Over the past two decades, Birthright Israel Foundation has helped send more than 750,000 Jewish young adults to Israel. The vast majority returned with a newfound connection to their homeland and a lifelong commitment to their Jewish heritage.
That’s why we call Birthright Israel a gift that keeps on giving. The trip itself is a gift, but it also gives rise to the greatest gift of all: a vibrant future for the Jewish people.
We work tirelessly at Birthright Israel Foundation so that each and every eligible participant, especially those on the fringes of the Jewish community, have the opportunity to claim their birthright. Our benevolent benefactors span the nation and selflessly back us for a variety of reasons.
For donor Robert Schuckit of Caramel, IN, it was witnessing his children’s excitement about Jewish life upon their return from Israel. He now believes it’s crucial to get others involved in supporting Birthright Israel Foundation financially. “It’s our biggest asset to combat the negativity surrounding Israel,” he said. “We need young Jewish adults to experience the land firsthand and feel connected to Judaism—this trip does just that.”
“Yes, it changed my life.”
Founded in 1999 by philanthropists, Birthright Israel continues to thrive thanks to the support of nearly 40,000 annual donors. We also receive support from philanthropic foundations, the Jewish Federations of North America, and the Government of Israel.
When a supporter is a parent, like Schuckit, we call it the “Birthright Israel Bounce.” A mom, dad, grandma, or grandpa often feel so moved by their child or grandchild’s transformational journey in Israel that they spring into action and make a donation.
The Birthright Israel Bounce phenomenon speaks directly to the success of Birthright Israel’s mission, success that’s also been confirmed by the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies at Brandeis University.
The viewpoint of participants upon their return:
- 74% feel a connection to Israel
- 54% think it’s important to marry someone Jewish
- 85% consider Birthright Israel a life-changing experience
Our participants return with this devotion to Israel and passion for living Jewishly even though some of them grew up without any sort of connection to their Jewish heritage. Meanwhile others, like Memphis, TN, alumna Laura Fenton, felt they had to hide their faith “because it’s easier than trying to explain it.”
Even with so much innovation in new technologies to connect us, we live in an era when many Jewish young adults feel lost and disconnected. They don’t know a world without a Jewish state or the sacrifices our people made to secure it. Worse yet, they’ve been targeted by the antisemitic lies of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
Yonatan Millo, director of Israel Education and Engagement for the Joseph Slifka Center for Jewish Life at Yale University, organized a Birthright Israel trip for students in 2018. As he told the Yale News at the time: “It’s the first time, I think, a lot of people get to talk about their Jewish identity and its place within the Jewish collective.”
Riley Pope grew up with a non-practicing Jewish mom, a Christian dad, and no idea of what it meant to be Jewish. He signed up for Birthright Israel as a blank canvas after “wandering in what felt like a lost cloud of identity” for most of his life. “Then, I went on Birthright Israel,” he said. “It was everything it was chalked up to be, and yes, it changed my life, more so than any words could ever describe.”
Birthright “relit the embers of Judaism” for Pope, who now organizes Shabbat dinners for his family on a biweekly basis. “It’s not perfect, but it brings us together in a way that we had forgotten we so desperately needed,” he said. “What’s even better, my mother is connecting with her own unexplored Jewish identity, something she hadn’t been given the resources to do until now.”
“Your mission is a success.”
Before taking a closer look at some of the generous parents and grandparents who support Birthright Israel Foundation, let’s take a look at the many reasons why dads and moms love Birthright Israel.
Mark and Renee Kaufman
Prior to her trip to Israel, Mark and Renee Kaufman’s daughter had little interest in Jewish heritage. She didn’t care about temple, Jewish traditions, or marrying a Jewish man. Now she cares about all three.
“As parents, we are ecstatic that after 22 years, our daughter has finally uncovered and enthusiastically embraced her Jewish identity and religion,” they said. “The transformation of our daughter immediately upon return from her Birthright Israel trip is yet another example that your mission is a success and very important to the longstanding survival of Israel, the Jewish religion and culture/customs of all Jewish men/women throughout the world.”
Stacy Cohen always wanted her two boys, Lenny and Ben, to have faith in G-d and a special bond as brothers. On their Birthright Israel trip, the siblings discovered their heritage, made lifelong friends with other Jewish young adults, and also grew closer to one another.
“They felt so secure and good about their heritage,” said Cohen. “They walked into home when they stepped foot there.”
Daniela Filmer’s son Jacob didn’t have a strong connection to the Jewish side of his family before Birthright Israel. He came home from Israel with greater confidence and a sense of pride about his Jewish heritage.
“Thank you for helping my son connect with the part of himself that was taken from him when he was only 12 years old, when his father passed away,” she said. “Since I am not Jewish, Jacob would have never gotten from me what he received in experience and knowledge by participating in Birthright Israel.”
Daniel (no last name provided)
Daniel thanks Birthright Israel from the bottom of his heart for the experience it provided his kids. Here are his observations upon their return from Israel:
- They made friendships that will last for years to come
- They saw incredible places that they wouldn’t have seen if it weren’t for Birthright Israel
- They loved the leadership from the people running their group
Daniel was so moved by their experience that he’s thinking about becoming a donor.
“The Jewish people are better off for it.”
Many of our generous donors are parents and grandparents of alumni. We are deeply thankful for their support. Here’s a little about them and why they give to Birthright Israel Foundation.
Bonnie Bornstein Fertel
Her daughter Pamela’s life was changed by a Birthright Israel trip in 2000. Now Bonnie Bornstein Fertel can’t wait for her young granddaughter, Janie, to go. “I’m going to do whatever I can to help make sure that she can go, and someday her kids can go, and their kids can go … and that Birthright Israel continues for generations and generations.”
Fertel made her first gift to Birthright Israel Foundation 20 years ago, on the same day her daughter returned from Israel, and she’s continued to give ever since. “I think the right thing to do is pay it forward,” she said. “People don’t realize that they don’t have to give thousands of dollars. If thousands of people gave dozens of dollars to Birthright Israel Foundation, the result could be extraordinary.”
A well-known Jewish leader, Susan Pertnoy finally went on Birthright Israel Foundation Mission after nearly two decades supporting it. She was a little older than the typical participant, but was happy to take her turn since her children were already alumni.
Both Pertnoy and her mother, Barbara Kay, are supporters of Birthright Israel Foundation. Pertnoy has many fond memories from her trip, but especially enjoyed hearing from Birthright Israel’s co-founder and honorary board member Charles Bronfman.
“He spoke about how powerful and impactful an experience Birthright Israel has been for him,” she said, adding, “Birthright is a very successful tool, and [those who go] have a lifelong understanding of what it is about: it’s building Jewish life.”
Growing up with the harsh realities of anti-Semitism, Gene Hoffman remembers getting into a fist fight at age four because he was Jewish. But the anti-Semitism he faced as a boy only served to make him more connected to his Jewish heritage. Now he is a philanthropist and a supporter of Birthright Israel. Before donating to Birthright Israel Foundation, he reviewed and was impressed by the Brandeis University studies about the program.
“I think Birthright Israel is fabulous—the whole thing,” said Hoffman, who is also a proud Birthright Israel grandparent. “The Jewish people are better off for it. We need this in the Jewish religion. If you don’t take advantage of learning opportunities like Birthright Israel, how are you going to fight antisemitism.”
“An investment in Birthright Israel is a must.”
As you can see, Birthright Israel Foundation helps connect Jewish young adults with their heritage through the support of individual donors. The rewards are even more profound when parents and grandparents pay it forward.
“Over the last 20 years, Birthright Israel has become a rite of passage for young Jews and allows them to form unbreakable bonds with their Jewish identity and Israel,” said Birthright Israel CEO Gidi Mark. “If you want to ensure the Jewish community remains a positive and vibrant place for our children and grandchildren, then an investment in Birthright Israel is a must.”
Every year, we aim to send thousands of Jewish young adults from around the world to the Jewish homeland. Will you help us so we can continue our mission to educate and enlighten the Jewish Diaspora? Your donation, big or small, will activate young Jews, fight anti-Semitism, and ensure the Jewish heritage of future generations. It truly is a gift that keeps on giving.