Birthright Israel announced on Monday that it will resume trips to Israel beginning in May for all eligible adults from the United States who are vaccinated or fully recovered from the coronavirus.
According to Birthright, dozens of trips are expected in May and June with more than 400 tour groups planned for July, August and October. The decision to allow entry for tour groups was made by the government in the wake of a successful nationwide vaccination campaign that has already reached more than 85 percent of eligible Israelis. The last trip to Israel by Birthright concluded on March 12, 2020.
“Two values we’ve always prioritized are our impeccable safety record and our commitment to innovation in ways that meet the needs of our participants and the demands of our changing world,” said Birthright Israel CEO Gidi Mark. “With the input of Israel’s Health Ministry, we’re confident that we’ve developed the best plan to safely and efficiently resume our trips, which play such a critical part in strengthening the Jewish identity of hundreds of thousands of young people around the world. The last year has been hard, but we never lost hope that there was light at the end of the tunnel. Now, the wait is over, and it is time to come back to Israel on Birthright Israel.”
Charles Bronfman, the co-founder of Birthright Israel, said “when the first Birthright Israel groups took off in December of 1999, we could never have imagined all of the incredible milestones we would hit in just 20 years. The pandemic has been heartbreaking for all of us. Needless to say, the pause in our program was so sad, but I’m thrilled to know that our participants will soon be back in Israel. The magic continues.”
In order to attend a 10-day Birthright Israel trip, fully vaccinated or recovered participants will be required to provide a negative PCR test before boarding a flight to Israel, as well as take an antibody test upon their arrival at Israel’s Ben-Gurion International Airport. Additional regulations, including the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) such as face masks or adherence to social-distancing policies, will be based on government guidelines.
Birthright will also work to secure the proper testing required by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for re-entry into America. Each tour group this season will be made up of approximately 20 participants, compared to the pre-pandemic number of 40.
Despite almost all trips being canceled for more than a year, research performed last fall by Leonard Saxe, who serves as director of Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies at Brandeis University, found that enthusiasm for the program remained high. The survey, which polled individuals who had signed up to attend a future Birthright Israel trip, found about half of respondents reported that going was “very much a priority” once it was safe to do so. The survey also found that attending a trip to Israel was a higher priority than participating in domestic travel or general international travel.
The return of programming marks the end of the only cancellations in the organization’s 20-year history. Before the outbreak of the global pandemic, Birthright Israel had provided trips for more than 750,000 young Jewish adults from 68 countries. In 2019 alone, the organization hosted 45,777 participants; that number was topped only by the 48,000 participants it brought in 2018.
Over the course of its two-decade existence, it has also contributed an estimated $1.825 billion to the Israeli economy.