At a time when university study programs in Israel have become a tough sell for many American parents, the country’s Education Ministry and the Jewish Agency are setting their sights in a different, more ambitious direction: high school students.
Education Minister Limor Livnat was in town this week to announce the kickoff of Elite Academy, a groundbreaking scholarship program allowing 15- and 16-year-olds to spend three years at one of Israel’s top high schools. The students would then qualify for the bagrut, Israel’s version of the SAT, to gain admission to an Israeli university.
"There is a wider and wider gap between youth outside Israel and the meaning of being Jewish," Livnat told a group of teens and reporters in Brooklyn on Friday. "A stronger connection must be cultivated." She said the program, intended for both observant and non-observant youth, would have a spiritual component. "We do not impose anything on Israeli children in the educational system," she said. "But we want them to know what kiddush [holiness] is."
Livnat expressed hope that "many of them will stay in Israel and later on move there and bring their families with them, like an aliyah program."
Elite Academy is targeted toward (but not restricted to) immigrants from the former Soviet Union. The program was launched at the Kings Bay Y, where the Jewish Agency has set up Russian American Jews for Israel, a group that builds support and disseminates aliyah information. The Jewish Agency also has a special emissary to New Yorkís emigre population, Ronnie Vinikov.
Participants in the Elite Academy will receive scholarships covering airfare, tuition, housing, and other expenses. They will live in dormitories supervised by the Ministry of Education, with full medical and dental coverage and access to cultural and sports activities and excursions.
Livnat acknowledged that concerns about ongoing terrorism might limit participation. "There are those who will be afraid and want to wait a little bit," she told The Jewish Week. "But we are all full of hope that there will be peace in the Middle East."
Livnat said she is also working on a program to connect Israeli teens and American Jews of bar mitzvah and bat mitzvah age via the Internet. And this summer, the Jewish Agency and Education Ministry are teaming up to bring some 1,500 Israeli educators to 180 camps in North America. Most of the emissaries have maintained ties with American children throughout the year.
For information about the Elite Academy program, call Vinikov at (718) 332-4176, or e-mail email@example.com.