The Zionist Federation of Australia’s Israel Programs department provides opportunities to hundreds of school leavers per year to visit Israel on short or long-term programs. Whether it is with a youth movement, on an experiential program that takes participants travelling all around Israel, or internships, there is a program for any school-leaver wishing to experience Israel firsthand. Whilst the COVID-19 pandemic derailed some programs for 2020 and 2021, seeing reduced numbers of participants going to Israel over the past two years, we are excited that 2022 is set to be a huge and successful year for long term Israel programs.
Over 230 Australian gap year participants have arrived in Israel over the last few weeks. All the Zionist Youth movements have sent participants on their Shnat programs with strong numbers. Overall, there are nineteen programs with Australian participants ranging from internships, to volunteering, to the Shnat experience, where participants will learn not only about Judaism, Zionism and leadership, but grow as individuals too. Several of the programs are hosting their largest number of Australians ever. An incredible feat after two years of a pandemic.
But it is not just the opening of borders that has seen the numbers swell but the “Israel-Go” effect. The initiative that the ZFA launched in 2021 to provide support for participants and to reignite the interest and appeal in long-term Israel programs has been a tremendous success, with almost 200 young adults already supported by the Israel GO grants of $5000 or more to assist them in meeting the costs of the programs.
ZFA CEO Ginette Searle noted, “the substantial number of Australians who have headed to Israel for their Gap Year demonstrates the strong connection young Jewish Australians feel to Israel. The desire to spend a significant amount of time living in Israel where they will learn about the country and have a greater understanding of its history and culture is evident.”
She continued, “we are also incredibly pleased that almost 200 of these participants were recipients of the “Israel Go” grant as a part of our two-year pilot program which provides financial support for young adults to participate in Gap Year Israel Programs in 2022 and 2023. In 2021-2022, we anticipate that over 300 people will participate in long-term Masa Israel programs. Our deepest gratitude goes to UIA-Keren Hayesod and a number of private philanthropists for making this possible.”
Pointing out that the benefits of such programs extend far beyond the participants’ time in Israel, Masa Coordinator Josh Jones said, “the strong numbers across the board on Gap Year programs are proven to be beneficial for the community. Many of the fellows will return home inspired from their Masa experience in Israel and will likely join community organisations to lead the community into the future.”
Searle concluded, “as we continue to navigate this post-pandemic world, we are delighted to see such high numbers of young Jewish Australians in Israel, and we look forward to welcoming them back into the communal fold upon their return.”