The fall in the number of young British Jews going on gap years to Israel is a “crisis” in need of attention, a new report on Israel education has warned.
Gap years with Zionist youth movments have traditionally been seen as training programmes for future Jewish community activists and leaders.
In 2008, one in five of the 16-year-old participants in Israel summer tours went on to a gap year in Israel after school. But the number dropped to just four per cent in 2011 following the sharp increase in British university tuition fees, and recovered to only eight per cent the following year.
“From a high in 2006 of 246 [gap year] graduates, in 2011 the number was 54,” the report found.
“Any dip in the numbers of year-programme carries it with long-term damage for the future leadership of the community,” it stated.
Entitled Moving Israel Education, the report was commissioned by the Pears Foundation and written by two British olim, Yonatan Ariel and Robbie Gringras, of the Jerusalem-based Israel Education Lab (Makom).
They call for a “radical new approach” in long-term programmes, suggesting alternatives such as a three-month scheme in Israel followed by a three-month volunteering in India with Israelis.
“The seriousness of the gap-year crisis is clear to all,” the report said.
While the state of education about Israel overall in the UK rests on “sound” foundations, it needs to evolve to meet the changing expectations of young British Jews. “An Israel education that neglects the complexity of Israel… is teaching about a place that does not really exist any more, if it ever did,” the report stated.
Although Israel summer tours continue to attract high numbers, the report found that educators are concerned about their deeper impact. They are no longer seen as the “magic elixir” that leads to engagement with Israel.
The increasing numbers of pupils in Jewish schools has also changed the way teenagers react to Israel. “When one’s entire school experience has been spent in the company of a majority of other Jews, then wandering around Israel’s Jewish majority is an entertaining extension of a British Jewish experience, rather than something wholly new,” it says.
The study recommends a much greater emphasis on Israeli arts and culture in tours and other programmes, so that teenagers can view Israel as “a hot-bed of Jewish cultural creativity” and not only “as a hot-bed of politics”.
An Israeli cultural festival in the UK should be created as an annual event for students before going to university.
“We should aim to enable young British Jews to become gourmands of Israeli culture, with an appetite and a taste for Israeli arts,” the report says.
It suggests an Israel studies GCSE to provide more in-depth knowledge of the country’s history and culture. Communal rallies and shows of support for Israel also need a revamp to “more accurately” represent “the range of attitudes to Israel”.
Trevor Pears, the executive chairman of the foundation, said the report was “of great assistance in helping us identify some of the right questions and a direction of travel for Israel education in the UK.”
The report’s key proposals:
- A scheme for three-month visits to Israel for teenagers
- Annual festival of Israeli culture to be held in the UK
- Schools to teach an Israeli studies GCSE
l Revamp communal rallies to reflect the range of attitudes to Israel