More than 350,000 participants from across the globe have visited Israel for the first time on a 10-day educational trip with their peers through Taglit-Birthright Israel.
Since the inaugural Taglit-Birthright Israel flight in the winter of 1999, the program has grown from a core of college students in the United States and Canada to reach participants from 64 countries, and an increasing number has included those who have finished their college studies.
Born out of a concern that assimilation was leading Diaspora Jewry away from engagement with Jewish life and the State of Israel, the program that began as an experiment has been extraordinarily successful; it is enhancing the vibrancy of Jewish life in North America and other centers of Jewish life around the globe.
A “Life-Changing Experience”
In a country with so much to see, 10 days seem short, yet most participants say that their experience during the trip was “life-changing” and made them feel closer to Israel and their Jewish heritage. In Israel, they explored their Jewish identity together with 65,000 Israelis as part of the Mifgash encounter with their Israeli peers.
Independent research conducted by Brandeis University's Maurice and Marilyn Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies found that over two-thirds of participants said the trip made them feel “very much” closer to Israel, and more than half said that the trip “very much” influenced their sense of connection to the Jewish heritage.
Over the last few years, the range of trip options has expanded to include special theme and topic-focused trips designed to attract unique populations. Some examples include programs for medical students, those with special needs, LGBTQ, musicians, finance, and the Building Israel – Architects programs.
Since its inception, Birthright Israel trips have contributed an astounding $535 million to Israel’s economy, including:
• 750,000 nights booked in hotel rooms
• $76 million spent on gifts and souvenirs
• Activities that have generated three-quarters of a million work days for Israelis
We estimate that each participant contributes approximately $1,900 to Israel’s tourism sector – through airfare, lodging, transportation, and admission to tourist sites. And, of course, one cannot quantify how many people choose to return Israel – often with friends and family – thanks to their formative experience with Taglit-Birthright Israel.
Building the Future of Jewish Communities
Now in its Bar/Bat Mitzvah year, what began as a “start-up” idea has developed into an international movement with the capacity to shape Jewish life and Jewish communities for years to come. Taglit-Birthright Israel is a social experiment that has created a social movement. The hundreds of thousands of alumni of the program will form the core of those who sustain Jewish communities in the Diaspora in generations to come.