Growing up around Holocaust deniers and anti-Semites, Cole Keister often felt different because he was Jewish. The kids at his rural Oregon school called him a “kike” or a “dirty Jew.” One even gave him a bible and invited him to church to be “saved.”
Upon returning from Birthright Israel in college, Keister no longer felt different. Instead, he said that he felt like “a weight was gone that I didn’t realize was there in the first place.” He went on to become the president of a pro-Israel group at Portland State University.
Over the last 20 years, Birthright Israel Foundation has gifted over 750,000 young Jewish adults like Keister with a transformative trip to Israel. While not all participants become pro-Israel activists, the vast majority return home with a strengthened connection to their heritage, peoplehood, and the Jewish state.
There are participants like Tori Greene, who thought Judaism was a bore. After Birthright Israel, she also took on an active role in Jewish life at the University of South Florida. “Birthright Israel is the red phosphorus on a box of matches that you strike a match against to ignite a flame,” she said. “I knew from this point out it was my responsibility to keep this flame going.”
Others, like Carly Rapaport and Alex Vargas, find their bashert (soulmate) on Birthright Israel. The now-married couple lived only six miles apart in Boston but met 5,000 miles away in the Holy Land.
Thanks to nearly two decades of gifts from Birthright Israel Foundation, there are tons of alumni stories like these. Every year, upwards of 50,000 Jewish young adults from around the world, with little or no attachment to Israel and Judaism, accept our life-changing gift to claim their birthright.
Together, We Are Changing Misconceptions
In many ways, the Jewish Diaspora is more connected than ever. Technology has put the world at our fingertips, opening our eyes and minds to endless possibilities.
However, an excess of geopolitical rhetoric about Israel and Judaism is drowning out the truth. As a result:
- Jews of all ages across the globe continue to face anti-Semitism and hate crimes.
- The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) found that 61 percent of Americans agree with at least one Jewish stereotype.
- Tensions on college campuses are at a fever pitch due to increased support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement and anti-Semitic sentiment.
Birthright Israel Foundation provides young Jewish adults with a sense of home and solidarity by giving them the tools to separate fact from fiction and speak truthfully of Israel to others. According to a Brandeis University study, participants of Birthright Israel experience a strengthened:
- Understanding of the current situation in Israel
- Connection to Israel and their Jewish peers
- Jewish identity
The study also found that a majority of Birthright Israel participants called the trip “one of the best experiences of my life.”
Participant, Rabbi David Levy, had no special feelings about Israel when he accepted the gift of his birthright more than 18 years ago. “Birthright Israel changed me forever,” he said, noting, “my trip was a crucial step in my becoming a rabbi today.”
Still not convinced? Brandeis University has been studying the long-term effects of Birthright Israel since the program’s inception. The numbers speak for themselves!
Birthright Israel Participant Responses
- 54% say it’s important to marry someone Jewish
- 40% are more likely to have Jewish friends
- 74% feel a connection to Israel
- 85% consider it a life-changing experience
Together, We Are Changing the World
Those we send on Birthright Israel each year are just a fraction of the greater global Jewish population. There are currently 1.4 million Jewish millennials (ages 18-34) in the United States and an estimated 1.6 million Jewish children under the age of 18.
As emerging adults, those who are eligible for Birthright Israel (ages 18 to 26) are typically at a point in their life when they are seeking answers and looking for purpose. That’s why now is the time to encourage their Jewishness and foster their bond with our ancestral homeland.
While Israel may not be a young Jewish adult’s first-choice destination, Birthright Israel Foundation eliminates the financial burden of travel, making it easy for them to connect with their roots—irrespective of personal background, political views, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, or gender identity.
What’s more, Birthright Israel caters its trips to participants’ interests, offering classic and themed trips, including:
- Arts and Culture
Birthright Israel participant Monroe Marshall is part of the transgender community. His 2017 trip enabled him to explore the intersectionality of his Jewish and LGBTQ+ identities. While he will always acknowledge himself as a Jewish American, “I now know that Israel always has a place for me, a place where I can have pride in who I am.”
Aaron Kaufman, who has cerebral palsy, participated in the No Limits Birthright Israel trip. It not only strengthened his love for Israel but helped him accept his disability. Afterwards, he started a job with the Jewish Federations of North America in Washington, DC, where he lobbies on disability issues.
As a 2014 Mifgash (Israeli participant), Shavit Rootman has a unique perspective on these Israel pilgrimages. “Birthright Israel is not merely a 10-day trip,” he said. “Instead, it brings Jewish people from all over the world to realize that they have a family to which they belong.”
Our job, by the way, doesn’t end once our participants get home. That’s why we partner with several Jewish organizations, such as Hillel International and The Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA), to help our alumni continue their Jewish journey. Alumnus are privy to our fellowship and business internship programs, and much more. We also run a program to send 27-to 32-year-olds on Birthright Israel.
Together, We Are Changing the Jewish Future One Trip at a Time
Will you help us fulfill our mission to ensure a vibrant future for the Jewish people? Donate today so we can give the gift of a Birthright Israel trip to every eligible young Jewish adult out there.
Together we can engage generation after generation to ensure the future of the Jewish people forever.