The number of young Jews who declare that is it important for them to marry within the faith is 40% higher among those who take part in the MASA Israel program than it is among those who do not, Masa Israel CEO Liran Avisar Ben-Horin revealed during Wednesday`s meeting of the Knesset Committee for Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs, citing a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center among young Jewish men and women in North America.

Some 80% of the young Jews who were polled stated that their Jewish identity does not interest them, while only 32% of those who took part in the Masa program expressed similar sentiments.

Masa Israel, a joint venture of the government and the Jewish Agency, encourages young Jews to visit Israel by offering over 200 study, internship, and volunteer opportunities all over Israel lasting between five and twelve months. In 2013, some 11,000 young Jews from 62 countries took part in the program.

Due to Masa Israel: Jewish identity in North America strengthened, as is the objection to intermarriages

Photo: Jewish Agency for Israel

Committee Chairman MK Avraham Neguise (Likud) noted Masa`s importance in encouraging Aliyah and turning youngsters into ”ambassadors for Israel” who assist in the fight against boycotts and anti-Semitism.

According to Masa`s representatives at the meeting, since its establishment the program has injected some NIS 2 billion into the Israeli economy. ”The goal is for the participants of the program to live as native Israelis, and in this way connect with their roots, identities and Israeli society,” said one of the representatives. The Masa reps said 50%-70% of those who take part in the program eventually immigrate to Israel.

Due to Masa Israel: Jewish identity in North America strengthened, as is the objection to intermarriages

Committee Chairman MK Avraham Neguise (Photo: Itzik Harari)

MK Sofa Landver (Yisrael Beitenu) called Masa ”one of the most professional ventures the State of Israel is involved in,” adding that it encourages Aliyah and is beneficial to Israel from a demographic perspective. She called to increase the efforts to recruit to the program young Jews from the Commonwealth of Independent States who currently live in the West.

Alex Selsky, a member of the Jewish Agency`s board of governors, stressed that the programs for such Jews must be shorter and more focused. ”We have a very small window of opportunity when it comes to young Jews from the Commonwealth of Independent States who currently live in the United States or Germany, because within a few years the communities there will no longer be relevant. The Masa project is critical in this regard.”

Ilana Shuchman, a Masa participant from Ukraine, said she had heard about the program in the framework of the Birthright Israel project. She received a $5,000 studies grant from Masa, and said she hoped to make Aliyah once she completes the program, ”because Israel is the only country in the world that supports people such as myself.” Yonatan Biton, a Masa participant from Paris, told the committee that the Masa program was ”best and most gentle way to make Aliyah.”

David Denker of the Jewish Federations of North America said the organization invests millions of dollars in the program, and that ”every shekel Israel invests in it is a long term strategic investment” which will encourage Jews to make Aliyah.