews. Today, the majority of Jews ages six to 18 do not study at Jewish schools,” the two ministries said in a statement.
The aim of the program is “to strengthen Jewish identity and connection to Israel on the part of students at Jewish schools around the world by building a systematic pedagogic strategy in these areas inside Jewish schools,” they said.
News of the plan comes just a day after the results of the latest PISA exams of international student performance showed that Israeli students scored below the average in math, science and reading for countries belonging to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Israeli students scored even lower than their peers in some developing nations.
Israel spends money on various programs to enhance Jewish identity and connection to Israel in the Diaspora, but the current government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has put an even greater emphasis on this. The new program will mark the first time Israel is allocating large sums of money to Diaspora Jewish schools.
In November, the Diaspora Affairs Ministry got 190 million shekels in extra allocations over the next two years to strengthen Jews’ connection with Israel and fight assimilation. The contract was awarded to a company called The Jewish Future Undertaking, which was formed to administer the program but has yet to get formal approval.
Every year Israel spends hundreds of millions of shekels to bring young Diaspora Jews to Israel through Birthright Israel and other mass programs. Since 2009, the Education Ministry has spent about 50 million shekels in developing programs for Jewish schools in the former Soviet Union countries.
Administration of the program was awarded without competitive bidding to a non-profit company called Matah (The Center for Education Technology), which is committed to spending 135 million shekels of its own money on it.
Under Israeli law, government bodies are supposed to ask for an exemption from competitive bidding. In the case of Matah, the ministries asserted that the company has “proven capabilities to work with the Education Ministry” and “experience in developing education program in Israel and the world.”