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Stephen Muss, a one-time honorary chairman of Lapid, in speaking with JTA would only describe Lapid’s failure as a “painful series of events.” But in e Jewish in 2011, he wrote about the need for pre-college programs like his.“With the current set-up, the Jewish community is losing masses of teens who can engage with Israel earlier while still with family and community,” he wrote.Get The Times of Israel's Daily Edition by email and never miss our top stories Free Sign Up However, “the field of teen travel is not at all dead,” Sarah Vanunu, the former director of communications for Lapid, said in an email.“Trip providers are still in full operation and the programs are all running.” Some 12,000 to 15,000 participants come every year on high school programs to Israel, according to Shavit and others involved in Lapid — down from over 20,000 participants in 2000.JTA — Lapid Israel, a coalition of US-based high school programs in Israel, has shut down, citing Israel’s apathy in supporting long-term teen trips and philanthropists who preferred to support the free 10-day trips run by Birthright.The programs in the umbrella group continue to operate, including Alexander Muss High School and programs run by Young Judaea, BBYO and Nativ, the Conservative movement’s gap-year program.
“Lapid was forced to shut down purely as a result of the Jewish Agency and the [Israeli] government not putting serious enough attention into supporting and investing in the high school teen programs and reneging on previous commitments to support them,” she said.
“The one thing which is positive, that went up dramatically over the last 18 years, is the increase of 400 percent of the number of young Jews visiting Israel on an educational trip.” Keren, left, and Tom address students at Hebrew High School of New England as part of the Israeli Soldiers Tour, an outreach program aimed at high schools, synagogues, churches and college campuses across the US. Prince/Times of Israel) Mark pointed out that participation in religious life is shrinking around the world, and how, with the internet, “there are more young Jews around the world who are engaged with other Jews today than there were 20 years ago.” Because of this and studies that show a “Birthright bump,” where participants are more likely to marry other Jews and be involved in Jewish life than those who have not been on Birthright, “I’m not so gloomy and I’m not so pessimistic,” he said.
Krakow, a longtime member of Lapid, thinks that an emphasis on numbers favor programming with mass appeal over those with deep impact.
Lapid’s leaders aren’t the first in the Jewish world to complain about Birthright’s impact on other programs in Israel. Now over 48,000 participants come annually on the program, according to Birthright’s website — and over 600,000 since its founding, including Israelis.
Lapid and others say the free trips suppress interest in paid trips — as did a one-time policy, since relaxed, that disqualified students from Birthright trips if they had already visited Israel on an organized program.