Gap year: ‘the numbers will probably be lower after Covid-19’ – Plus61 J Media

Posted By on May 18, 2020

In a Plus61J online discussion about the causes of declining participation, ZFA president says further downward pressure from the pandemic could be offset by pent-up demand

THE IMPACT OF COVID-19 is likely to cause a drop in numbers of Australian participants in Israel gap year programs, according to the president of the Zionist Federation of Australia, Jeremy Leibler.

Many people say the cost of international travel will rise by 70%, and practicalities on the ground will change the number of kids you can have in a room, how many people can safely go on bus, Leibler told an online forum exploring the decline in participation in gap year (Shnat) programs, hosted by Plus61JMedia on Sunday night.

[These factors] could exacerbate the decline; the numbers will probably be lower, Leibler said. But I am also cautiously optimistic about a pent-up demand that may have built up as well.

Leibler was one of four speakers at the forum, titled Minding the gap: the future of Australias Israel gap year programs, along with Rochelle Braverman, Chair of the Australian Zionist Youth Council (AZYC), 2019 Netzer Shnat participant Noa Abrahams and the Director of Student Development at , Mt Scopus College, Jared Alford.

The discussion was convened following a series published by Plus61JMedia earlier this year that identified an unmistakable trend downwards, from 133 in 2014 to a new low of 83 this year.

Rochelle Braverman was forthright in her assessment of the problem. We are in a crisis period, even before Covid. Younger people are not feeling comfortable within the Jewish community, she said, because its leaders are presenting one form of Zionism (conservative) which doesnt present Israel as an inclusive experience, referring to Israels occupation of the West Bank.

The community doesnt encourage young people to go on progressive Shnat programs [such as Netzer, Habonim and Hashomer Hatzair] compared to conservative programs (such as Bnei Akiva and Betar].

We are in a crisis period. Younger people are not feeling comfortable within the Jewish community because leaders are presenting one form of Zionism (conservative) which doesnt present Israel as an inclusive experience Rochelle Braverman

Leibler replied that he did not think ideology was a main driver of the decline. He said the price of the programs was a factor (one costs US$26285) and so was their structure, referring to length, flexibility and types of content.

The forum also heard the story of a young woman whose Shnat experience involved an internship with the Haaretz newspaper, which she found rewarding because it gave her new job skills. Leibler acknowledged that was a new way for students to experience Israel by upskilling for their futures, rather than immersing themselves in an enrichment program.

As for the relative numbers of youth groups participation, he asserted that there is a direct correlation between the size of a youth movement, and its weekly meetings, and the number of kids who go on Shnat, referring to the large numbers of Bnei Akiva participants.

Looking outside the Jewish world, he also said the huge choice of gap year options for Australian students was a major factor in the decline, which Braverman agreed with.

The huge choice of gap year options for Australian students is a major factor in the decline Jeremy Leibler

Jared Alford reinforced this point, invoking the example of a choice between travelling the Greek Islands with friends as part of a European trip versus the commitment of spending all your time in a structured program in Israel. Independent travelling was not an option in the past like it is now.

Asked whether he had observed a change in Jewish students attitudes to Israel, Alford was definite: No; our kids are very Zionist.

Noa Abrahams, who went on Netzer Shnat in 2019, echoed Rochelle Bravermans comments about the problems facing shnatties who wanted a more progressive, inclusive experience of life in Israel. But she said the fact that Benjamin Netanyahu had been in power for 12 years had not turned her off. Quite the opposite, she declared. He has only made me want to engage more, to help counter the conservative trend in Israeli politics and society.

Leibler told the forum he did not care whether young Jewish people were on the political left, right or centre. His main concern was to instil a passion for Israel. I want to ignite that fire, he said, and to that end the ZFA is undertaking a review of Shnat to get a more forensic picture of the causes of the decline.

Screen capture: Noa Abrahams

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Gap year: 'the numbers will probably be lower after Covid-19' - Plus61 J Media

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