Has your beloved family member accepted the gift of a Birthright Israel trip? Mazel tov! He or she is one step closer to embracing the Jewish homeland.
While you’re probably excited about the upcoming trip, we understand if you’re also nervous. The media and uninformed masses often spread misinformation about the Jewish state.
There are many things people get wrong Birthright Israel, even after 20 years of success. For instance, you may be worried about your bubbeleh’s safety due to news reports of violence in Israel. Don’t be. The fact is that Birthright Israel Foundation has helped send over 750,000 participants to Israel since 1999 with absolutely no security issues.
Read on as we bust the myths about Birthright Israel and give you the straight facts.
Due to political unrest in the Middle East, Israel is a danger zone for tourists.
While the American media often portrays Israel as being in constant strife, this coverage is overblown.
“Statistically, travelers are much safer in Israel than in most major American or European cities,” said Franziska Falkenberg of leading travel brand Tourist Israel. Because of strict security measures, especially screening at international land and air borders, she believes that Israel is one of the safest places to travel in the Middle East.
Alumnus Luis Burgos was hesitant to go on Birthright Israel at first because of inaccurate media portrayals. A convert to Judaism, he kept postponing his trip for a time without conflict. Then he realized that life always has conflict.
“I realized a narrative of fear and violence was being pushed on me, similar to the way communities of color portrayal is skewed to show only the shadow of our days,” said Burgos, who finally went to Israel in 2019 and found it to be peaceful. “I decided I needed to see Israel for myself and see how the people there live in reality.”
Regardless of misconceptions about safety, Birthright Israel takes maximum precautions to ensure its participants stay safe, including:
- Following the Israeli government’s strict security measures in public places
- Making changes to itineraries as needed
- Staffing all trips with a tour educator, two staff members, and at least one trained security guard and medic
- Ensuring participants never take public transportation
- Working only with accredited trip providers and members of the International Air Transport Association (IATA)
- Operating a dedicated Birthright Israel information line while trips are running
Birthright Israel has a political and religious agenda.
Birthright Israel is committed to the State of Israel as a sovereign, Jewish, and democratic state. We uphold its standing as the historic and eternal homeland of the Jewish people.
Within that framework, Birthright Israel refrains from endorsing any political or ideological partisanship. The trip is 100 percent pluralistic, inclusive, and apolitical. Each participant has “an equal place in sharing their voice about Judaism, Israel and identity—irrespective of personal background, political views, religious beliefs or practices, sexual orientation, and gender identity.”
McGill University Professor Gil Troy, who accompanied Birthright Israel participants from Montreal on their trip in 2000, believes the program works well because it’s countercultural and non-partisan in a highly politicized age. “It’s open and welcoming, not authoritarian and programmatic,” he said. “Birthright Israel is not about the Palestinians—neither fighting them nor defending them; it’s about the Jews, who we are, what our heritage is, where we come from, where we want to go.”
Birthright Israel is just a site-seeing trip in Israel.
Birthright Israel isn’t a site-seeing trip, it’s an insight-seeing trip; a growth-opp, not a photo-opp. As Troy puts it: “Every day is packed as participants rush from site to site, from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, from the Negev to the Golan.”
Participants learn life lessons, make lasting friendships, and experience a newfound connection to the Jewish homeland. Many participants go on to become more observant, get involved in the Jewish community, and work for Jewish organizations.
Brandeis University conducts ongoing studies that consistently reflect the success of Birthright Israel. Participant responses after the trip show an increased dedication to joining synagogues, marrying a Jewish partner, and raising a family in the Jewish tradition:
- 54 percent say it’s important to marry someone Jewish
- 41 percent are more likely to marry someone Jewish
- 53 percent are more likely to have mostly or all Jewish friends
- 93 percent feel “very much” connected to Israel
- 85 percent consider it a life-changing experience
Birthright Israel has had an effect even beyond the Jewish community. Our model has provided a template for connecting various Diaspora communities to their cultural homelands, including Greece, Cuba, Armenia, and Hungary.
There are hidden costs to Birthright Israel. It isn’t really a gift.
Birthright Israel is a gift to Jewish young adults with no strings attached. Over the past 20 years, Birthright Israel Foundation has been raising funds to help send all eligible Jewish young adults to Israel, regardless of their upbringing, Jewish involvement, or economic status.
Support for the foundation comes from worldwide donors, the government of Israel, Jewish Federations of North America, and the Jewish Agency for Israel. While no participant or family member is ever required to donate, some parents and grandparents do it anyway. We call this the “Birthright Israel Bounce,” when the magic of Birthright Israel jumps from the participant to the parent.
All that said, participants do pay a refundable deposit prior to the trip. They are also encouraged to bring some spending money for shopping and other tourist activities.
As the Israel on the House blog points out: “The generosity of Birthright Israel’s supporters has ensured an exceptionally high standard of trip, and in turn made it the most popular and talked-about program for Jewish young adults all over the world … It’s honestly one of the most interesting and exciting adventures an individual can experience!”
Even if I do donate, I’m not able to give enough to make a difference.
Every donation to Birthright Israel Foundation counts because every donation, big or small, helps fund a trip to Israel.
It currently takes $3,500 to send one person on a Birthright Israel trip. Unfortunately, the money we receive from Jewish agencies isn’t enough. In order to cover our $172,000,000 annual budget, we end up soliciting nearly 40,000 individual donors every year, year after year.
It’s no myth that individuals can and do make a difference, not just for Birthright Israel but for the future of the Jewish state and the worldwide Jewish community. “I’d like to thank all the donors who made my trip to Israel possible,” said 2019 alumna Chloe Meinert. “I’m truly blessed to have had this experience. Without the donations, I wouldn’t have had the most memorable experience I’ve had in my life.”
By donating today you can help make life-changing experiences possible—and that’s a fact!