(Adds comment from JFNA, alumnus)
The Jewish Federations of North America announced Thursday that the current class in its OTZMA Israel experience program will be the last, spurring more than a third of its 1400 alumni to sign a petition imploring JFNA to save OTZMA for its own sake.
OTZMA, which provides 5 and 10-month volunteer and learning opportunities for young Jewish adults in Israel, was a rarity when it began in 1986 but is now one of more than 200 such programs, JFNA Chief Executive Officer Jerry Silverman said in a statement.
JFNA will explore transferring the program to another organization or provider, according to the statement, while JFNA will continue its work with other Israel programs like Masa Israel Journey.
Alumni disagree with the decision to close or transplant the program because they say it provides an unparalleled source of leadership and financial support for federations, said Matt Cohen, the alumnus who launched the online petition drive.
“OTZMA is the only program in an ever-expanding catalog of Masa programs that ensures that these leaders of the future have a real understanding of how federations work … and how they can connect to their local federation when the program ends,” he said, warning that JFNA will be digging itself deeper into a hole with young Americans it already struggles to reach.
The OTZMA’s website still invites people to apply because Hurricane Sandy has delayed JFNA’s plans to revise it, but the program is no longer accepting applications, said JFNA spokeswoman Michelle Blundell.
Silverman was unavailable for comment due to travel plans complicated by the storm.