Israeli Youth Movements Draw Mostly the Well-off

High membership fees reaching NIS 1500 listed as reasons youth groups appeal to middle-high classes.

About half the teenagers in Israel's youth movements hail from wealthy families, a third belong to the middle classes and some 20 percent come from lower socio-economic backgrounds, a new Education Ministry survey has found.

The survey's findings were discussed by education professionals last week during Youth Movement Week, which was intended to bolster the movements' public stature and encourage more youths to join them.

An official in the Scouts (Tzofim), Israel's largest youth movement, says the movements act mostly among youngsters from the middle-high classes and appeal mainly to them.

"We must think of ways to reach new communities, mainly from the periphery," he says.

Another official says high annual membership fees - reaching NIS 1,500 in the Scouts - can be a deterrent. "Many parents think twice before spending such a sum," he says.

The survey is based on a membership census conducted in 2006 in 16 youth movements, during which reports were garnered from some 22,000 youth movement group leaders, and about 160 movement meeting places were visited.

In 2006 the youth movements consisted of some 176,000 youths, 52 percent of whom came from upper-middle class families, 29 percent from the middle class and 19 percent from lower-income families.

"The youth movements are aware of the need to reach new communities and increase their members," a source in the Scouts says. "Volunteers for a year's service (a program deferring the volunteers' enlistment to the IDF) who come to a peripheral community or a poor neighborhood are not alert enough to the different needs for activity or tribe structure. Instead of insisting on the familiar format of going on trips, for example, perhaps we must have more parties and activities focusing on issues the movements' members themselves ask for," he says.

"By the time you learn the community's real needs the year ends, and the next volunteer is not necessarily committed to the same things," he says.

Another official says that parents who have difficulty paying NIS 1,500 a year - for insurance and two annual trips - can receive a reduction of up to 75 percent.

The Education Ministry's budget for youth movements is estimated at about NIS 65 million this year. "Since the membership fees are high, parents in the lower income classes are reluctant to send their children to youth movements. In some cases they prefer private tutoring, but mostly the children will just hang out in the neighborhood," he says.

Hanoar Haoved Vehalomed (The Working and Studying Youth), the second largest youth movement, charges an average of NIS 450 a year, while Bnei Akiva, the third largest, charges some NIS 290 and Hashomer Hatzair (The Youth Guard) some NIS 350. In these movements, however, additional sums are charged for trips and special activities.

Most teenagers (70-73 percent) said the three main reasons they joined a youth movement were the importance of the movement's values, following a friend or friends who joined and "fun activities." The reasons for dropping out are mainly boredom and lack of time (58 percent).

Most teenagers who join youth movements - some 83 percent - are city or small town residents. The rest come from kibbutzim, moshavim or other rural communities.

In large or medium-sized cities, 26 percent of the teenagers are youth movement cadets, in villages and moshavim about 50 percent and in kibbutzim 56 percent. Some 63 percent of the cadets and group leaders are women.

In Tel Aviv 26-30 percent of teenagers join a youth movement, while in smaller local authorities such as Ramat Efal, Gan Raveh and Binyamina 71-85 percent of teenagers join. Very few teenagers in Arab communities and many of the peripheral towns join youth movements.