World Mizrachi was recently able to secure $2 million for Masa Israel grants and scholarships for North American Orthodox Jewish families to help defray the costs of tuition for their children’s gap-year programs. This achievement followed major cuts to Masa funding from the Jewish Agency, which due to COVID-19 endured major fundraising deficits leading to the agency significantly cutting funding to the Masa subsidies.
But all of that changed in the spring, when the World Mizrachi-led Orthodox Israel Coalition placed second in the World Zionist Congress elections, and then became a major unifying force within that body, which led to its faction securing four top leadership spots in key departments. At the same time, World Mizrachi understood that gap-year educational programs were a critical priority to Orthodox families around the world, and most notably in North America, so it decided to create a new Yeshiva and Seminary Department to better serve the needs of students and their families.
In a landmark agreement, World Mizrachi forged commitments from the Jewish Agency for $500,000 for the program and raised a similar number from private donors in partnership with Masa-accredited yeshivot and seminaries. Additionally, Mizrachi was able to secure an additional $1 million of matching funds from the Prime Minister’s Office, which traditionally partners with the Jewish Agency in funding the Masa program.
“We are grateful for the herculean efforts World Mizrachi took to rightly restore the Masa grants and scholarships that have helped send our children — the future Jewish leaders of our people — to Israel for life-changing gap-year experiences. What World Mizrachi did to restore this program was innovative and more importantly done with sensitivity to the importance of unity within the World Zionist Congress,” said Religious Zionists of America executive vice president Rabbi Ari Rockoff.
The new department also conducted a fundraising campaign on behalf of over 50 yeshivot and seminaries, raising over $5 million to enhance both their scholarship allowances and their best educational offering during this challenging COVID-19 time. The department has played a critical role in working with Israeli authorities to secure entry for North American students and to set up a framework for them to learn despite the COVID-19 pandemic. They continue to work daily with Israel’s Masa and Israel’s Ministry of Health to ensure that both the students’ and schools’ objectives can be met within pandemic safety guidelines.
The group’s next task is working with the yeshivas and seminaries on recruitment, a task compounded by pandemic restrictions, where traditionally teachers from programs in Israel crisscross North America, stopping at dozens of schools in a matter of days. In December, World Mizrachi’s team will partner with more than 40 institutions in the Israel Next Year initiative to offer virtual open houses for prospective students. For more information on the program, or to register for one of the sessions, please visit IsraelNextYear.org.
“The gap-year experience in Israel is a pivotal time in so many Orthodox Jewish young adults’ lives, where they come to experience Torah and Judaism within a framework that sets them up for religious and communal leadership roles and helps to influence the depth of their relationships with and commitment to Torah, Israel, and the destiny of the Jewish people,” said Rav Doron Perez, chief executive of World Mizrachi. “The gap-year is a transformative time for personal growth and leadership development and it’s imperative that communally we invest in making sure that the yeshiva and seminary gap year is as accessible as possible to all of our young adults.”