Taglit-Birthright Israel (Hebrew: תגלית), also known as Birthright Israel or simply Birthright, is a not-for-profit educational organization that sponsors free ten-day heritage trips to Israel, Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights for young adults of Jewish heritage, aged 18–32.
|$46.9 million (2011)|
Taglit is the Hebrew word for 'discovery'. During their trip, participants, most of whom are visiting Israel for the first time, are encouraged to discover new meaning in their personal Jewish identity and connection to Jewish history and culture.
Since trips began in the winter of 1999, more than 600,000 young people from 67 countries have participated in the program. About 80% of participants are from the United States and Canada. The number of participants has not grown beyond 40,000 a year due to budgetary constraints.
The Birthright Israel program was initiated in 1994 and founded in cooperation with Charles Bronfman and Michael Steinhardt, as well as the Israeli government, private donors, the Jewish Agency for Israel, and Jewish communities around the world. Tours are held in the winter and summer, for which demand is very high. Registration is conducted online and each round there are usually thousands more applicants than spaces available.
In 2007, annual capacity was increased to 20,000 participants a year. That year, Sheldon Adelson pledged $25 million to Birthright Israel to take applicants off waiting lists and to increase annual capacity from 25,000 to 37,000 in 2007 and 2008. The Adelson Family Foundation has contributed many millions of US dollars annually to Birthright Israel since 2007. In 2011, he pledged an additional $5 million toward the effort. In 2013, Adelson doubled his past annual commitment to Birthright Israel, announcing a $20 million challenge grant that will match new and increased gifts or pledges through 2015. This raises Adelson's total support of the program to over $250 million as of February 2015.
In 2010, Birthright launched an extension program called Birthright Excel. Birthright Excel is a 10-week summer program where students can either create a venture or intern with a business.
Eligible individuals are those who have at least one parent of recognized Jewish descent, or who have converted to Judaism through a recognized Jewish movement, and who do not actively practice another religion. They must also be between the ages of 18 to 32, have completed high school, have neither traveled to Israel before on a peer educational trip or study program past the age of 18, nor have lived in Israel past the age of 12. A Birthright Israel trip includes airfare from major cities, hotels, most meals, all transportation within Israel, and costs associated with touring the country for the ten-day trip. A US$250 deposit is required, which is refunded upon return from the trip. Airfare or transportation from a participant's home to the gateway city is not included, although the trips depart from multiple cities.
Trips are organized by different organizations and companies accredited by Birthright Israel, which sets the logistical, educational, and security standards. All groups are led by licensed Israeli tour guides, all groups are accompanied by an armed security guard, and include visits to the Western Wall and Yad Vashem, as well as other sites determined by Birthright Israel. Tours may vary according to age group and the religious background of the participants. Trips may be geared for graduate students, undergraduates at a particular university, participants from a particular city, participants who identify with a particular stream of Judaism, tours for hiking or music enthusiasts, and a diverse array of other interests, such Birthright's 12-day internship experience with Israel Tech Challenge.
Registration is conducted twice a year, in the winter and summer, and during each round there are thousands more applicants than spaces available. Trips are conducted throughout most of the year.
A Birthright Israel trip includes airfare from major cities, hotel accommodation, two meals per day, security, all transportation within Israel, and other costs associated with touring the country during the ten-day trip.
Tours travel throughout Israel and Jerusalem to religious and cultural sites, including the Western Wall, and the Dead Sea. Trips also often include a Mega Event, which unites thousands of participants from around the world together with Israelis for a celebration featuring speeches by dignitaries and musical performances.
A major feature of the tours is a 5- to 10-day mifgash (Hebrew for 'encounter') with Israeli peers, usually soldiers serving in the Israel Defense Forces, who join the tour. The stated purpose for the mifgash is for the participants and the soldiers to get to know each other and to better understand each other's world view and Jewish identity. Guided discussion sessions explore topics such as the Jewish tradition in the modern world, how Jewish life in Israel differs from Jewish life abroad, and how mandatory military service impacts young Israelis' perceptions of service and commitment to their country. More than 65,000 Israelis have participated in the program since 2000.
Participants have the option to extend their plane ticket for up to three months to explore Israel and the region. The optional extension is not part of the Birthright trip, and the participant is in that time like any tourist.
Security policies in place during the trip "ensure a comprehensive safety umbrella", as follows:
- No travel to the West Bank, Gaza, or East Jerusalem other than the Jewish Quarter of the Old City
- Participants in each group remain together at all times and follow a set schedule of activities
- Participants do not leave the groups to travel, explore or visit with Israelis on their own during the ten-day trip
- Public transportation is not allowed at any time
- At least one highly trained, armed escort accompanies each group throughout the entire trip
Through the end of 2011, the program had an operating budget of $660 million. More than half of the funding comes from philanthropists, among them Charles Bronfman, Edgar Bronfman, Sr., Daniel Och, Marlene Post, Lynn Schusterman, Sheldon Adelson, and Michael Steinhardt. About one-quarter of funding comes from the Government of Israel, and about one-fifth is contributed by Jewish organizations and communities, such as North American Jewish Federations through the United Jewish Communities (UJC), Keren Hayesod, and the Jewish Agency for Israel; and many leading private philanthropists through the Birthright Israel Foundation, including Charles Bronfman, Michael Steinhardt, and Lynn Schusterman. The program also receives funding from the German government, through the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.
According to the organization, Birthright Israel has contributed more than 2 billion NIS to the Israeli economy.
The Birthright Israel program has been criticized for its pre-trip screening process. According to Rachel Shabi from Salon.com, political opinions may be taken into account: "Potential candidates who are discovered to have a 'hidden agenda' are not allowed onto the [Birthright] trips".
The pro-Palestinian Jewish Voice for Peace runs a campaign called Return the Birthright, which criticizes the Birthright Israel program and urges young Jews to boycott it, stating: "it's unjust that we get a free Birthright trip, while Palestinian refugees can't return to their homes".
Michael Steinhardt, co-founder of Birthright Israel, is a major supporter of The Alumni Community and a primary provider of post-Birthright Israel programs in the New York area. Through its follow-up programs, in which 15,000 alumni participate every year, young Jews continue to learn about Jewish culture and history. I.D., a performance of monologues by Birthright Israel alumni based on their experiences, is sponsored by Birthright Israel Next, which keeps in touch with alumni by hosting trips, reunions and other programs.
At an academic symposium on Birthright held at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 2013, Leonard Saxe of Brandeis University presented evidence that program participants tend to marry later than their peers, and are more likely to marry within the faith than a similar group of Jewish young people who choose not to participate in Birthright. Saxe hypothesizes that participants' delayed marriage age may be motivated by the goal of finding a Jewish spouse. The findings also show that one out of four Birthright participants ends up marrying another Birthright participant.
Birthright Israel has inspired similar programs for other diasporas with similar goals, including Birthright Armenia for the Armenian diaspora, Reconnect Hungary for young adults of the Hungarian diaspora, and Birthright Greece for the Greek diaspora.
- Sarah Glidden, cartoonist
- Ethan Klein, of h3h3Productions
- Ali Marpet, NFL football player
- Dylan Moscovitch, Olympic skater
- Jon Rudnitsky, actor and comedian
- Jamie-Lynn Sigler, actress and singer
- Josh Sussman, actor
- Otto Warmbier, student
- David Serero, French satirical blogger
- Nico Olsak, Argentine-born Israeli professional footballer
- Lovett, Ian (2017-12-06). "Birthright Israel Raises Eligibility Age to 32". Wall Street Journal. ISSN 0099-9660. Retrieved 2017-12-07.
- Abramson, Yehonatan (2019). "Securing the diasporic 'self' by travelling abroad: Taglit-Birthright and ontological security". Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies. 45 (4): 656–673. doi:10.1080/1369183X.2017.1409176. ISSN 1369-183X.
- "The Birthright Challenge - Jewish Review of Books". 27 February 2013.
- Article on Jerusalem Post Archived 2015-04-03 at the Wayback Machine
- "Taglit-Birthright Israel celebrates 400,000th participant". June 25, 2014. Archived from the original on 2016-03-04. Retrieved 2014-06-27.
- Maltz, Judy (6 August 2013). "New Israeli Plan Could Effectively Double Number of Birthright Participants" – via Haaretz.
- Saxe, L. & Chazan, B. (2008). Ten Days of Birthright Israel: A Journey in Young Adult Identity. Lebanon, NH: University Press of New England
- "Richest US Jew pledges USD 25 million to Taglit - birthright israel". 2 June 2007.
- Adelson Foundation Gives Taglit An Extra $5 Million Boost, by Elad Benari, Israel National News, December 1, 2011
- "Adelson, Azrieli Foundations Award $45 Million to Birthright Israel". Philanthropy News Digest (PND). The Foundation Center. Retrieved 2 March 2015.
- www.proteam.co.il. "Excel". taglitww.birthrightisrael.com. Archived from the original on 2017-08-15. Retrieved 2017-08-14.
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- "Manufacturing Innovation: Birthright Excel Ventures - Jewlicious THE Jewish Blog". Jewlicious THE Jewish Blog. 2016-08-30. Retrieved 2017-08-14.
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- "Niche Trips". Birthright Israel. The Birthright Israel Foundation. Archived from the original on 26 February 2015. Retrieved 2 March 2015.
- Zelaya, Ian (16 January 2014). "Taglit-Birthright offers 12-day Tech Challenge". Washington Jewish Week. ProQuest 1492727606.
- Elis, Niv (24 July 2014). "Despite sirens, visiting techies keep coding. 'I'm more worried about getting lost in TA than rockets,' hacking competitor says". Jerusalem Post. ProQuest 1551320897.
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- Zohar Blumenkrantz (August 6, 2003). "El Al to fly in 5,000 under Birthright project". Haaretz. Retrieved 27 October 2013.
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- Feldman, Kiera. "The Romance of Birthright Israel". The Nation. Retrieved 2 March 2015.
- Taglit-Birthright Israel CEO Report (2001)
- Safety and Security Update Archived 2010-12-17 at the Wayback Machine
- 'Birthright contributed NIS 2b. to Israeli economy', by Nadav Shemer, Jerusalem Post, February 26, 2012
- Come, see Palestine! Upstart tours of Palestine are challenging fully paid "See Israel" holidays in a battle for the hearts and minds of young American Jews Rachel Shabi, Salon.com, Jun 5, 2006
- "#ReturnTheBirthright – Jewish Voice for Peace". Jewish Voice for Peace. Retrieved 2018-04-03.
- JTA; Gross, Judah Ari; Gross, Judah Ari; Bachner, Michael; Gross, Judah Ari; Fulbright, Alexander; Ahren, Raphael; Pileggi, Tamar; Agencies; AFP; AFP; Katz, Gregory; Satter, Raphael; Cook, Lorne; Agencies; AFP; Issacharoff, Avi (2017-09-04). "Jewish Voice for Peace urges young Jews to reject Birthright trips". The Times of Israel. Retrieved 2018-10-04.
- "Jewish Voice for Peace urges young Jews to boycott Birthright Israel". haaretz.com. 2017-09-02. Retrieved 2018-10-04.
- "Birthright Reshuffles Follow-Up Effort".
- Leiter, Robert (25 April 2013). "Birthright Alumni: Raw on the Stage - Jewish Exponent".
- Maltz, Judy (12 June 2013). "Birthright Alumni Marry Later - and Are More Likely to Marry Jewish" – via Haaretz.
- "National Hellenic Society Develops Heritage Greece Program". Orthodox Observer. Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. 2 February 2017.
- Jeremy Gillick (5 May 2008). "Birthright Israel, Meet Birthright Armenia". Archived from the original on 12 May 2008.
- "Mission - Birthright Unplugged". www.birthrightunplugged.org.
- Rahmani, Maor (2017-11-25). "היידה: המסע של ניקו אולסק עד מכבי נתניה" [Nico Olsak's Journey To Maccabi Netanya] (in Hebrew). Retrieved 2020-06-29.
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