Special Interview Spotlight on Youth Aliya

“We want to see Jews abroad as partners in youth aliya, not only in terms of money, but as involved individuals in its day to day problems.” This observation was made by Yoseph Shapiro, head of the Youth aliya department of the Jewish Agency to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in Jerusalem following his recent three-week trip to the United States and Canada.

The objective of Shapiro’s mission to North America was two-fold: to strengthen ties with organizations abroad that are connected with youth aliya in Israel, generally the women’s organizations such as Hadassah, Hadassah-WIZO, Mizrachi Women, Pioneer Women; and to clarify the objectives of a new educational program for diaspora high school students in Israel.

Shapiro contended that there is a great need to increase the awareness among diaspora Jews about youth aliya, and through it, to increase the awareness about Zionism and Judaism in general. He foresees youth aliya as becoming more of “a movement with which people can identify rather than just a department within the Jewish Agency.” Youth aliya presently includes 170 youth villages or institutions connected with the department, and some 90 kibbutzim and 120 educational institutions which house children on youth aliya programs.

“Through youth aliya, we can bring the Zionist message to sectors of the population that are not connected with Zionism,” added Benyamin Amiram, director of the department for foreign programs of youth aliya, who accompanied Shapiro on his trip to North America. Both envision diaspora Jewry’s involvement with the organization as being of a financial nature and as initiating projects within Israel.

SUPPORTING YOUTH ALIYA ON TWO LEVELS

In light of the Jewish Agency’s recent decision to increase the organization’s budget from $42 million to $59 million for the coming fiscal year, Shapiro said he hopes that organizations abroad will increase their financial aid in the same percentage. He noted that he found a great readiness among supporters of youth aliya to both intensify their financial and active involvement with the organization.

During his travels to Los Angeles, New York, Toronto, Montreal, Chicago and Washington, Shapiro spoke with leaders of the United Jewish Appeal, proposing to them that they also increase their involvement with youth aliya by adopting a different youth village in Israel and maintaining a direct link with it.

However, the most revolutionary idea proposed by Shapiro is the establishment of high school educational programs in Israel for teenagers from abroad. He sees this idea as “an educational quarter for the diaspora,” noting that because of youth aliya’s many existing educational institutions, little financial investment would be needed at the onset to integrate children from abroad into existing educational programs.

During his trip to North America, Shapiro also spoke with leaders of the different Jewish Federations, boards of Jewish education and with Jews involved in the public school system. The general reaction to such a plan was overwhelmingly favorable, he said. The youth aliya department has already received accreditation for many of its planned one-year programs, which would take place in accordance with the curriculum of the country of origin, and two 10th grade classes are already being planned for the coming school year.

One is for religious students in Kfar Batya, and the other is for secular students in Kfar Hayarak Shapiro said. While the participation in such programs would mostly be financed by the parents of the students and world Jewry, Shapiro added that the Ministry of Education is also willing to lend its assistance, even if the children do not come as new immigrants.

ABSORPTION OF CHILDREN FROM IRAN

Shapiro said that one of the biggest challenges of the last few months has been the absorption of some 650 children from Iran. Noting that there have been attempts from North America to attract the children to that continent, he says that he has invested special efforts at convincing the religious organizations in particular that quality religious education does exist in Israel. He met with representatives of Agudat Israel and its Council of Torah Sages to that effect. In addition, he has appointed the assistant head rabbi of the Israel Defense Forces, Ephraim Tsemel, to the post of special assistant on issues of religion within youth aliya.

Some 50 percent of the Iranian children have been integrated into religious institutions, while the other half has been integrated into secular institutions. Shapiro added that there were no special problems in absorbing the children, noting that their general Knowledge was well above that of the average Israeli, a factor which considerably aided in their integration.

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