Ashley Horine was taught about Israel and claiming her birthright by her grandfather, a Holocaust survivor she affectionately refers to as Poppy. Even so, for much of her life, she considered her Jewish heritage a “thing” without meaning.
After Poppy passed away, however, Horine spoke with his rabbi who reiterated Poppy’s desire to see his granddaughter go to Israel, sharing the words he often repeated: “One day, my motek will go, and her soul will be fulfilled.” Horine signed up for the gift of Birthright Israel soon after, and the experience changed her life. Not only did she gain a newfound passion for Israel, but her entire family became more involved in the Jewish community.
Birthright Israel Foundation has helped send 750,000 Jewish young adults like Horine to Israel over the past 20 years. Each has returned with a newfound appreciation of their Jewish heritage.
Let’s take a closer look at what makes these life-changing transformations possible.
Birthright Israel Increases Israel Awareness
The past few generations of Jews don’t know a world without Israel. Although they probably learned about the atrocities of the Holocaust and the Farhud, they often take Israel’s existence for granted. The gift of Birthright Israel remedies this unfortunate disconnect in the following ways:
Birthright Israel provides participants with easy access.
Birthright Israel connects Jewish young adults to Israel by making the decision to travel there easy and accessible. All Jewish young adults, no matter their level of Jewish involvement or economic status, are eligible to go to Israel with no out-of-pocket cost.
Their journey to the land of milk and honey is an action-packed gift. Participants safely visit Israeli cities, heritage sites, and cultural institutions along with a tour educator, two staff members, a medic, and at least one trained security guard. While the trip educates them on their religion, culture, and heritage, it also kindles lifelong connections between participants and ultimately helps maintain the integrity of the Jewish people.
Birthright Israel teaches participants the facts.
The growing Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement on college campuses poisons the minds of young adults, both Jewish and non-Jewish. Just this month, a student running for the undergraduate senate at Stanford University made headlines for her anti-Semitic tweets promoting BDS, including: “If you still support Israel, you can choke, honestly.”
Birthright Israel alumnus Cole Keister encountered a similar onslaught of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic sentiment as a student at Portland State University. As he explained to the Jewish News Syndicite (JNS), “They were calling out Jewish people and weren’t even being anti-Israel, just straight up anti-Semitic.”
Like others on his Birthright Israel trip, Keister learned how to speak about Israel factually. He even went on to become president of the campus’s Israel group so he could fight the misinformation firsthand. “I have learned to be a leader,” Keister told JNS. “I went on Birthright, and now here I am.”
Birthright Israel connects participants with their homeland.
Ask any alumnus, recent or not, and he or she will be sure to give you an earful on the joys of Israel. Alumnus Corey Black, for instance, said the 10 days he spent in Israel showed him there is another home for him, adding “I know my mom is proud that I was able to participate in this program and reconnect to my Jewish roots.”
This strengthened connection to Israel, Jewish communities, and Jewish identity is confirmed in studies by Brandeis University. In one study, 93 percent of participants reported that they were more likely to be “very much” connected to Israel after Birthright Israel.
Birthright Israel Sparks Interest in Jewish Life
Birthright Israel may be limited to Jews of a certain age group, but that’s where the limits end. Birthright Israel Foundation gifts the trip to Jewish young adults from all walks of life.
Not only does every participant have a different level of Jewish knowledge and interest, they all return home from the trip with a renewed passion for Jewish life. This success rate is documented in the Brandeis study:
- 84 percent of participants who are parents are raising Jewish children
- Birthright Israel alumni are 41 percent more likely to participate in Jewish social events often
- Participants are 36 percent more likely to get involved in their Jewish community
Alumnus Brian Quinn grew up in an interfaith and interracial home where both of his faiths took a back seat. Now he proudly wears his Star of David necklace. In a video, Quinn discusses discovering his Jewish heritage on Birthright Israel after growing up both Christian and Jewish.
How is it possible to instill Jewish values in participants with such varying Jewish upbringings? Take a look:
Birthright Israel is 100 percent pluralistic.
Birthright Israel participants learn there’s not one way to be Jewish. The experience is pluralistic, inclusive, and apolitical, giving everyone an equal place in sharing their voice about Judaism, Israel, and identity.
“This trip taught me that there is no one size fits all, no perfect way to be Jewish,” said alumna Sarah Fielding. “To be Jewish is to be part of a community of people who accept you for who you are, breathing in the shared stories that define who you are, and together choosing where the culture will continue next.”
Birthright Israel offers tailored experiences.
Along with the classic Birthright Israel trip experience, participants can sign up for a trip that is tailored to their particular interests. Some examples of these themed trips include:
Alumnus Aaron Kaufman took part in the No Limits accessibility trip, designed for participants with reduced mobility. A wheelchair user with cerebral palsy, he quickly developed deep bonds with all 12 group members and staff.
“I realized for the first time that I am not alone and there are people like me,” he said. “I had the most candid conversations I’ve ever had with friends on the bus because of similar experiences that we could share in a safe space.”
Birthright Israel creates lasting relationships.
Whether romantic or otherwise, participants on Birthright Israel make lifelong connections with other participants, trip staff, and the people of Israel. Overall, participants are 41 percent more likely to marry someone Jewish and 53 percent more likely to have mostly or all Jewish friends.
Alumna Eve Karlin called the community-building nature of the trip amazing. “While I was in Israel, something magical happened,” she said. “I found my community, and it was with my fellow Jewish people. There was this connection I had with a busload of strangers that became my closest friends in a way I couldn’t even imagine. I went to Israel with no community, and I came back with forty strangers who became my family, my community.”
Born and raised in Russia, Nikita Rotin didn’t even know he was Jewish until he was 16. He had no knowledge of Jewish traditions and never celebrated a Jewish holiday. Not only is he now religious, but he wants Judaism and Israel to play a significant role in his life. As he told eJewish Philanthropy, “We traveled with strangers who later became our friends.”
Birthright Israel participants pay it forward.
Many Birthright Israel participants give back to the Jewish community by working for a Jewish organization or getting more involved in the community.
Alumna Casey Dresbach, for instance, became the first female president of her campus Hillel at University of Miami. Other participants have gone one to work for Jewish non-profits (35 percent of the staff at Birthright Israel Foundation are program alumni). Some participants have even become rabbis.
Alumnus Jason Cohen told Fox News his trip not only inspired him to become more involved in his synagogue and the Jewish Community Center, but he hopes to help the next generation discover their faith.
Birthright Israel Guarantees the Vibrancy of the Jewish People
While it’s impossible to quantify the importance of preserving Jewish heritage in dollars, we do know that we have an annual fundraising goal of $172 million, aiming to send 50,000 Jewish young adults to Israel. We can’t do it without your help.
The remarkable success rate of Birthright Israel Foundation is completely dependent, year after year, upon donors like you. Every dollar you give helps guarantee the vibrancy of the Jewish Diaspora for generations to come.