Happy Birthday Birthright

I’ve been thinking a lot about Taglit-Birthright Israel lately. Maybe it’s because almost a year ago (on May 15th to be exact), I stepped off an El Al flight at Ben Gurion International Airport at 5:15 am along with 40+ other sleepy Americans anxious to stretch our legs and start the adventure of a lifetime. Maybe it’s because my Google Reader reminded me that Birthright is celebrating 10 years of bringing thousands of young Jewish adults from all over the world to Israel as a gift to strengthen participants’ personal Jewish identity and connection to the Jewish people.
That’s right – Birthright is a gift. As in free. For the past 10 years, Birthright has been giving away trips to 18-26 year old Jews who’ve never had the chance to visit Israel on a peer-based (think synagogue or school group) trip to experience 10 days in Israel for almost nothing. (There’s a $250 refundable deposit and participants are responsible for getting to an airport that El Al flies out of. And spending money, of course – you can’t go to Israel without bringing home presents for everybody).
Pretty amazing when you think about it: 10 years. 230,000 participants from all over the world. 40,000 IDF soldiers (who join the buses halfway through the trip as participants themselves).
So does it work? Do Birthright trips strengthen participants’ personal Jewish identities and connections to the Jewish people? A Brandeis University study sure leads you to believe so. The top level findings suggest that participants have a stronger sense of Jewish identity, are more likely to raise Jewish children, and show some increase in Jewish communal involvement. And yes, the study raises some questions – but I’d be willing to bet that if you took an informal survey of all the people I know who are Birthright alumni, 99% feel a stronger connection to their Jewish identity than they did before they went on the trip.
10 years. Definitely worth a celebration. Which is exactly what’s going on in Israel right now – 3,000 young Jews from 10 countries are traveling to 18 cities for a 3 day El Israel journey. They’ll end up in Jerusalem for Jerusalem Day on May 12th where they’ll experience a Birthright Mega Event. And you don’t have to miss out on the fun – the upcoming mega event will be webcast live on the Birthright website.
As for me? I suspect I’ll be thinking about my Birthright trip a lot more in the next month. I’ll be counting down the days until June 11 when I’m back in Israel for a two week vacation. I just can’t figure out what I’m more excited about: finally getting to eat some decent shawarma or seeing a certain IDF officer who just happened to be assigned to my bus…
(Photo: Birthright Israel – Bus JC 20 40)