Deputy Minister: Israel Should Fund Diaspora Kids’ Jewish Education

Avi Wortzman says government must spend more to help provide a Jewish education for kids abroad.

AFP

Private Jewish day school costs too high in the Diaspora? Deputy Education Minister Avi Wortzman has a solution: let Israel foot the bill.

Speaking at a conference in Jerusalem last week, Wortzman noted that Jewish education had long proven to be a key in preventing intermarriage and strengthening religious identity. Because the rising costs of tuition at Jewish day schools abroad had become a barrier to many families, he said, it is now incumbent on the State of Israel to step in.

“Anyone who leaves the Jewish world is our responsibility as the home of the Jewish people,” he told participants at the conference, which was devoted to Israeli expat communities around the world. “The government of Israel must help children in the Diaspora obtain a Jewish education. If we allocate 55 billion shekels ($14.5 billion) a year to provide a Jewish education for children in Israel, it’s inconceivable that, for the rest of world Jewry, we barely provide one percent of that.”

No formal plans are in place at this point to implement such a program.

The government allocates somewhere between 500 million and 700 million shekels each year for educational programs that target young Jews abroad, Wortzman said. Most of this money is spent on Taglit-Birthright – which brings mainly college students on all-expenses-paid, 10-day trips to Israel – and Masa, which runs dozens of subsidized educational, volunteer and internship programs in the country.

Wortzman, a former deputy mayor of Be’er Sheva, is a member of the modern Orthodox and right-wing Habayit Hayehudi party. His boss, Education Minister Shay Piron, who is also observant, is a member of the secular and centrist Yesh Atid party.

Wortzman noted that Israelis living abroad account for 15 percent of the Jewish Diaspora. He said his ministry was planning to launch a new program in Bible Studies at his initiative, which he planned to share with Jewish educators overseas as well. “Our goal is that, within five years, millions of Jews will be using this program,” he said.