Who would have thought when the Birthright Israel program was founded 20 years ago, that our…
Though more and more young Jews these days are conflicted about their heritage and faith, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks z’’l was optimistic about the future of the Jewish people. “We are super-resilient people,” said the respected spiritual leader. “The more pressure we’ve been under, the stronger we’ve become.”
Take Israel, for example. The Jewish State has faced unrelenting threats to her existence, every day for the past 72 years, yet she grows stronger and stronger.
“If you want Jewish children to really understand the life-transforming power of resilience, you need to bring them to Israel,” said Rabbi Sacks. “Right now … this sense of being part of a people whose story and identity is one defined by super-resilience and hope is the greatest gift we can give our children, and one they desperately need.”
Rabbi Sacks’s theory on the resilience of the Jewish people is proven time and time again by the gift of Birthright Israel. Here’s how our life-changing educational trips are a beacon of hope and resiliency that will carry through to future generations of Jews.
The trip is a gift.
Over the past 20 years, Birthright Israel Foundation has helped give the gift of a life-changing trip to Israel to more than 800,000 Jewish young adults. We aim to send nearly 50,000 participants each year. They are at an age when they’re eager to learn about their homeland and their heritage, but they’re typically unable to afford such a trip on their own. The unique educational and experiential opportunity is thanks to the support of individual donors, as well as some Jewish institutional support.
“To the 40,000 donors who gave me this gift, I just want to say, ‘Todah rabah!! Birthright Israel changed my life,’” said alumna Alexis Vance. “I left Israel with a stronger sense of comfort, health and self-identity. And I returned to the U.S. a happier and prouder Jew.
The trip educates and inspires.
Participants visit historical and cultural sites throughout Israel, celebrate Shabbat, and get a true glimpse into everyday Israeli life. They are also educated on the facts about the creation of Israel, which helps them become advocates for their homeland, and battle anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiment back home.
“The value of Birthright Israel is how it helps connect young Jews personally with their heritage rather than learning about it on a screen or while seated in a random classroom,” said alumna Jordyn Landau.
Alumna Olivia Lavador, meanwhile, said Birthright Israel helped her feel “empowered to speak up on behalf of my Jewish heritage and beliefs.” It’s a sense of empowerment that she believes will last forever.
Added donor Rob Clarfeld: “I believe that by meaningfully exposing younger generations to Israel and showing them where we come from, they lose their sense of entitlement. Israel is more than a country, it is our obligation.”
The trip has many unique features.
One of the most unique aspects of Birthright Israel is our niche trips, which are tailored to the varied interests of our participants. Nice trips are becoming more and more popular, with one in five Birthright Israel participants choosing to go on one. Here are just some of the trip themes:
- Differently Abled
- Extreme Outdoors
- Mindfulness and Spirituality
- Spices of Israel
- International Business
- Israel Underwater
- Culinary Israel
Alumna Haley Albin went on an Arts and Entertainment niche trip, and she said it was “the first time in forever” that being Jewish felt like a valid part of her identity. She wants to become a trip leader to help validate others who don’t feel “Jewish enough” and give them “a desire to explore their Jewish heritage.”
So far, over 115,000 young Israelis have come together with Diaspora Jews as Mifghashim (Israeli peers) for Birthright Israel. As one unnamed Mifgash said: “My shared journey with Jewish friends from throughout the world strengthened me and helped me understand, in a deep and meaningful way, that what I am doing here is for the benefit of all the Jewish people.”
The trip connects the generations.
Birthright Israel inspired a newfound connection between alumna Alix Ablaza and her 98-year-old grandmother. The duo spent several hours talking about Israel after her trip, including memories Ablaza had never heard before. They have gone on to create new memories around the Shabbat table.
Alumna Jenna Pfeffer hopes her daughter will someday experience Birthright Israel. “It is with great joy and hope that I imagine the day that my daughter, the great-granddaughter of three Holocaust survivors, leaves for her Birthright Israel trip,” she said, adding, “How proud would her great grandparents be?”
Alumnus Aidan Segal, meanwhile, went on Birthright Israel in honor of his late Bubbe and Zayde. “Like their misfortune of never having gone to Israel, I never got to meet them,” said Segal. Now the three are all connected by “this small, but powerful piece of land.”
The trip guarantees continuity of the Jewish people.
Here’s some good news for the future of the Jewish people: We are the ultimate Jewish matchmakers. But don’t just take our word for it. We have proof.
The Maurice and Marilyn Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies at Brandeis University has been conducting rigorous research on Birthright Israel since our inception, polling participants upon their return from Israel. Our participants are 54 percent more likely to marry someone Jewish.
Alumni Nikki Labaschin and Joey Torres signed up for Birthright Israel so they could connect with their Jewish heritage. They never expected it to mean they would find their soulmate. “If you think about it, your gift has a generational impact,” said the couple to Birthright Israel Foundation’s donors. “We will, G-d willing, have Jewish children, who will have Jewish children, who will have Jewish children, all because of your gift of connection.”
In addition to marriage and children, Birthright Israel participants also find other ways to connect to their Jewish heritage. On average, participants are:
- 93 percent more likely to be very much connected to Israel
- 53 percent more likely to have mostly or all Jewish friends
- 36 percent more likely to get involved in their communities
We can’t do it without you.
While the numbers from Brandeis University are encouraging and alumni testimonials are inspiring, the story is far from over. Experiencing the land of Israel—its people, culture, religion, history—is an essential tool for today’s Jewish young adults to develop a strong connection to their Jewish heritage.