Sunday morning, the government unanimously approved the Masa project (meaning "journey") which aims to bring 20,000 young Jews from around the world each year for a semester to year-long program of studying and volunteering in Israel. Masa is a joint project of the Jewish Agency for Israel and the Government of Israel. The project will be financed from three sources: the Jewish Agency (through donations to the United Jewish Communities (in the US) and Keren Hayesod), the Government of Israel and the families of program participants.
The innovative Masa project is unprecedented in its scope; this is the first time that the Government of Israel is making a serious and long-term investment in saving the next generation of Jews in the world. The project is expected to make a substantial contribution to the Israeli economy—a return of close to three times the government investment—altogether hundreds of millions of shekels a year.
Masa was initiated by the Jewish Agency in response to the negative demographic trends in Jewish communities—a weakening connection with Israel and a rise in intermarriage -- and an understanding on the part of Jewish communities that connecting the young generation to Israel will seriously contribute to strengthening Jewish identity.
According to Jewish Agency data, there are 100,000 people in each age level in Jewish communities around the world at one time; this means that Masa is striving to bring one out of every 5 young Jews (20,000) to a long-term program in Israel each year.
The project is expected to make a dramatic contribution to strengthening the connection to Israel among the young generation in the Jewish communities around the world and enhancing Jewish identity, that is, lowering intermarriage, raising involvement in community life, etc. In addition, the project is expected to create a cadre for immigration to Israel.
Studies done among young people who were on a long-term program in Israel show clearly the positive influence on their lives and their identity. 91% marry Jews, 75% participate in community activities and synagogues, 71% return to Israel for additional visits, 57% make donations to Jewish causes and to Israel, 36% of them send their children to Jewish day schools and a large percentage of them immigrate to Israel.
Yesterday's cabinet approval of the project's budget did not state any time limit. The budget will start at $10 million in the year 2005 and rise to $50 million in the year 2008-9. The government is committed to the continuation of this investment every year, with no limitation. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon personally guided the project forward, with the assistance of cabinet secretary Yisrael Maimon.
Prime Minister Sharon stated in the cabinet meeting that he sees this project as crucial and added: "The future of the Jewish People and the State of Israel are dependent on cooperation with world Jewry and strengthening ties". He stressed that "there is no more important matter than Jewish Zionist education and aliyah which I presented as one of the central aims of the government I lead. The matter is of enormous importance for the future of the Jewish People and the continued existence of the State of Israel.
The Chairman of the Jewish Agency, Sallai Meridor, stated at the cabinet meeting that "this is an initiative of historical significance. The cabinet decision means that the State of Israel is the state of the Jewish People and expresses the joint responsibility of Israel and the Jewish communities around the world. This is a decision which will affect the future existence of the Jewish People and the State of Israel". Meridor thanked the prime minister and his team, led by cabinet secretary Yisrael Maimon who "give this long-term and strategic matter top priority, not only dealing with urgent matters on the public agenda."