(JTA) — The Jewish Federations of North America is closing its flagship OTZMA Israel program for post-college young adults.
Jerry Silverman, president and CEO of Jewish Federations of North America, announced in a letter Thursday that the program started in 1986 would end after the current cohort completes its Israel experience.
"Today, there are more than 200 Israel programs for young Jewish adults, built upon OTZMA’s shoulders, and many offer similarly extraordinary experiences. As a result, at the end of this academic year, JFNA has decided to stop implementing OTZMA as a stand-alone Jewish Federations’ Israel experience program," Silverman wrote.
OTZMA provides a 10-month opportunity for young Jewish adults to live in Israel, learn Hebrew and volunteer in small communities in partnership with their local Jewish federations. More than 1,400 young Jewish adults have participated in the program, with more than 60 percent of its alumni serving as professionals or volunteers in their Jewish communities, according to JFNA.
Following the announcement, OTZMA volunteers opened an online petition to try to save the program, titled "Let OTZMA Live." Hours after the petition was opened, it had more than 200 signatures.
"We, the extended OTZMA family, are shocked and appalled by the decision by The Jewish Federations of North America to end the premiere Israel experience program for post-college young adults. We urge JFNA to reverse its decision and to reconsider whether it truly wants to shutter a program that has such a positive impact on its own Federation movement, not to mention other Jewish philanthropic organizations, as well as communities in Israel and in the Diaspora," the petition read.