With increased aliyah from the former Soviet Union still a major goal in Israel, one program of the Jewish Agency for Israel has successfully focus on Jewish youth as the driving force behind immigration.
The program, called “Na’aleh 16” – meaning “we will make aliyah” – brings youths between the ages of 15 and 17 from the former Soviet Union for a one- to three-year study program.
Launched two years ago as a joint effort of the Jewish Agency and government agencies that include the Prime Minister’s Office, the project seeks to introduce students to their Jewish heritage and to life in Israel, with the hope that they will ultimately decide to remain.
So far, the program has proven highly successful, according to Yehiel Leket, head of the agency’s Youth Aliyah Department, which runs the program.
An overwhelming majority of this year’s graduates – 825 of 850 – have announced their intention to stay in Israel, Leket said.
And where the children go, the parents are not far behind: More than a quarter of the parents of Na’aleh graduates from the past two years have already immigrated to Israel.
Since its inception, the program has brought 3,700 young participants to study in 31 Youth Aliyah villages and at 25 kibbutzim throughout the country, according to agency officials.
By the end of August, when the next group of participants arrive, that total will reach 5,000.
Along with its broader goal of introducing the students to life in Israel, the program seeks to have the youths obtain a high school diploma and learn Hebrew.
Of the 3,700 students who have taken part in the project, more than 300 are currently completing their pre-academic preparatory courses and are expected to enroll next year in one of Israel’s schools of higher education.
Although the students learn Hebrew, some of their studies are conducted in Russian. They are also allowed to take some of their final exams in their mother tongue.
As part of their studies, the youths receive a comprehensive Jewish and Zionist education, which includes Jewish history, traditions and culture, along with tours of Israel.
Along with their academic studies, the youths are encouraged to meet their Israeli counterparts, an encounter that exposes them to the different facets of Israeli society and to its multitude of lifestyles.
As it marks the program’s second anniversary, the Jewish Agency has arranged to bring some 1,000 parents of the program’s participants to visit their children in Israel next week.
Uri Gordon, head of the agency’s Immigration and Absorption Department, which organized the visit, said the weeklong trip will include tours of Israel.
The parents – arriving on 18 flights from 17 different locations in the former Soviet Union – are also scheduled to attend a special employment and absorption information fair, where they will have the chance to explore the opportunities awaiting them if they, too, decide to make aliyah.