- Birthright Israel
Taglit-Birthright Israel, known colloquially as Birthright Israel or, simply, Birthright, is a
Jewish, Zionistorganization that sponsors free 10-day trips to Israel for Jewish young adults. Birthright Israel's goals are to diminish the growing division between Israel and Jewish communities around the world; to strengthen the sense of solidarity among world Jewry; and to strengthen participants' personal Jewish identityand connection to the Jewish people. As of Summer 2008, over 160,000 individuals from fifty-two different countries have participated since the trips began in the winter of 2000. 70% of trip participants come from the United States.
Founded in 2000 by
Charles Bronfmanand Michael Steinhardtin cooperation with the Israeli government, private philanthropists, the Jewish Agency for Israel, and Jewish communities around the world, the Birthright Israel program has, since its founding, received, and spent, over $200 million on its trips. Designed to give an overview of Israel, the founders brought together top educators, historians and tourism professionals to devise logistical, educational and security standards, unprecedented at the time. Immediately the trips were overwhelmingly popular, prompting waiting lists. There are no lotteries; trips are filled on a first-come-first-served basis. While security has always been a priority on all Birthright trips since the Second Intifada - all trips accompanied at all times by an armed guard as per Israeli law - the situation in Israel is currently much calmer and the trips are more popular than ever. The Birthright experience has become a normative part of most Jewish homes and there is an overwhelming demand for spots on the trips in each of the countries in which the program operates. Spots are often filled within two days of the beginning of registration and waitlists are the norm.
In any given session of trips (offered in Winter and Summer sessions), program participants may come from as many as 20 countries. The huge number of participants each round brings the Israeli tourism industry about NIS 130 million over the four months. Multiple airlines carry the participants including El Al, Israir, Continental, Delta and Air Canada. During the eight years of Birthright Israel, over 160,000 participants from 52 countries have visited Israel. On the business side, this has generated tourism revenues of NIS 1.2 billion for services such as hotels, food, security, guides, entrance fees, buses and flights. [http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/934475.html Record number of students to take part in Birthright Israel this year - Haaretz - Israel News ] ]
Birthright Israel lists its eligibility requirements as follows: "The Taglit-Birthright Israel gift is open to all Jewish young adults, ages 18 to 26, post high-school, who have neither traveled to Israel before on a peer educational trip or study program nor have lived in Israel past the age of 12. Eligible individuals are those recognized as Jewish by the Jewish community or by one of the recognized denominations of Judaism; or if either parent is Jewish and the applicant does not actively practice another religion." [ [http://www.birthrightisrael.com/site/PageServer?pagename=trip_faq#19 Taglit-Birthright Israel: Frequently Asked Questions ] ]
A Taglit-Birthright Israel trip includes airfare from major cities, hotels, most meals, all transportation within Israel, and costs associated with touring the country for the ten-day trip. A $250 USD deposit is required ($300 in
Canada); the deposit is refunded upon return from the trip. Airfare or transportation from a participant's home to the gateway city is not included, although the trips depart from multiple cities.
Trips are organized by different organizations and companies called 'trip organizers', who are accredited by and receive funding from Taglit-Birthright Israel, which sets logistical, educational and security standards. All of the trips are required to have licensed Israeli tour educators and must include visits to the
Western Walland Yad Vashem, as well as certain other elements as determined by Taglit-Birthright Israel, but may vary in theme, age group, religious practice, and other activities. For example, trips may be geared for graduate students, undergraduates at a particular university (typically through that university's Hillelor, in some cases, Chabad), participants from a local area, Orthodox Jews, Reform Jews, or hiking enthusiasts, among many other options.
Trips are generally ten days long, and often include a so-called "Mega Event," which involves speeches by dignitaries, musical performances, and the coming together of all participants currently in Israel, from all trip organizers. Another feature of the tours is a "mifgash" (encounter), with Israeli peers, especially soldiers serving in the
Israel Defense Forceswho join the touring. The purpose for the "mifgash" is for the participants and the soldiers to get to know each other on a personal level and to better understand each side's worldview and identity. One component of the mifgash is a discussion session, which explores such topics as, "What does it mean to be Jewish in a modern world? How does Jewish life in Israel differ from Jewish life abroad? What to Israeli Jewish young people have in common with their Diaspora peers, and what sets them apart? How does mandatory military service impact Israeli young people's perceptions of service and commitment to their country?", amongst others. This encounter with the soldiers gives participants the chance to get to know Israel through the eyes of Israelis approximately the same age. [ [http://www.israelfreespirit.com/page.asp?p=7 Sample Itinerary ] ] In the winter of 2007/8, 3,400 IDF soldiers took part in the program.
The itineraries include visits to historical, religious and cultural heritage sites around the country, including in
Jerusalem, the Negev, and the Dead Sea. Most trips also include places such as Tel Avivand the Galilee. The trips are not meant to be an exhaustive tour or education of Israel but a primer or introduction. The program participants are encouraged to extend their stay in Israel or return again on their own. Birthright Israel trips are supposed to encourage peer bonding, both through the "mifgash" experiences and through the experience of traveling to Israel with Jewish peers. The intensive experience of traveling in a peer group cultivates a connection to Israel and to the Jewish people.
Taglit-Birthright Israel receives funding from the Government of Israel; North American
Jewish Federations through the United Jewish Communities(UJC), Keren Hayesod, and The Jewish Agency for Israel; and many leading private philanthropists through the Birthright Israel Foundation, including Charles Bronfman, Michael Steinhardt and Lynn Schusterman.
In 2007, Miriam and
Sheldon Adelsonpledged $60 million to Birthright Israel to take applicants off waiting lists and to increase annual capacity from 25,000 to 37,000 in 2007 and 2008. [ [http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3361888,00.html Richest US Jew pledges USD 25 million to Taglit - birthright israel - Israel News, Ynetnews ] ]
Trips with similar goals [ [http://newvoices.org/features/birthright-israel-meet-birthright-armenia-2.html Birthright Israel, Meet Birthright Armenia] ] include
Birthright Armenia[ [http://www.birthrightarmenia.org/ Birthright Armenia - Journey of self-discovery ] ] and Irish Way[ [http://www.iaci-usa.org/irishway.html Irish Way] ] .
Diaspora politics in the United States
* [http://www.birthrightisrael.com/ Birthright Israel]
* Kelner, Shaul, Leonard Saxe, et al. " [http://cmjs.org/files/BRI%20REPORT2web.pdf Making Meaning: Participants’ Experience of Birthright Israel] " (Waltham, MA : Brandeis University, Nov. 2000)
* [http://www.columbia.edu/cu/current/articles/spring2008a/hey-big-jewish.html Avi Herring discusses the merits of Birthright Israel in The Current, a Columbia University journal]
* [http://www.presentensemagazine.org/mag/?page_id=319 Jordan C. Hirsch investigates how Birthright has affected the American Jewish community in "Presentense".]
* [http://www.masaisrael.org MASA Israel Journey] This is a follow up program for birthright Israel alumni and is a long-term Israel experience
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