30,000 young adult Jews visited Israel over the summer with Birthright

Some 30,000 young Jews from 59 countries visited Israel over the summer with Birthright Israel, which offers free 10-day trips to Israel for young Jews between ages 18 and 26.

Birthright announced last week that it will offer a new, seven-day trip to Israel in an effort to allow young professionals to participate in the free trip to Israel.

“The purpose of this trip offering is to allow those who are busy and having a hard time taking off work to still enjoy the trip,” said Noa Bauer, Birthright Israel’s VP of International Marketing. “We’re reaching out to young professionals who are committed to building their careers and can’t seem to take the full 10 days off work.

Over the past 16 years, Birthright Israel has brought more than 500,000 young Jewish adults to Israel.

An unfit, collegiate Israel advocate

I can remember sitting in my high school seminar class, called Modern Israeli History—a class invented, essentially, to equip us with political Israeli defense before we were sent off to college—into what was advertised as the anti-semitic abyss. There were one hundred fifty or sixty students in my grade, back in 2007, so the course was split into several separate classes, a few different teachers, but the message was unified: with this knowledge imparted onto you, and the past four years of education at Milken Community High, it is your responsibility to represent the Jewish Homeland, wherever you may be. Which I take to mean, in hindsight, you don’t have to wear a beard, nor all black, but your parents just invested a fortune in your Jewish identity, now do your best at Herzl.

That I did. It was an elective class with little academic significance—we had already gotten into our colleges, there were no grades, no final exam.  But I probably took it more seriously than any other class I’d taken. I often found myself reading texts twice instead of once, participating vocally, emailing Mr. Bloom questions sheerly out of personal interest. If I were to have taken my actual classes as seriously, my parents would have probably been more satisfied with my final transcript.

I took the message of Modern Israeli History to heart. Probably too much so. When I began my Freshman year of college at UC Irvine in 2007, I entered excited, energized; ready to take on my anti-Israel foe. I developed a nearly flawless thesis, developed off of key quotes, decisions and meetings in Israeli history—catered for length and delicacy, of course—that I was prepared to present at any moment somebody called Israel an ‘Occupier’ or racist.

In early 2008, Israel began to respond to the bombardment of rocket attacks coming the recently evacuated Gaza Strip. Right around then, an imam came to campus to speak under the theme of ‘Genocide: Auschwitz to Gaza.’ I remember my initial fury upon seeing caricature pictures of larger than life Israeli soldiers with swastikas on their uniforms pointing machine guns at little babies; in addition, a desperate responsibility to dissuade people from buying in to this. I skipped class that day, heard the imam equate Zionists to terrorists, then stuck around with a dozen AFI’s (Anteaters for Israel), ready to engage the imam’s empathizers, who stuck around chanting ‘end the occupation’ in unison.

We AFI students and MSU (Muslim Student Union) students started talking. It did not require much time before this “intellectual quarrel” warranted the presence of cops standing nearby, watching, prepared to act. Getting nervous now, but more so feeling the stronger obligation to act, I turned to talk to a female MSU member standing close to me. In a timid voice, I explained to her the logical fallacies in the imam’s speech, but she basically ignored me. I tried to speak more loudly, but in the face of this chaos, I realized I didn’t have it in me. What value did my self-created theses have in the forum of passionate, educated college students going at it?

I decided I needed confidence, a mentor, somebody to learn from. And so I chose to become a disciple of Isaac Yerushalmi—the fearless president of Anteaters for Israel, also a fellow AEPi. “That kid’s got balls,” Rosen, the tallest, toughest member of our fraternity said once, while we watched Isaac stand in the center of an intense anti-Israel rally with a mien of steadfastness, holding up a sign with statistics and phrases that contradicted the MSU’s message.

As the year continued, I followed Isaac around. I helped him in many ways—unloading and loading stuff into his car, telling my friends to come to events, helping him videotape things—but when it came to the intellectual, or the argumentative, Isaac kept it sort of to himself.  “What are we going to do, Isaac?” I asked, stressing the ‘we,’ when the pro-Israel body would have to act. I never got clear answers. Isaac had an impeccable ability to dodge a question with mum silence, and have you not take offense—a tremendously valuable skin nowadays. You just figured he was thinking ahead, or thinking more deeply. In truth I envied a Batman and Robin dynamic, where I, Robin, possessed an energetic yet untamed courage, who could only mature into an asset once disciplined by Batman himself. The dissension arose, perhaps, from how Issac saw me for what I was: a neurotic, timid freshman, rather than who I wanted to become: an influential, confidently speaking pro Israel leader on campus.

I ended up transferring out of UC Irvine in favor of UC Santa Barbara. There, I met Eli Levine, a very talented leader of the pro-Israel body. He, unlike Isaac, seemed eager to have somebody young and energetic get carried under his wing. And I, being the Israeli groupie of sorts, was the one he picked. But it was at an AIPAC Policy Conference in 2010, where I had become Liasion at UCSB and Eli lined up with a fine gig at Hasbara, that I let Eli down before we began work. See, I missed my flight to the conference, and ended up hanging out at LAX for over a day and a half, missing half the conference itself. I got incessant, disappointed text messages from Eli: “Where are you? Loads to discuss.” I explained what happened. “This is ridiculous,” he said. He had a aggressive manner of forming important relationships and building connections, and each time I sought to contribute to them, I didn’t fail to underperform.

Then there was Leah, president of American Students for Israel, who I always sought to please, but I couldn’t work well with because I’d always end up having feelings for her. She applied a blend of work-oriented discipline and coquettish push-pull that I had never experienced before. In result, any time we met to discuss campus activity, I pondered telling her how I felt.

The following summer I became an intern at AIPAC in San Francisco, but that did not translate to glory either. I lacked professionalism and truly feared the concept of a cold call. To make matters worse, my mother had a meltdown and made a call to a VBS rabbi, begging him to reach out to the right people at AIPAC and have me return to Los Angeles without negative repercussions. This, obviously, didn’t boost my credibility within the reigns of the AIPAC office.

During this entire aching for relevance to the pro-Israel movement on college campuses, I wasn’t eligible for Birthright until turning twenty-two, given that I had attended the March of the Living trip in high school. The trip for UCSB’s Hillel delegation was taking off on June 15th, 2011—one day before my twenty-second birthday.

“I’m eligible to go, right, Rabbi? Does one day actually make a difference?”

 “I spoke to them,” the rabbi said softly. “And the age restriction is firm. We’re sorry,” the rabbi said.

But sometime around early June two weeks away from graduation, a call from a strange number woke up my excellent daytime nap.

“Hello?” I asked.

“I’m calling from Taglit. A few extra spots have opened up for the Hillel group with Stanford University. There may be other students from other universities, but as of now I don’t think you will know anybody else on the trip.”

“I’ll take it,” I said.

I mention Birthright because I think the highlight of my Israeli advocacy came on this trip, in a very unexpected way. Ten new friends I had made and I sat in the backseat of the bus, driving back from the Dead Sea, and a handful of them said that they were having an excellent trip thus far, but were curious: Why was bloodshed so often associated with Israel? Why is the country relentlessly warped in a field of controversy? These were Stanford students, so I knew it was not ignorance, or an incapacity to process information, which prevented them from knowing this. Lilach, our guide, sought to answer these questions, but her explanations did not quite suffice to the level of detail these students needed. Before thinking about it, I commenced an impromptu lecture: starting from 1922, I then delved into the UN Partition Plan, the War of Independence, Six-Day War, various Peace Treaties, and now the complicated relationship between Hamas, Fatah and Israel. I spoke with a loud, clear voice that I never had in college as fifteen Birthright fellows encircled me and we cut through the South of Israel. I attributed this great moment to a vast intellectual shift made subconsciously. I finally used my privileged education from to engage others, rather than feed my identity. It was essentially everything I wanted out of Israel advocacy.

What I deduce from all this, other than missing my Birthright trip, is that one only encounters personal satisfaction when staying true to their path, to their skill set. Forcing myself to be a leader, I think, is not doing so, unless it happens organically. So often we’re instructed to be leaders, to influence others with a superior goodness. There’s an underrated value in simply acquiring information and passing it on to the next curious mind, as I did on that bus.

Israeli-Americans Get Their Own Birthright Trip

When Eden Bennun — who had to give up on plans to attend a Birthright Israel trip this summer because of a job — heard about a new trip aimed specifically at Israeli-Americans, she thought: “It must be fate.”

Both of her parents were born in Israel, and, although she grew up in Los Angeles, almost every summer she boarded an El Al airliner to visit faraway family.

“I look forward to getting to meet more people like me, who are connected to the culture and language, and are ready to become young Jewish leaders,” said Bennun, a third-year psychology student at American Jewish University.

The new Taglit-Birthright Israel program, offered in conjunction with the Israeli American Council (IAC), will be called “I think it’s important to educate other people so they don’t have to go through what I went [through] and disconnect, and then connect again,” he said.

Blaming Birthright for a Gaza death

Is Birthright Israel to blame for the death of Max Steinberg, one of two American Israeli soldiers killed in the war in Gaza?

That’s the assertion of Allison Benedikt, a senior editor at Slate, who first provoked Israel supporters in 2011 with an angry and rambling essay about how after her nefarious Zionist youth group (she doesn’t name it, but it’s Young Judaea) brainwashed her into liking Israel, she eventually learned better.

In Benedikt’s latest piece, she asserts that Steinberg’s decision to enlist in the Israel Defense Forces “seems like the ultimate fulfillment of Birthright’s mission” and asks in the story’s teaser “what makes an American kid with shaky Hebrew decide he is ready to die for Israel?” Not surprisingly, it has quickly sparked over 300 online comments. Meanwhile, the Times of Israel’s Haviv Rettig Gur has published a heated, point-by-point response.

Benedikt’s article isn’t the only Israel-Gaza conflict-fueled attack on Birthright. A darkly satirical Tumblr feed, “My Birthright Summer in Israel,” features perkily captioned photos of happy, partying Birthright participants superimposed over images of carnage and destruction in Gaza.

High Holy Days: What’s NEXT for Birthright

High Holiday map screenshot. Courtesy of NEXT.

On Aug. 5, the Birthright Israel alumni organization NEXT launched its 2013 High Holy Days initiative. It features an interactive, nationwide map of services and events — including learning opportunities, dinners and break-the-fasts — as well as a first-time offering of resources and small subsidies for people willing to host Rosh Hashanah meals and Yom Kippur break-the-fasts. 

“Taglit-Birthright participants have returned from their summer trips — joining the hundreds of thousands of alumni from past years — with a personal connection to Judaism, Israel and the Jewish people. Now is the time to build on that connection and help make Jewish opportunities and communities more accessible,” Morlie Levin, CEO of NEXT, said in a statement. 

“We’ve found that Birthright Israel alumni are particularly interested in celebrating holidays with their friends, and the High Holy Days initiative offers them the opportunity to both create these experiences themselves and connect to community events they find meaningful.”

Based around the idea that there are ways to keep participants of Taglit-Birthright’s free 10-day trips to Israel interested in Judaism and the Jewish state after they return home, NEXT helps connect alumni through events, subsidized Shabbat meals and other programs. The organization has an alumni community of more than 300,000 individuals, according to its Web site.

While the High Holy Days map is in its third year, it has some new features this time. For example, it now allows users to filter events based on their preferences, whether they are seeking services that are egalitarian; LGBT-friendly; interfaith-friendly; English-heavy; or Reform, Orthodox or Conservative. 

As of press time, several Los Angeles-area congregations — including Nashuva, Stephen S. Wise Temple, IKAR and Congregation Shir Chadash in Lakewood, Calif. — have listed their services on the map. More are expected to join during the two weeks leading up to the holidays.

The NEXT map was produced by San Francisco- and New York-based 10x Management, a talent agency that represents freelance programmers and other technology professionals. The map relies on GPS technology and enables users to tweet and share on Facebook which events they plan to attend.

As with the online map, NEXT also designed the meal subsidy program, the other part of the 2013 initiative, to encourage alumni and young professionals to participate in and engage with the most important holidays of the year.

Hosts will be reimbursed up to $10 per guest for up to 16 guests, and NEXT has made resource materials available on its Web site to help enrich the experience. These include recipes, dinner ideas, holiday videos and much more.

The program was inspired by the longstanding NEXT Shabbat program, which covers the cost of Shabbat meals — a host simply provides receipts and photos as proof that they hosted one.

“We understand one of the most effective ways toward a deeper understanding of Jewish learning is to have the opportunity to [sit around a dinner table] with a large circle of friends,” Levin said.

For more information on the High Holy Days initiative, including the interactive map and the subsidy program, visit birthrightisraelnext.org/highholidays.

Love, Birthright style

Now entering its 13th year, Taglit-Birthright Israel’s goal is to strengthen the Jewish identity of its participants and their connection to Israel. Yet the popular program also has provided a platform for untold numbers of young singles to form lasting, loving partnerships.

Michal Ezekiel moved from Israel to Los Angeles in 2010 to be with Max Simon, whom she met on the Tel Aviv beach in 2008. Simon was a recent graduate of the University of San Diego; Ezekiel was one of eight Israeli soldiers who accompanied his group on its Birthright tour.

“I was one of those people who went on Birthright just looking to get away from my life in L.A., and I had no idea what I was walking into,” Simon said.

A few months later, Ezekiel joined her family on a trip to California, where the two were reunited. They went out for dinner, followed by a romantic walk on the beach. In 2012, they were married in Israel.

“That was the first time we hung out outside of the trip,” Simon said. “We saw each other, and we realized there was something there.”

No data exists on just how many participants have met their spouses on such trips. Birthright knows of several dozen marriages, though anecdotal evidence suggests the number could be much larger.

“Because our main goal at Taglit is to strengthen Jewish identity and bring Jews closer together, we consider it a privilege that we’ve allowed hundreds of couples to meet and build Jewish homes around the world,” said Doron Karni, the vice president of international marketing for Birthright. “This is also in line with the findings of a study by Brandeis University that showed Birthright participants are 45 percent more likely to marry Jewish spouses.”

Of course, young couples finding love in Israel is nothing new. But Birthright’s scale, and its success in targeting participants who normally would not participate in an Israel trip, make its reach potentially far greater. The organization offers dozens of niche programs targeting particular interests and backgrounds, including cycling enthusiasts, fraternity brothers, foodies, recovering addicts and LGBTQ.

It was the LGBTQ trip that attracted Alicia Rosenbloom, who says she would never have gone on Birthright if it weren’t for what is known as the Rainbow Tour. She also wouldn’t have met her partner, Jordan Rubenstein.

In July 2011, the pair exchanged furtive glances at the airport in New York. During the layover in Zurich, they began chatting.

“By the time we got to Israel we were sitting on the bus together and talked a lot more,” Rubenstein said. “A few days in we were already an item.”

Over the next 10 days, they hiked up Masada, roamed the alleyways of Jerusalem’s Old City and spent a night in a Bedouin tent in the Negev Desert. When they returned home, Rosenbloom moved from Philadelphia to New York, where Rubenstein works at Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, the LGBT synagogue in Manhattan.

This summer, on the second anniversary of their meeting, the two women will tie the knot at a ceremony in Queens.

Meredith Ross will never forget when she first laid eyes on Lior, her partner for the past seven years.

Lior, an infantryman in the Israel Defense Forces, was escorting Ross’ Birthright Israel group on a free tour of the Jewish state when his friend, a fellow soldier, was killed. Lior was leaving to attend his funeral and had come to say goodbye.

The two 18-year-olds spoke for just five minutes, but it was enough.

“I remember borrowing someone’s phone to call my mother in the U.S., crying and telling her that I was in love,” said Ross, now 26.

Seven years later, they live together in Ramat Hasharon, a leafy suburb of Tel Aviv. The Chicago native completed her undergraduate degree in Israel and now works for a local start-up company.

“Birthright was an eye-opening experience for me,” Ross said. “And on top of that it made me so proud to be Jewish.”

For those who find love on Birthright, meeting their significant other is the main reward. But for years there was speculation that there might be another: it was widely reported that Michael Steinhardt, one of the program’s main funders, promised Birthright couples a free honeymoon in the Caribbean or Israel.

On its Web site, the Birthright organization makes clear that it does not provide honeymoons to couples who meet on the trip. 

“Unfortunately,“ said Rubenstein, who is planning a post-wedding getaway to the Grand Canyon, “it’s an old wives’ tale.” 

Local Birthright offerings feature niche trips

Registration began this week for Taglit-Birthright Israel, the program offering free 10-day trips to Israel for Jews ages 18-26 that was created to connect young people to their heritage. This year, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles is co-sponsoring a variety of opportunities: With nine trips and room for 40 people on each, there are 360 spaces available, however many trips fill up quickly.

Designed to serve a cross-section of young adults in the local Jewish community, these trips are inclusive and “low-barrier” to join, said Jay Sanderson, Federation CEO and president. They cater to a wide variety of participants: Jews of all denominations, LGBT Jews, Iranian Jews and Jews in recovery from substance abuse.

L.A. Way —“the flagship program for L.A. community trips,” according to Michael Gropper, program director of Birthright Israel at Federation — includes visits to Masada, the Dead Sea, the Old City in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. The original Los Angeles community Birthright trip, L.A. Way, offers two trips this summer, for ages 18-22 and 22-26, respectively. Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers of the same age will accompany the group for the entire 10 days. 

Another option, Tlalim-Israel Outdoors, is for the more adventurous soul, with treks across the Holy Land, visits to cultural and historical sites, and more. As with L.A. Way, IDF soldiers accompany participants for the entire 10 days. Three of these trips will be offered this summer — one for ages 18-22 and two for ages 22-26.

Niche trips that the Federation is involved with include the L.A. LGBT & Ally Trip. It takes lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender young adults as well as their friends and family — ages 22-26 — on an exploration of arts and culture of Israel’s LGBT community. Participants also learn about Israeli gay rights and visit classic Israeli sites, and the trip concludes with the Tel Aviv Gay Pride parade. JQ International, an LGBT Jewish movement, co-organizes the trip.

The LGBT trip “seeks to layer participants’ Jewish identities and LGBT identities in a whole new way with Israel as a setting for this process,” according to absolutelyisrael.com. 

Meanwhile, L.A. Way’s Recovering Israel trip, intended for individuals in addiction recovery, delves into programs helping Israelis who struggle with substance abuse. It also provides a drug- and alcohol-free environment in which to learn about Israel’s culture, history and politics. Beit T’Shuvah, the Culver City-based residential treatment center, co-organizes the trip, which is for ages 18-26.

Lastly, L.A. 2 Israel — Persian Style brings Los Angeles’ Iranian community on a tour of Israel’s most famous attractions. Inaugurated this past winter, the trip is run by provider Sachlav — also known as IsraelOnTheHouse — which has a reputation for appealing to the Iranian community. Its two trips are intended for ages 18-22 and 22-26, respectively.

Registration for Birthright trips began on Feb. 13, and many close within a week, according to a Birthright official. For more information or to register, visit birthrightisrael.com.

Federation officials hope that the trips are just one step in Birthright participants’ continued engagement with the Jewish community. It has two fellowships through which former trip leaders and participants organize and promote events that keep their Birthright peers connected long after the trips are over.

All of this is part of Federation’s goal of making Birthright more meaningful than simply a free trip to Israel, Sanderson said. 

“For us, Birthright begins when someone applies, and the experience doesn’t end,” he said. 

Taglit-Birthright Israel roundup

Since its inaugural trip in the winter of 2000, more than 340,000 participants ages 18-26 have traveled to Israel for the first time through Taglit-Birthright Israel. The 10-day excursions have attracted people from 62 countries, bringing together Jews from virtually every cultural and socio-economic background in the Diaspora. To fit the growing demands of such an eclectic cross section of participants, Taglit-Birthright also offers a host of niche trips, including theme and topic-focused programs (think LGBTQ, musicians, finance) and ones catering to those with special needs (there are programs for the hearing impaired, the physically disabled and those with developmental challenges). And if 10 days isn’t long enough, participants can extend their stay in Israel, choosing from a variety of four-day extension trips ranging from the adventurous to the relaxing, or a combination of both. 

Jewish people “come in all sorts of shapes, colors, personalities and backgrounds,” said Traci Szymanski, Taglit-Birthright alumna and former Oranim Educational Initiatives executive. “It is important for Birthright to accommodate young Jews from all facets of life. They have done a great job at partnering with a diversity of organizations to make sure that there is something for everyone.” 

Registration for Birthright trips from the United States and Canada for spring and summer 2013 begins at 10 a.m. EST on Feb. 13.
Past applicants can access early registration at noon EST on Feb. 11. For more information or to register, visit birthrightisrael.com.

The following is a sampling of some specialized Taglit-Birthright trips: 

Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles

The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles expects to send 360 young Angelenos to Israel on nine trips through a number of different organizers, according to Michael Gropper, program director for Birthright at Federation.

Foremost is their flagship, 10-day program that includes visits to Masada, the Dead Sea, Jerusalem, and Tel Aviv. In addition, Federation this year is organizing “Recovering Israel,” in partnership with Beit T’Shuvah, targeting Jews in addiction recovery and those who want to live in a drug- and alcohol-free environment.

Another program, “L.A. LGBT & Ally” is designed for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youths, along with their friends and families. There is a trip focused on the outdoors, and “LA 2 Israel — Persian Style” is geared toward the local Persian community.

Information: 323-761-8186 or mgropper@jewishla.org.


This trip caters to those who want to travel with Israelis for the entire 10-day trip (rather than just part of the time like many of the other programs). Shorashim staff members program alumni with several years of leadership experience who are committed to a pluralistic Jewish experience. Shorashim reaches out to all Jews, from secular to observant. Participants teach each other about Jewish life and culture in Israel and the United States. israelwithisraelis.com.


Crohn’s and IBD Birthright Trip

Organized by Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA), the trip is intended to provide an experience that counteracts the feelings of insecurity among many young adults with Crohn’s and IBD (inflammatory bowel disease). In addition to being provided with emotional support, participants stay two to a room (rather than the standard three). “Although young adults with Crohn’s typically lead productive lives, the episodes of bowel dysfunction that accompany the disorder create potential for shame and social anxiety in this age group,” said Beverly Daley, a social worker at CHLA, who helped found the trip. “The fear of being in public places inhibits international travel; our program is organized around the need for frequent restroom stops and sensitivity to bouts of fatigue and abdominal pain.” For more information, contact Beverly Daley at (323) 361-2490. 


No Limits — In Motion

Routes Travel-Amazing Israel sponsors this trip, which is geared for those in wheelchairs or with mobility limitations. amazingisrael.com.


Ou Israel Free Spirit

For hiking, biking and nature enthusiasts, this trip (affiliated with the Orthodox Union) is for the adventure buff who wants to combine a passion for outdoor activities with the discovery of the land of Israel. israelfreespirit.com.


Sachlav — Israel On The House

One of the largest organizers of Taglit-Birthright trips, Sachlav is a nondenominational trip that features an all-encompassing itinerary offering a mix of outdoor adventure with hands-on experience with Israeli culture and people. Highlights include getting involved with the Lone Soldier campaign and being a guest in the home of Sachlav’s founder and CEO, who meets and greets every participant. israelonthehouse.com.


Aepi And Aephi Members Experience

For sorority sisters and fraternity brothers who want to party after last call at the on-campus keg party, Tlalim-Israel Outdoors offers a few trip options, including Israel Quest, Israel on Foot and Israel by Bike. israeloutdoors.com.

Israeli parody of Taglit-Birthright Trips [VIDEO]

This season of “Eretz Nehederet,” Israel’s version of “Saturday Night Live,” features a running parody of a Birthright trip to Israel that mocks American Jews for their enthusiasm and naivite (and obesity and JAPpiness, of course) and Israelis for their gold-digging and trigger fingers. Chuckle along:

Report: Communities Must Do More to Attract Birthright Alums

SAN FRANCISCO (JTA)—Nearly 160,000 young Jews from North America have taken part in Taglit-Birthright Israel, a 10-day free Israel trip aimed at revving up their Jewish identities.

Of those no longer in college, only half have attended any Jewish event since their return.

That’s one of the findings of “Tourists, Travelers and Citizens,” a new report by the Cohen Center of Modern Jewish Studies at Brandeis University. The report is based on interviews and online surveys of 1,534 Birthright alumni in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Toronto, the four largest Jewish communities in North America.

“It means we have a lot of work to do,” says Daniel Brenner, executive director of Birthright Israel NEXT, a national organization that tries to steer alumni toward greater Jewish involvement in their home communities.

The Birthright program was instituted in 2000 by mega-philanthropists concerned about what they perceived as the younger generation’s lack of Jewish involvement. Numerous formal and informal evaluations show participants’ connection to Israel and the Jewish community are enhanced by their trip, but that does not translate into ongoing Jewish involvement, according to the new report.

“Years after their trip, Taglit alumni continue to look more like ‘tourists’ than ‘citizens’ in the Jewish community world,” the report’s authors write. “Although they value their Jewish identities, most have only limited participation in Jewish communal life.”

The report shows that 44 percent of Birthright alumni who are no longer in college have not attended any Jewish program since their return from Israel. A further 39 percent have attended just one or two programs. Only 4 percent have taken part in more than four programs.

Toronto shows the greatest success at keeping this population somewhat engaged, with 63 percent of returnees participating in at least one Jewish event. Report co-author Fern Chertok attributes that to the close-knit nature of Toronto’s Jewish community, which keeps Birthright returnees apprised of a well-planned schedule of Jewish programs.

In New York, where 43 percent of returnees have not attended any Jewish program since their Israel trip, researchers found an array of Jewish offerings but little effort to communicate that information to Birthright alumni. Asked whether they had even heard of a dozen Jewish organizations offering programs for their age, the largest number—67 percent—said they knew of the JCC Manhattan and the Y’s at 92nd Street and 14th Street, but just 20 percent had attended events there. Other Jewish programs showed even less participation and were lesser known.

Los Angeles showed the greatest number of completely disengaged alumni, with 53 percent saying they had attended no Jewish programs since Israel. San Francisco had higher numbers of alumni taking part in one to four activities—43 percent and 10 percent, respectively—but just 1 percent who said they attended five or more.

Both California cities are hampered by a lack of good programs, say the report’s authors. Those that exist, particularly “Friday Night Live in L.A.” and the “Bay Area Tribe” and “Late Shabbat” in San Francisco, are high profile and do draw crowds.

The alumni surveyed in all four cities said they would like to be more involved than they were in Jewish life. Most preferred small gatherings to large, anonymous “meat market” Jewish events.

“They’re happy to eat free food and drink free beer at those big events, but they don’t feel it meets their needs to find Jewish community,” Chertok reports.

Respondents also said they were interested in learning more about Judaism and Jewish culture and history, including Hebrew, but were wary of outreach groups with a perceived “religious” agenda. They also wanted a network of friends to share those experiences as a way of re-creating the camaraderie they felt on their Israel trips.

“Birthright shows people that being part of a group, a Jewish group, is a meaningful experience,” report co-author Leonard Saxe says. “They come back hungry for that, and most communities don’t provide them with a set of those experiences.”

Birthright NEXT, which has chapters in New York and, as of last year, San Francisco, is taking those tips to heart, Brenner says.

Last fall, the organization launched NEXT Shabbat, which encourages Birthright alumni to host Shabbat meals in their homes. It’s a peer-driven project, Brenner says: Invitees RSVP online, Birthright NEXT provides resources and recipes on its Web site, and it picks up the tab after hosts submit feedback, which often includes posting photos.

So far, Brenner reports, 2,000 such Shabbat dinners have been held in the past six months. The average age of participants is 25, and 65 percent of the hosts said they had never invited people to a Shabbat meal before. In 2009, Brenner projects 70,000 young participants.

“We need to make drastic changes in New York,” he acknowledges. “There are so many alumni here, and just 5 percent say they participate ‘a lot.’ ”

NEXT Shabbat seems to appeal to New Yorkers, he says: About 28 percent of Birthright participants come from the New York area, which also provides about 28 percent of those taking part in NEXT Shabbat meals.

Brenner points out that many young Jews sign up for Birthright just because it’s a free trip.

“They have no intention of doing anything afterwards,” he says. “But if we can meet their real needs, I have no doubt we can help the majority build Jewish community.”

Jews by Choice bolster ties with first Israel mission

Misty Zollars knew she wanted to be Jewish ever since she was 13, when her best friend invited her to her first Passover seder.

“I found the afikoman, and I knew I was going to be a Jew,” said Zollars, now 28, of Sherman Oaks. “The warmth of the family tradition and the concept of tikkun olam (healing the world) just made sense to me. After I converted, I felt this need to go to Israel, but I discovered there wasn’t really a trip out there for people like me.”

So Zollars helped create one.

Next February, the fashion designer will join a group of converts like herself to take part in a groundbreaking event: the first mission to Israel tailored specifically for so-called “Jews by Choice.” The 12-day trip, led by Rabbis Neal Weinberg and Joel Rembaum, will take up to 40 travelers through Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, the Golan Heights and other locales to help foster a connection with the Jewish homeland that new recruits might not otherwise feel. Organizers say there are still openings for people to sign up before the Oct. 15 application deadline.

“This is a special trip for people who have become Jewish,” said Weinberg, director of the Louis and Judith Miller Introduction to Judaism program at American Jewish University. “There are a lot of people who have converted to Judaism who are 27, 28, 29 years old. They’re too old for [Taglit] Birthright now, and yet they’re young and they’ve never had the experience of going to Israel. To them, Israel is a faraway country. This is a way of making it come closer to them.”

Many of the trip’s participants — who span all ages and are both single and married — are graduates of the Miller Introduction to Judaism program. Having led the program since 1986, Weinberg said he saw a need for more programs geared toward new members of the Jewish community who still had questions after their classes ended.

The trip to Israel is sponsored, in part, by Judaism by Choice Inc., an organization that Weinberg and his wife, Miri, founded in 2005. Its purpose is to aid students seeking inclusion into the community who might feel overwhelmed by the prayers and rituals of a typical Shabbat service.

“There is a lack of programming for this niche in the community — for people who have embraced Judaism,” Weinberg said. “Before you can learn to ride a bicycle, you’ve got to have the training wheels. What we offer is extra support.”

Weinberg appointed Zollars to the board of of Judaism by Choice, which holds Shabbat dinners and Saturday morning services each month at synagogues throughout the L.A. area, including Temple Beth Am, Sinai Temple and Valley Beth Shalom. Zollars had been observing Shabbat and keeping kosher since converting in 2006, but she also sought another, less-accessible part of the Jewish experience — going to Israel.

“I knew that if I was having these frustrations, there would be other people in the community, as well, looking for a trip like this,” she said.

Zollars suggested a mission to Israel to the board of Judaism by Choice, and enthusiasm grew. Jill Sperling, another board member, called Rembaum at Temple Beth Am to help arrange the trip.

“I thought the idea was exciting and important and said I’d love to help,” said Rembaum, who arranged the itinerary earlier this year. “Jews by Choice are wonderful miracles. Their addition to the Jewish community is an amazing thing.”

Visiting Israel is “the big hook” that helps converted Jews relate on a gut level to Jewish history and identity, Rembaum explained.

Just ask Sperling.

“Some of my defining moments as a Jew were in Israel — just to be there and feel that connection and feel accepted,” said the Los Angeles mother of two, who has been to Israel three times in the past five years. “For my family, our connection to Israel has really helped us grow as Jews. Israel is the key that inspires you and excites you. That’s something you can’t get in a classroom.”

Sperling, 44, took Weinberg’s Miller Introduction to Judaism program in 1989 with her husband, Skip Sperling, who is Jewish by birth. The course renewed the couple’s devotion to their religion, and they enrolled both their children — Sofia, 12, and Elliot, 15 — in Rabbi Jacob Pressman Academy at Temple Beth Am. Sperling and Sofia just returned in May from a visit to Israel with the Pressman Academy through The Jewish Federation’s Tel Aviv-Los Angeles Partnership program.

As an Israel “veteran,” Sperling said she hopes to be a mentor to her fellow Jews by Choice on the February trip. “Because I’ve already been there, I feel like I can support other people while they’re there,” she said. “This will be life-changing for people who have chosen to be Jewish.”

Participants will fly to Tel Aviv and visit Independence Hall, before embarking on a cross-country tour with stops at Masada, Yad Vashem, Safed (the birthplace of kabbalah), the Upper Galilee and the Kotel. Besides exploring popular landmarks, they will also meet with Israeli residents who have converted to Judaism — both those who converted in Israel through the Masorti (Conservative) movement and those who converted outside of the country and made aliyah.

“People often don’t think about the different needs of people who convert to Judaism on a trip to Israel,” Weinberg said. “Most of them are going to see the country for the first time with fresh eyes. They weren’t brought up with an understanding of the centrality of Israel to the Jewish people.”

The program is open to Jews by Choice of all denominations, along with their spouses or significant others. The per-person cost of the trip — $3,000, including the flight — was kept low with support from Judaism by Choice, and scholarship funds are also available through several foundations and individual contributions. Weinberg said he is still seeking donations to further allay the cost for those who might not be able to afford the trip on their own.

Zollars said she is eagerly awaiting the chance to connect with the homeland to which she has always felt drawn.

“It’s almost like a graduation feeling,” she said. “It is, in a way, the last and first step in my journey as a Jew. Being surrounded and embraced by Judaism would make me so happy. It would be like a trip home for me.”

To learn more or sign up for the trip, e-mail MistyZollars@yahoo.com or Sperling@pacbell.net, or call Cori Drasin at Temple Beth Am, (310) 652-7353. The deadline is Oct. 15.

Parents cash in on kids’ Birthright

Jenny Meyer was feeling guilty, and she was willing to use that guilt to get what she wanted — a free trip to Israel for her parents.

Judy and Wayne Meyer live in La Grange, Ill. (about 13 miles west of Chicago) — the nearest synagogue is 30 minutes away — and had been talking about fulfilling a lifelong dream by going to Israel this October. The Meyers had never been out of the country (well, Toronto) and their daughter was excited that they would finally experience the ancientness and diversity of Israeli culture, as well as the comfort of being surrounded by Jews, as she had when she went on Taglit-Birthright Israel with a young professionals group from Los Angeles in 2007.

Then Meyer, who lives in Sherman Oaks and works for Princess Cruises, got engaged and, with a February wedding to be paid for, talk of the Israel trip dropped.

Until she heard about “Let My Parents Go.”

Birthright sponsored a video contest for alumni of the program to convince Birthright to send their parents on the same 10-day trip that energized their kids.

Meyer submitted a video that spoofed a political press conference, as she stood in front of an American flag and took questions from reporters about why her parents should win the trip.

When the Meyers found out they had made it into the finals — 18 videos from the 80 valid entries submitted were selected by Birthright staff — they sent out an e-mail to everyone they knew asking for their votes on the Birthright Web site, where a public tally was to determine the winner.

Aside from everyone in La Grange, they got votes from their dry cleaner’s family in Korea, friends of friends of friends in Hong Kong and Turkey, and soldiers in Israel who were on Jenny’s Birthright bus. This month, the Meyers joined eight other winning families in Israel.

Others on the trip include the Feinman family of Clearwater, Fla. Daughter Rachel Blatt, who is entering American Jewish University in Los Angeles as a rabbinic student, and son, Mark Feinman, who is studying jazz in New York, submitted a video in which they conspire over an early morning (really early for Blatt, on Pacific time) phone call to send their parents to Israel as a 30th wedding anniversary gift.

The phone conversation is interspersed with clips of the parents talking about their opposite likes — Renee Feinman is a biology teacher who loves people, hiking and eating in. Alan Feinman is a human resource manager who moonlights as a drummer in a klezmer band and likes quiet weekends, urban vacations and eating out. One thing they can agree on: They want to go to Israel.

“It’s unbearably exciting,” Renee Feinman said in a whole-family phone interview before the trip. “I saw how exciting and inspiring it was for my children, and how when they came they had been changed, and I’m looking forward to being that person.”

Extending the Birthright privilege

Sophie Ambrose grew up without religion on a hippie commune near Jerusalem, Ark. Her mother had rejected Judaism, her father had rejected his Christian background. Ambrose explored churches on her own as a teenager, took a world religions class in college, and as a graduate student in Kansas, began to seek out Hillel and the sparse local Jewish life. Then one day, looking for classes, she Googled “Judaism + college + students” and came upon the Taglit-Birthright Web site.

The offer of a free, 10-day trip to Israel, which the Jewish community has been gifting to 18- to 26-year-old Jews since 2000, changed the trajectory of Ambrose’s life.

The first stop on the Birthright trip Ambrose took during the winter of 2003-04 — straight from the airport — was Masada, the first-century mountaintop site high above the Judean Desert that serves as a symbol of Jewish heroism.

“Everyone was really cranky and tired, and they made us hike Masada, and I remember this moment I had, this moment of standing there and hearing this story of our ancestors being there before us,” said Ambrose, a doctoral student in speech pathology for deaf children, during a recent phone interview from her apartment in the Pico-Robertson area. “And I was looking out at this land, that in some way I was beginning to picture belonged to me, and there was this moment where I went from being not connected, to being connected.”

Birthright’s success in awakening a connection to Jewish heritage and Israel is unprecedented in American Jewish life. As the number of alumni continues to multiply, they are infusing new energy into American Jewry.

Ambrose is one of approximately 10,000 Birthright alumni living in Los Angeles. By the end of this summer, North America will be home to 191,000 Jewishly pumped Birthright alumni. Around 24,000 North Americans and another 4,000 Jews from around the world will have made the pilgrimage this summer alone, and 16,000 were placed on waiting lists and didn’t get to go this round. In addition, more than 13,000 North Americans went last winter.

If those numbers persist, within the next decade about half of all Jewish young adults will have been on a Birthright Israel trip, turning it into a rite of passage almost as common as a bar or bat mitzvah.

The question now facing the organizers of Birthright — and the rest of the Jewish community — is what to do with all those alumni.

Ambrose has become a veritable Birthright poster child — she has both taken and taught several classes in Judaism, returned to Israel twice, become involved in The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and other organizations, currently serves on the United Jewish Communities speakers bureau and now observes Shabbat and kosher laws and has even gotten her mother to go to High Holy Days services. But most Birthright alumni, though their attitudes change, need more of a push to make behavioral changes.

“The idea of Birthright was to create a spark in people who really needed a spark if they were to remain in some meaningful sense Jewish, and it has done that,” philanthropist Michael Steinhardt said in a phone interview. “But it’s just 10 days.”

Steinhardt, along with Charles and Andrea Bronfman, envisioned and began funding Birthright in 1999.

“I feel extraordinarily gratified that those 10 days have worked as well as they have for as many people as they have, and that Birthright has grown to the point where, frankly, it is the only new entity in the Jewish world that is really something that catches the imagination of anybody,” he said. “But again, 10 days is 10 days. The real challenge is taking that spark and igniting it.”

In the past year, Steinhardt has fueled the next chapter of Birthright with cash and an organizational structure in the form of a new program, Birthright NEXT, founded with a budget of about $8 million and aimed at keeping alumni connected and focused on creating a vibrant Jewish life.

But harnessing alumni energy for long-term behavioral changes — for their own benefit and for the Jewish community’s invigoration — is proving to be a more difficult goal than the formidable but circumscribed goal of changing lives in just 10 days.

Birthright Israel, sex and the column

Birthright Israel

Your idea of creating multiple levels of free services and programs for various Jewish groups is brilliant (“Free at Last,” June 6). In retrospect, and l’havdil, we should take a lesson from Hamas and Hezbollah. What gives these organizations their popular support among the masses is the free medical clinics, schooling, mosques, food, etc., that they provide to their people, filling a gap that is not provided by the local governments.

Their continuous belligerence against Israel provides spiritual fulfillment to the masses and at the same time causing the suffering and misery. If it were not for this war mongering, Hamas and Hezbollah could have been a huge community success.

Birthright provides a spiritual and apolitical fulfillment. While most Jewish people do not need the material support, your suggestions for apolitical “Jewright” can provide the spiritual fulfillment within the Jewish community and increasing the bond among the people.

Nahum Gat
Manhattan Beach

Once again, you hit the nail on the head. It is hard to believe that Birthright has been in existence only eight years. I wish it had been around when I was growing up.

Our 26-year-old twins went on separate trips, and each returned transformed in different ways. After Birthright, one son gave up sports marketing and became program director at UC Davis Hillel. He is now focusing his career in the Jewish nonprofit arena.

The other son saved his money and got some help from the Jewish Free Loan Association. He left a successful job in film post-production and is now working in Israel for a year. These transformations would never have happened without Birthright Israel.

Our children’s enthusiasm has trickled down (or up) to me and my husband, who have secular Jewish roots. Woefully uninformed on Israel, we subscribe to The Journal to educate ourselves and help us feel more in tune with our sons.
Neither of us has ever been to Israel. Like many baby boomers, we are treading to keep afloat financially and can’t make the journey. We hope to do it some day.

In the meantime, I wish some philanthropist would fund “Deathright Israel” — to guarantee all American Jews one visit to Israel before they die.

Susan Amerikaner

Sex and the Column

We always hear about the negative impact that pop stars like Britney Spears have on the teens and preteens that look up to them as role models (“Sex and the Column,” June 6). It’s even sadder when an adult Jewish female like Orit Arfa tries to emulate the characters of “Sex and the City.”

During this Shavuot holiday period, it might do Arfa well to brush up on her study of the Jewish women in our rich history: Sarah, Rebecca, Leah, Rachel and Ruth are better characters to pattern one’s life after than Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte and Samantha.

Daniel Iltis
Los Angeles

The Wright Flap

In his long diatribe against Sen. Barack Obama, the writer exposes himself as a right-wing ideologue (Letters, June 6). For example, he included the exact words repeated for days by right-wing media and blogger dittoheads that Obama had thrown his “grandmother under the bus” because Obama, in his memorable speech on March 18, 2008, said that he had some understanding of white racisim from his own white grandmother (who helped raise him), when at times she expressed it in his presence.

By his attempt to show some understanding of the issue, Obama no more threw his grandmother under the bus than the Rev. John Hagee (who the writer shamelessly defends) tolerates our religious belief. Sen. John McCain literally begged Hagee (a professed bigot) for his endorsement and only disavowed it when it was publicly disclosed that Hagee incredulously said Hitler was sent by God to murder 6 million of us to create the State of Israel.

It is wishful thinking by the writer that Obama’s chance to be president has been torpedoed by his past association with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. McCain and the writer want us to focus on this guilt by association nonissue, rather than on Obama’s own actions and words and the terrible political and economic conditions our beloved country has fallen into under the Bush/Cheney regime.

For the future well-being of our country (and Israel’s), we have to change course and not pursue the same disastrous one that McCain assures us he intends to continue.

George Magit

MBA Student Success

Every week, when The Jewish Journal arrives, I look for the American Jewish University (AJU) “success” ads (Advertisement, June 6). You’ve probably seen them. They feature graduate students of various ages and backgrounds.

This month, AJU featured an MBA student — Noelle Ito, the 27-year-old director of development for the Little Tokyo Service Center. Our family is acquainted with Noelle in a different context. Noelle was a high school classmate of our late son. Throughout his battle with cancer, which began during their senior years in college, Noelle exhibited incredible loyalty and support.

She inspired others to stay connected. After our son died in 2004, Noelle was a prime mover in implementing a fundraiser in his memory. Thanks to Noelle, the all-volunteer 2nd Lt. Andrew Jacob Torres Memorial Golf Classic has raised more than $230,000 for cancer research.

Noelle brings tremendous energy, organization and style to all our efforts. It has been said that “one day, cancer will be a disease of the past.” When that day comes, the credit will go to the Noelle Ito’s of the world and also to the institutions, like AJU, which nurture them.

Anita Susan Brenner
La Canada Flintridge

An Opinion essay by Arnold Steinberg ("Historic Prop. 13 Property Tax Revolt Turns 30," June 6), omitted the fact that the article was reprinted from the Weekly Standard. The Journal regrets the error.

Free at last!

Last Sunday night (June 1) in an amphitheatre outside Jerusalem, I had a flash of insight into how to get disaffected Jews excited and involved in Jewish life: Make it free!

I was at something called the Birthright Israel Mega Event. Birthright is the eight-year-old program that has brought more than 170,000 Jewish young people from 53 countries to Israel for 10-day trips, all expenses paid. By most measures it has been a phenomenal success. Kids with no or limited connection to their heritage become deeply attached, or at least intrigued. They form lifelong bonds with peers from other states or other countries. They see the best of Israel having the best of times, and the impression is lasting and positive.

I rode a wave of that enthusiasm Sunday night in Latrun. “Birthright, ARE YOU READY TO PARTY??!!!!” screamed emcee Michael HarPaz to a packed amphitheatre of some 7,500 young people.

Strobe lights raked the stage, giant Star of David-shaped balloon sculptures floated in the breeze, and when the Birthrighters leapt up and screamed “YEAH!!” a series of synchronized fireworks shot out from behind the bandstand and dazzled in the warm, starry night.

Birthright, with an annual budget of $104 million, was created and initially funded by American Jewish mega-philanthropists Charles Bronfman and Michael and Judy Steinhardt. It now receives major support from the Israeli government, as well as from other private, mostly American Jewish donors. Many of them were seated in the first few rows of the mega-event — Bronfman, the Steinhardts, Lynn Shusterman and Gary and Karen Winnick, among others. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert spoke, thanking the donors, the emcee thanked the donors, a video featured the donors, the donors took the stage and thanked one another — for at least 45 minutes, the event recalled that scene in “The King and I” where grateful Siamese come, on bended knee, to honor the benevolent Yul Brynner.

But so what — they deserve it. And it was in the midst of the thank-a-thon that my epiphany occurred: Why do this just for 20-somethings?

Clearly, the Bronfman/Steinhardt brainchild worked. And a great part of its success has been due to three factors.

First, it is professionally done. Israel, a country that can’t seem to organize a line at a bus stop, has managed to shepherd thousands of wild and crazy young people on a meticulously planned itinerary twice a year for 10 days without breaking a sweat.

Second, Birthright gives these Jews something they need at that point in their lives, even if they themselves don’t know it.

Finally, it’s free. A trip that costs thousands of dollars per participant is handed out like a money-stuffed attaché case on “Deal or No Deal.” It doesn’t matter if the participant is the child of a single mom working three low-wage jobs or the scion of a Cincinnati ladies’ support-hose magnate, your money’s no good here.

To summarize: Excellent + Relevant + Free = Huge Success.

It turns out the success of many other Jewish outreach initiatives boils down to this same formula. Think of the new minyans and congregations who don’t ask for a dime but offer a great spiritual experience.

Think of Chabad, arguably one of the most successful outreach organizations of any religion. Their services are free, and so is their schnaps.

Think of the scholarships that various communities and schools offer young people for study in Jewish institutions: There is never a lack of applicants.

Finally, think of this very newspaper and Web site, offered at no cost to anyone who takes the trouble to pick it up or click on it.

It turns out that uninspired, unattached, unaffiliated Jews are easy to lure into the fold: Just give them something good for free.

So, my suggestion is, extend the Birthright brand. You want to rock the Jewish world? Tell every 30-something with children their first year of Jewish school tuition is gratis. That’s right: one free year of Jewish education to every child — Call it Schoolright.

How about Campright — a free week of summer camp for every Jewish teen?

And of course, Prayright — one year’s free temple membership to any Jew, anywhere.

And while we’re at it, what’s wrong with Dateright — one year of free membership in the online Jewish dating service of your choice, for any Jew of any age.

I’ll stop for a moment to stress I’m not being arch or facetious. The common beef against Jewish institutions is that they don’t strive for excellence and that they cost too much. Birthright’s mega-philanthropists demanded business-world accountability and performance and they paid for it. In return, they have changed hundreds of thousands of hearts.

With the same level of competence and commitment, the same could be done for young parents in their 30s who never really considered Jewish schools, for parents in their 40s who are too stretched to pay summer camp bills, for singles in their 20s, 50s or 80s wary of the Jewish dating services but willing to try it — for free.

As the Birthright Mega Event in Latrun went on that evening, there were Israeli singers and dancers, drummers, a great band, a real helicopter that landed and disgorged a real Israeli soldier, much flag-waving, more fireworks and, after 10 p.m., an all-out dance jam that sent the screaming joyous masses into a sweaty, hormone-stoked Zionist frenzy until the early morning hours.

I saw the future of Jewish philanthropy at Latrun — the “Field of Dreams” approach to the Jewish future:

If you build it, they will come. Just make sure a mega-donor picks up the tab.

MUSIC VIDEO: Michelle Citron — ‘I Gotta’ Love You Rosh Hashanah’

A musical New Year’s greeting from the Rosh HaShanah Girl and Taglit-birthright-israel—a huge YouTube video hit.


Real life comedy at the flea market in Jaffa, Israel

Here’s all we know: A wacky college student on a Taglit-birthright trip to Israel found a kindred spirit at the flea market in Jaffa . . .

Requests Swamp Israel Trip Program

Birthright Israel has received many more applications for its upcoming trips than it has spaces available. Approximately 14,000 young Jews applied for 8,000 spots in the program’s spring/summer trips this year in just the first 12 hours of registration Feb. 8.

The organization provides free trips to Israel for Jews ages 18 to 26. In the six years since its founding, Birthright has brought 98,000 people from 45 countries to Israel. The upcoming trip will include the program’s 100,000th participant.

“The level of demand is unprecedented and well exceeds our financial capability to accommodate the majority of those who currently wish to go on Taglit-Birthright Israel trips,” said Susie Gelman, Birthright Israel Foundation chair.

Taglit is the Hebrew name for the program.

“As Taglit-Birthright Israel grows rapidly and develops into a community-supported organization, we hope that our friends will support us in enabling more young Jews to participate in the Taglit-Birthright Israel experience, so that we can send the 100,000th participant and plan for the next 100,000,” Gelman said.