A quarter of tour-goers need cash support
Well coached: B'nal B'rith Youth Organisation members on the road to their destination
One-in-four of the 1,600 British and Irish teenagers joining Israel tours over the summer months are receiving financial support up to a full bursary from UJIA.
The charity has spent more than £215,000 to enable around 400 young people to experience a tour whose families could otherwise not afford the cost.
A UJIA spokesperson revealed that more than half the participants in some tour groups had applied for bursaries. Applications were made in October, giving UJIA time to assess fundraising requirements.
To minimise the numbers seeking aid, it was vital to keep down tour costs. "It is hard with variables like flights or tax but we are constantly reviewing criteria and tightening the programmes where possible."
A hat-trick of LJY Israel tourists
Tour participants get to travel around Jerusalem, hike in the Galil and swim in the Dead Sea.
Some of the groups, mostly of 16-year-olds, will have the opportunity to walk along the West Bank security barrier, take part in co-existence workshops with Bedouins and Israeli Arabs, or volunteer with Darfuri refugees who fled from Sudan.
Habonim Dror members will spend time helping with the clean-up operation in the Carmel Forest following the devastating fire in November. For the first time, Bnei Akiva participants will take part in the army's Gadna military service preparation scheme.
Most movement programmes have been arranged with the support of the UJIA. An exception is Tribe, the United Synagogue's youth arm, which has already waved off 19 teenagers on its first ever Israel tour.
Tribe Israel manager David Collins said the inaugural trip was a measure of its progress. "Participants have come from all around the country showing we are a modern, inclusive and authentic organisation." It also has 10 school-leavers going on the new mini-gap later this summer. The programme, designed by Tribe along with University Jewish Chaplaincy, Project Chesed and Aish, offers the best of a gap year, compressed into a 10-week period.
Arranged to help school-leavers beat the increased university fees of up to £9,000 annually, it is further recognition of the belt-tightening faced by many families.
At £2,199, Tribe's tour is slightly cheaper than most. Other movements lowered costs with the financial climate in mind.
Year nine pupils have been taken on trips with Jewish schools and both Bnei Akiva and BBYO are operating their "second-timers" programmes for AS-level students.
UJIA communications director Debbie Joseph said the organisation was immensely proud of what was on offer.
"People see Israel at age 16 in a way they never will experience it again," she pointed out. "It really has a lasting impact. What we are building is so vitally important. "