Israeli Taxpayers to Start Funding 'Failing' Jewish Day Schools Abroad

'Jewish return on investment' is aim of new inter-ministerial scheme to strengthen religious identity and engagement with Israel

Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz
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Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz

The Israeli government plans to subsidize Jewish day schools abroad, which it has determined have not fulfilled their mission of strengthening Jewish identity and engagement with Israel. In the first phase, assistance will be extended to Jewish day schools in Europe and South America.

Speaking in the Knesset on Monday, Ministry of Diaspora Affairs Director General Dvir Kahane revealed details of the new initiative, to be run in conjunction with the Ministry of Education and the Center for Educational Technology, an Israeli organization that creates and distributes pedagogical material and trains teachers.

Kahane told members of the Committee for Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs that each Jewish day school that qualifies for support from the government will receive a package of services and learning materials valued at $150,000 a year for a period of five years – a total of $750,000 per school for the duration of the program. There would be no direct cash handouts, he added.

“We have studies that show that there are dozens of Jewish day schools out there that have no significant impact on their students,” said Kahane, “so we thought about what we could do to intervene and decided to create this platform.”

Among the factors examined to determine whether the day schools offer what Kahane called a “Jewish return on investment” were rates of intermarriage among graduates, and levels of engagement with the local Jewish community in the Diaspora and with Israel.

“Very often, there is no difference between those who have graduated from Jewish day school and those who haven’t when you look at these things,” Kahane told the committee.

He explained that the government has decided first to focus on Europe (excluding the United Kingdom) and South American because Jewish day schools elsewhere – particularly in North America – tend to be more effective in terms of inculcating Jewish and Zionist values.

In advance of the launch of the program, Kahane said, a new joint administration had been set up by the education and Diaspora affairs ministries, which had already begun to form regional partnerships abroad. After determining that a school qualifies for Israeli government assistance, he explained, Israeli experts in Jewish education will meet with the heads of the local Jewish community in which the institution is located, to map out a five-year plan.

Naftali Bennett, chairman of the Orthodox right-wing Habayit Hayehudi party, serves as both minister of education and minister of Diaspora affairs. The Ministry of Education has come under criticism in recent weeks for introducing programs aimed at kiruv – bringing unaffiliated Jews closer to Orthodoxy – in Israel’s state-run secular school system.

Bennett joined Kahane in presenting details to the Knesset committee about the new overseas program, briefing its members on key activities of their ministry over the past year as well as on other upcoming projects.

The new Jewish day school scheme, they said, reflects their philosophy that Israeli taxpayers should help support Jewish communities abroad now that Israel has the means and is no longer a poor country. The Education Ministry has also spent millions of dollars over the past year on a new initiative, known as Mosaic United, aimed at strengthening Jewish identity on college campuses abroad. It teamed up in this effort with Hillel International, the largest Jewish campus life organization in the world, as well as with two organizations heavily engaged in so-called kiruv work: Chabad and Olami, which is affiliated with Aish Hatorah.

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