Sharp decline in gap years to Israel

Students find £16,000-a-time trips an uphill struggle

By Simon Rocker, February 18, 2010

The number of youngsters taking gap years in Israel fell dramatically this year because of the financial climate.

Only around 60 went to Israel this year, compared to more than 100 a year over the past three, according to FZY, the UK's largest Zionist youth movement.

And Bnei Akiva, the religious Zionist movement, experienced a slide from about 40 to the lower 20s.

But leaders hope that numbers will begin to climb again this autumn with BA anticipating as many as 55 recruits to its yeshivah and year schemes which can cost as much as £16,000.

Jamie Slavin, chair of FZY, said: "Youth movements have felt the effects of the recession in the way everyone else has. Gap years cost money and people generally have less. I fully expect that once the recession is over, numbers should rise again. Gap years in Israel have become the fundamental programmes for creating the next generation of leaders for our community, and I think the community recognises that."

Josh Sagal, technical director of BA, said: "We realised last year we didn't have a full-time worker who was dedicated to recruiting for year-off schemes. We saw that as an investment this year. Prices haven't gone up substantially and we have offered extra incentives, such as a two-week trip to Brazil at the end."

BA schemes range from around £13,000 to £16,000, while FZY's classic year scheme is priced at £11,999 for new entrants this autumn.

But the gap-year market could see greater competition, with the advent of the newly launched Aardvark Israel schemes which claim to be offering cheaper options for the English-speaking world. It was founded in Jerusalem as a breakaway from Young Judea, the Zionist body linked to Hadassah in America which runs the year schemes for FZY.

Simon Cohen, former education director of FZY, who worked for Young Judea in Israel before moving to Aardvark Israel, said: "By being more affordable, we are hoping to bring even more youth to Israel on long-term programmes, to deepen their connection and explore their Jewish identity."

He said the new organisation would promote schemes at a basic £9,500 - which he still believed could be a cheaper alternative to FZY, even though it did not include cost of flights and food.

But Mr Slavin, confirming that FZY's partnership with Young Judea would continue, pointed out that its £11,999 fee covered food, fares, and options such as "army experience".

Since 1988, FZY's numbers on gap year in Israel have risen from barely double figures to the point that even with this year's reduced figure, it continues to send out the biggest contingent of any movement.

Last updated: 12:57pm, October 20 2010