On Tuesday, October 26, 2021, Birthright Israel Foundation hosted an evening of inspiration featuring alumna Erin Schrode and…
Since it was founded over 22 years ago, more than 800,000 Jewish young adults from around the world have joyously claimed their birthright as part of a global movement to ensure a strong and vibrant future for the Jewish people. This educational and life-changing trip to the Jewish homeland is known as Birthright Israel.
In the US, Birthright Israel Foundation helps raise funds for the trip, but our participants come from 68 countries including Canada, Ukraine, Russia, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Brazil, Argentina, Austria, Australia, Mexico, Panama, the UK, India, the Netherlands, Hungary, and South Africa.
Like our US participants, many international participants had little or no connection to their Jewish heritage prior to the trip. Not only do they make Jewish friends from around the world on Birthright Israel, but they also gain a newfound connection to Israel and their heritage.
“We mainly work with donors in the United States, but they understand the immense impact this program has on young Jews worldwide. The gift of Birthright Israel knows no boundaries and welcomes any eligible young Jewish adult.” —Izzy Tapoohi, President & CEO, Birthright Israel Foundation
Our program is so successful that it has served as a model for heritage programs in countries outside of Israel including Hungary, Greece, and Macedonia.
A Global Mission
A Brandeis University study on the Impact of Birthright Israel on international participants found that prior to the trip, most were disconnected from Jewish life and more than half had no childhood Jewish experiences or celebrated a Christian tradition. The study also shows that these participants—like their American counterparts—have overwhelmingly positive impressions of the trip, particularly when it came to solidifying their relationship with and connection to Israel.
Other key findings of the benefits of Birthright Israel include:
- Fostering long-lasting personal connections with other Jews
- Positively affecting their Jewish identity and connections
- Expanding their social Jewish circles
- Giving them a sense that being Jewish means belonging to a people
Here’s a look at some of the places where Birthright Israel is changing lives.
Russia and Ukraine
Crimea resident David Pevzner was one of 3,100 Russian-speaking Birthright Israel participants who attended Birthright Israel over the summer of 2017. As Pevzner told the Jerusalem Post, he appreciated the opportunity to meet Jews from other countries. He and others from his trip were so impressed that they now express an interest in moving to Israel.
Birthright Israel alumna Jane Peimer grew up in Kiev, Ukraine and didn’t know much about Israel, Jewish culture, or belonging to the Jewish people. One her trip, she was surprised to find she had a lot in common with the Israeli participants. So much so, in fact, she ended up marrying one and settling in Tel Aviv. “Birthright Israel helped me to discover my Jewish roots and Jewish identity,” she said. “I never imagined my life would change forever when I signed up for this trip.”
Birthright Israel has had such a lasting impact on its Ukranian participants that in 2019, 2,500 alumni gathered in Odessa, Ukraine for Birthright Israel’s largest event to take place outside of Israel.
Germany, France, and Hungary
Meanwhile, in Germany the number of Birthright Israel participants is growing. In fact, other than France (which is home to the largest Jewish community in Europe), Germany has the highest number of participants in Western Europe.
Due to a rise in antisemitism, however, many young Jews in Europe are hesitant to identify with the Jewish community. But as Birthright Israel CEO Gidi Mark told Israel National News, “We are confident that their first visit to Israel will result in a lasting bond with the land and people of Israel.”
Birthright Israel’s French director, Ilanit Kourchia, agreed that Birthright Israel helps. She told The Jewish Agency for Israel that participants from France, where antisemitic attacks are rampant, are often moved in Israel by “the ability to dance freely, proudly, without having to hide that you are Jewish, without having to look left and right,” because this something they cannot do back home.
The message of one united Jewish community is never clearer than on Birthright Israel’s Intergeneration program, which unites Jewish young adults from Hungary and Holocaust survivors. The program “fosters a deep sense of shared destiny between two generations that are decades removed,” according to the Jewish Agency for Israel.
Argentina and Canada
American Birthright Israel alumnus Nathan Lightman took part in Birthright Israel with other Jewish young adults from the US, Argentina, and Israel, but he believes it doesn’t matter where a participant comes from. We are all part of the same family.
“Mixing Spanish, English, and Hebrew … we developed group jokes and hung out as family would,” he said. “During our travels, I had a conversation with each and every one of the group members … We all learned from each other about our different countries and cultures, and although some were more and some were less involved with their Jewish identities growing up, underlying all of this was the connection of having heard the same songs, eaten the same foods, and heard the same basic prayers all our lives.”
Along with these similarities, Birthright Israel also teaches its international participants that there’s no one right way to be Jewish. In 2017, for instance, Canada rolled out its first Birthright Israel trip for LGBTQ+ Jews during Tel Aviv’s Pride Week. As Jaclyn Finestone of Canada Israel Experience told the Canadian Jewish News, a tour for Jewish members of the queer community helps them connect their identities: “We can embrace our sexual orientation and gender identity within our Jewish faith.
A Global Community
Every year, Birthright Israel Foundation aims to send 50,000 Jewish young adults from around the world to Israel. It doesn’t matter whether our participants come from the US, Canada, Germany, France or some other country. As Jews, we are all part of the same vibrant community.
But we can’t preserve the future of the Jewish people globally without your help. Will you donate today?