U.S. Jews turn to Israel to escape bleak job market

Wed Nov 11, 2009 7:17am EST
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By Sangwon Yoon

JERUSALEM (Reuters Life!) - Jewish American math teacher Goldie Burdetsky never expected to find herself working the front desk of a hotel in southern Israel alongside management interns young enough to be her children.

"I mean, for God's sakes, I have a master's degree in education," said the 55-year-old New Yorker. "I expected to be able to find a teaching job in the U.S. without any problems. But I couldn't."

Burdetsky decided to escape the dire economic situation back home, by coming to Israel on a program that offers Jews free housing, Hebrew classes, training, and work experience -- all of which translate into temporary financial respite.

As the unemployment rate in the U.S. climbed to a 26-year high of 10.2 percent last month, growing numbers of young and adult American Jews were arriving in Israel to inexpensively "wait out" the economic lull.

In an attempt to lure diaspora Jews to make Israel their permanent home, the Israeli government and Jewish organizations offer a multitude of scholarships and travel grants, allowing many to spend up to six months in Israel almost for free.

The key aim is to safeguard a Jewish majority in a country where Arab citizens make up 20 percent of the population. In 2008, some 15,400 Jews immigrated to Israel, of whom 3,200 came from North America.

MASA, which means journey in Hebrew, oversees 160 such programs. It has seen the number of participants double and even quadruple this year, especially among those aged 21 to 30.

Participation in Burdetsky's hotel management internship scheme jumped from 10 last year to 55 this year.   Continued...