Eating falafel with new friends. Touching the Kotel (Western Wall) in Jerusalem. Hiking Masada at sunrise. The unwavering connection you felt to your Jewish homeland the moment the plane touched down.
Whether it’s been a few weeks or several years, you’re probably still reminiscing about the countless memories you created on your Birthright Israel trip. We know that the many alumni who currently work for Birthright Israel Foundation—roughly 35 percent of our staff—reminisce all the time.
Even they have a hard time believing that their life-changing experience in Israel was a gift when people around the globe save up for years just to cross the holiest place on earth off their bucket list.
Since 1999, Birthright Israel Foundation has given the gift of a trip to Israel to over 750,000 Jewish young adults. Though the whirlwind experience typically lasts 10 days, behind-the-scenes Birthright Israel Foundation works year-round to make this gift possible—and here’s how.
Funding the Gift of a Lifetime
Ensuring the vibrancy of the Jewish people worldwide is not a small mission. The project launched in 1999 with only 9,500 participants but has grown $175 million annually, meaning it costs roughly $3,500 to send one participant. It also means this fundraising effort has to happen year after year, even in times like this when our trips are postponed, so we are ready to provide this gift when travel is safe again.
In an eJewish Philanthropy article, Birthright Israel CEO Gidi Mark reflects on the organization’s impact and growth over nearly two decades—and what the future holds.
“The world has experienced tremendous change over the last 20 years and our organization has remained committed to evolving as well, from extending the age eligibility for our trips to constantly introducing new programming,” he said. “We aim to continue shaping Jewish identity around the world on a massive scale and measuring that impact, especially for Diaspora Jews who are most at risk of losing ties to the community.”
Today, Birthright Israel Foundation’s dedicated fundraising staff comprises over 50 and, as we mentioned earlier, many are alumni themselves. Located in offices around the country, their sole job is to make sure that every eligible Jewish young adult in the United States and the world gets to Israel.
“We would never deny an eligible participant the opportunity to experience their heritage in the Jewish homeland,” said Pamela Fertel Weinstein. “If someone is eligible for the trip, we will go out there and find the money.”
So where do they look? Birthright Israel Foundation has staffers located throughout the US working to help deliver on this gift. Funds come from sources such as the State of Israel and worldwide Jewish community organizations, including the Jewish Federations of North America. Donations also come from nearly 40,000 individual donors and philanthropists every year.
“It’s a gift of the Jewish people to the younger generation,” said Perri Ginsberg. “These 40,000 donors are real, and they make a legitimate difference in the campaign.”
Making a Difference in Jewish Lives
Like many other alumni, 2019 Birthright Israel trip participant Chloe Meinert is grateful to donors for providing her with an experience in Israel that she will never forget.
“Without the donations, I wouldn’t have had the most memorable experience I’ve had in my life,” she said. “Birthright Israel provided me with amazing friends, my first trip outside of the US, and with even more reason to be proud of who I am as a Jew. Thank you so very much for allowing me to go on this amazing journey.”
Former Birthright Israel trip leader Leah Graff added that it’s more than a trip; she believes it is crucial for keeping Judaism alive.
“Birthright Israel is the first chance—and sometimes the only chance—that a lot of people have to see our homeland,” said Graff. “It’s vital to Jewish people’s future … and to Israel’s future.”
The trip’s impact is undeniable. Just take a look at these recent statistics from a Brandeis University study on Birthright Israel:
- Participants are 41 percent more likely to marry someone Jewish
- 84 percent of participants who are parents are raising Jewish children
- Participants are 93 percent more likely to be “very much” connected to Israel
- Birthright Israel alumni are 41 percent more likely to participate in Jewish social events often
- Participants are 53 percent more likely to have mostly or all Jewish friends
Paying It Forward: How You Can Help
Although over 750,000 Jewish young adults have gone on a Birthright Israel trip, only a small percentage of those participants have donated to Birthright Israel Foundation. If every Birthright Israel alumni donated $1 every year, we could gift 168 more participants their birthright every year.
Because every single bit of money donated to Birthright Israel Foundation goes directly toward funding Birthright Israel trips, every donation matters. We’ve received donations as large as $18 million and as little as a quarter taped to the back of a donation stub.
Don’t wait any longer. #GivingTuesdayNow is around the corner! Whether you’re fishing for spare change in your couch cushions or you’re cashing in on your bat mitzvah savings, make today the day you donate to Birthright Israel Foundation (and invite your friends to donate, too). Your contribution, big or small, will help give the lifetime of memories that you have to someone else just like you.