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Yeshiva University students run Torah LeTzion, which awards scholarships for high schoolers to study in Israel. Courtesy Torah LeTzion

When Marc Merrill was in his second year of post-high school study in Israel, an administrator asked if he could help raise money for a student whose family could not afford tuition there. The Jamaica Estates resident was so successful that he founded an organization, Torah LeTzion (www.torahletzion.org), the following year and started awarding scholarships of $2,000 to $4,000 to a handful of applicants. In 2010, the organization helped 10 students, some from North Jersey as well as Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Tennessee, New York, and Toronto.

“We had 26 applicants this past year,” said co-director Daniel Sherman. “We had to reject 16 we didn’t have enough money to help. It’s frustrating to know people might not be able to go to Israel because we can’t give them a scholarship.”

Torah LeTzion is run entirely by college students at Yeshiva University. Program directors Corey Fuchs and Yoni Bardash, both Teaneck residents, organized a three-on-three basketball tournament in October at Teaneck’s Richard Rodda Community Center that raised some $5,000 for the fund.

Both drew on their experience with charitable endeavors during high school. “We wanted to raise awareness of this tzedakah in Teaneck,” said Fuchs, whose study partner during his second year at Sha’alvim was a Torah LeTzion beneficiary.

“I wanted to get involved with some form of giving back, and I had gained so much from the program already,” said Fuchs, 20.

Bardash, 21, honed his organizational skills as a member of The Frisch School’s Kahal tzedakah group. The corporate and family sponsors he obtained for the basketball tournament included Burgers Bar of Teaneck, which supplied a gift card for the champions, and Gatorade, which sent 250 free bottles for participants.

“I had a great experience in Israel and I think it would be a shame for financial need to limit anyone from experiencing this unbelievable opportunity,” said Bardash, who attended Torat Shraga in Jerusalem. “If a few of us can put in extra time to help provide this experience to others, that’s a very satisfying feeling.”

Philadelphia native Sherman, 23, a sociology major, said he and Merrill believe a year of post-high school study in Israel should be an option to every individual regardless of financial ability. Tuition for most programs is about $20,000, similar to a year of private Jewish high school.

Choosing from among those who submit an online application is a difficult task for the fund’s directors. Aside from financial need, they factor in statements from the applicant’s references and they interview each applicant by telephone.

“We get a feel for how much it means to them to go to Israel and what they want to accomplish,” said Sherman, whose sister Lauren handles the group’s publicity. “One girl had worked at a bagel store since 10th grade because it was so important to her to go and she knew she had to earn the money herself.”

At the Teaneck event, Sherman said “we must infuse the future leaders of our communities with a love of the Torah, Jewish people, and the Jewish state. There is no better way than to have them learn in their homeland.

“We’ve learned you have to fund-raise on a grassroots level,” said Sherman. “We’ve received so much support from the YU student body because they’ve internalized the message of how important it is to go to Israel to learn for a year.”

The group’s next fund-raiser will be held in conjunction with the annual YU book sale in the beginning of February, where last year it raised close to $18,000 through raffle sales. The founders recently launched a “brotherhood” program where donors can give any amount monthly through PayPal.