June 10, 2024
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The Financial Boon of Attending College in Israel

A few months ago, just before the winter set in, I shared a socially distanced cup of coffee with one of my congregants. We’ve been close friends for years, so he got straight to the point. “I work hard to support my family and to live the Modern Orthodox life. Yeshiva tuition is very expensive, but I pay it; I know it’s important. But now my oldest is going to college, and I don’t know what I’m going to do. The University of Michigan costs over $75,000 a year!”

It’s a conversation I’ve had more than a few times over the years, as the obscenely high cost of college in America climbs ever higher. But with so many members of our community out of work because of the pandemic, it’s time to talk more openly about alternatives for our children. More specifically, it’s time to think about going home for college—to Israel!

You’ve probably noticed that some of the young people going to Israel for a year of learning in yeshiva or seminary are not hurrying to come back, choosing instead to stay in Israel, where most attend college or serve in the IDF or Sherut Leumi. Over the last few years, five teens from Congregation Suburban Torah alone, our shul in Livingston, have chosen to attend college in Israel. What was a brave and unusual choice only 20 years ago has become a legitimate phenomenon in the Modern Orthodox community, with between 200 and 250 students making the choice to stay in Israel each year—very significant numbers for a community as small as ours. What is driving this trend, when our community is already blessed with extraordinary institutions such as my beloved alma mater, Yeshiva University?

Without question, most of the students staying in Israel are passionate about living in Israel and doing their part to build the future of the Jewish state. But alongside their idealism, many of these students are making a clear-headed financial decision to opt out of the enormous cost of college tuition in America. Many Israeli colleges and universities, some of which offer degrees taught entirely in English, are heavily subsidized by the Israeli government—resulting in tuition prices up to 90% lower than comparable options in the United States. And for students who choose to make aliyah, the government subsidizes tuition prices even further.

There are several college options in Israel geared specifically to American students. The Jerusalem College of Technology (JCT), a highly regarded college with close to 5,000 students, offers degrees taught entirely in English in business administration and computer science at its Machon Lev program for men, and a degree in computer science at its Machon Tal program for women. Students at JCT combine academic studies and internships with Torah learning for a jaw-dropping price of only $3,800 per year. For many of the students at JCT, the opportunity to study in Jerusalem while saving hundreds of thousands of dollars in tuition and not compromising on the quality of the education is too good to pass up.

Adina Schwartz, a current JCT student who grew up in Highland Park, originally planned to go to college in the U.S. Once she realized she could obtain a high-level computer science degree within a religious environment in the heart of Jerusalem, she changed her mind: “The tuition made my decision to stay in Israel much easier, and I know it was a huge factor for many of the other students in the program.” Pinny Silver, a JCT student from Teaneck, didn’t have to convince his parents of the merits of attending college in Israel; it was the other way around: “My parents are very happy that they succeeded in getting all my siblings to go to college in Israel. Financially, it’s made a huge difference for them.”

Outside of the Jerusalem area, Bar Ilan University and IDC Herzliya also offer degrees taught in English. Bar Ilan University’s International School offers degrees in communications, English literature and political science for about $4,500 per year. A co-ed Jewish university, Bar Ilan offers optional Jewish studies, but also has a diverse student population including people of all faiths.

IDC Herzliya, a secular college located north of Tel Aviv, offers six degrees taught entirely in English for about $22,000 (including dorms) per year. Over the last two years, Jewish life at IDC Herzliya has significantly improved with the establishment of a Mizrachi OU-JLIC chapter and the arrival of Rav Josh and Margot Botwinick, who have revitalized Orthodox life at the campus.

Students interested in strengthening their Hebrew and mainstreaming into a fully Israeli program also have options. Hebrew University, Bar Ilan University, Hadassah Academic College and the Technion all offer year-long mechina programs, which are college preparatory programs designed to improve Hebrew language skills and prepare students for study at an Israeli university.

If you’re intrigued by the possibility of college in Israel, but concerned about sending your son or daughter so far away from home, it’s important to realize that American students studying in Israel are not alone. Jodi (Fishbein) Joffe, who grew up in Livingston, New Jersey, and now attends Hebrew University, recently became the director of Here Next Year, a grassroots organization dedicated to empowering yeshiva and seminary students to fulfill their dreams of staying in Israel. Founded in 2014 by Bracha (Lamm) Berger and Peninah (Lamm) Kaplansky, granddaughters of Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm, zt”l, Here Next Year provides guidance and support to American students who choose to stay in Israel to attend college or serve in the IDF or Sherut Leumi. In addition to helping students make educated decisions about their future, Jodi explains that Here Next Year fosters a warm and supportive community for university students and lone soldiers, who bond with each other over a shared commitment to a future in Israel. Describing her own experience and that of so many others, Jodi says, “there’s something so beautiful about beginning your next phase of life in Israel; it’s literally and metaphorically echoing our forefathers’ own journey into the land they themselves walked in.”

The benefits of having our children attend college in Israel go far beyond financial savings. For religious Zionist parents, sending a child to study and build a life in Israel is the fulfillment of a dream that we have worked so hard to instill within our children. When living out our ideals can save us hundreds of thousands of dollars at the very same time, why not have our cake and eat it too?


Rabbi Elie Mischel is rabbi of Congregation Suburban Torah in Livingston, and will be making aliyah this summer.

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