When it comes to our future, stingy is not sexy

Most of you don’t even know about the victims of the budget cuts for Student Authority funding. No reason that you should either. JAFI Chairman Natan Sharansky publicly promised that no students would be adversely affected by the total severance of the Agency’s funding to the Student Authority. The government announced it would continue to fund the Student Authority alone, albeit not the 70 million that the Authority currently runs on, but at least they will keep it running for one more year.

Yet it was clear from day one that students would be affected by this cut. The Student Authority is many an oleh’s lifeline to receiving higher education in Israel. Any change in the system would equate bureaucratic consequences.

Exactly one month after the Jewish Agency publicly announced its severance of Student Authority funding, I was approached by a student completing her 10-month Sofaer International MBA program at TAU. She had just been notified that the Student Authority had cut its summer semester funding entirely, and like so many international programs that run consecutively from October through August, the final program months are considered to be a summer semester, by the Authority; even though they are a mandatory aspect of these programs. She and 6 other students in her program had already been promised those funds earlier in the year by the Student Authority.

Today, we are aware of at least 35 students affected. I believe the number is much higher. TAU students have begun to reach out both to other students and the administrations of various institutions of higher education in an attempt to quantify the exact number of affected students (check out their FB page). Please contact me if you are one of these students.

It is clear at this point that there has been a serious bureaucratic glitch and that there are an unknown number of student olim facing the exact same brick wall. Our newly forming lobby, Olim for Improving Israel, utilized channels both in the government and the Jewish Agency to attempt to understand the issue and request the release of funds for the affected students.

The Ministry of Absorption put the ball into the court of the Jewish Agency by informing that the Jewish Agency did not transfer the complete amount of pledged funding for the 2011-12 academic year and therefore they are unable to release missing funds for the Student Authority.

Despite a number of approaches to Sharansky’s office including verification that letters had reached the office and assurance that they will review the issue and give us a response, they never replied and ignored repeated attempts to reach out.

At present moment university students who are dependent upon receiving their student aid are literally stuck between a rock and a hard spot, the Jewish Agency and the government. These students having been promised and who are financially dependent upon this funding, have been simply cut off. Money is tight for many students, and for these students in particular, the situation has become dire.

Now these students who are stuck between bureaucratic brick walls are becoming desperate. They have nowhere to turn as the government blames the Jewish Agency, and the Jewish Agency ignores the students and their pleas.

The Student Authority is hogtied, and the situation has reached such a low that Authority employees are actually breaking down and crying in front of students whom they have no possibility of aiding.

The money is available on paper, the funds were allocated for this use as determined by the approved JAFI budget. If the accusations are true, and the Jewish Agency did not complete transferring pledged funds to the Student Authority for the 2011-12 academic year, the Jewish Agency is implored to do so by these students who have been negatively affected, as a direct consequence of the Jewish Agency’s severance of funding the Student Authority. It would lead to a positive and proactive closure in this chapter of the Jewish Agency’s history as it shifts its vision and objectives towards Jewish identity and Peoplehood.

We know that the government has the option to release funds in order to eradicate the damage directly harming these student olim, but they have not yet done so.

*The funds supposedly were up for vote to be made available by the government August 1, but the finance ministry cabinet meeting voted to deny the release of funding. I was unable to find confirmation of that in the sadly amusing notes from the finance committee on that date.

If this issue is simply a matter of being a snag that comes along with the transfer of Student Authority responsibility to the government, we ask that the Office of the Prime Minister, the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Absorption, and the Ministry of Education work to remedy this absolutely unnecessary grievance in the absorption process for these olim.

These students are not asking for much. They are not asking for anything more than that which was explicitly promised to them in writing earlier in the academic year. This is a very heavy burden being shouldered directly by these students. Without a sound solution for the 2011-12 students, many will begin their post education lives in financial dire straits.

This is certainly not the bright new future these student olim have been looking forward to upon planting roots in Israel.

It is requested that the Jewish Agency and the government of Israel work together one final time to end the crisis of the Student Authority. Iron out the kinks of the transfer of responsibility and make good on your promise to those depending upon you. In this case, these dependents are the future of our country. Let us at least give our future a chance to grow.


About the Author
Safra made aliya in 1997, and has been involved in the Jewish world both professionally and voluntarily throughout her life. She currently resides near Haifa and owns a small translation business. Safra is married and has one son.