A decade ago, Jewish parents worried that their children wouldn’t marry Jewish or have a bar or bat mitzvah for their own children. Today, however, we see a younger generation that is marrying within the faith and looking to raise their children Jewish, while maintaining a strong bond to Israel.
Taglit-Birthright Israel’s free educational trip, offered to young Jewish adults between the ages of 18 and 26, is largely responsible for creating the change we believed only a decade ago to be impossible: The young Jews who have experienced Birthright Israel are not only more connected to their Jewish identity and to the State of Israel, they are actually more connected than their marriage partners or significant others who have not participated in Birthright.
Last month’s activities aptly illustrate the actions that are ensuring the continuity of the Jewish people. We had 5,000 participants from abroad, along with 1,000 Israeli participants, plus a first-ever sports day that brought together 2,000 participants and 500 IDF soldiers in an incredible show of Israel-Diaspora teamwork. In addition to our regular 10-day educational trip, we now offer a four-day extension with content focusing on popular topics such as Israel’s hi-tech industry, a unique search and rescue program within the IDF, and Mada, an eco-environmental extension that gives participants a better and more in-depth glimpse of Israel.
While we were preparing to accommodate the 44,000 Birthright participants we anticipate for this year, Hebrew University and Brandies University hosted a two-day conference dedicated to discussing the success of Taglit-Birthright Israel. The conference brought together more than 50 researchers from around the world who not only debated and tackled academic issues, but discussed the research of Brandies University, which has consecutively shown for three years, that when Taglit-Birthright Israel alumni return home, they want to marry within the Jewish faith while maintaining a strong bond with Israel.
We recently concluded reading the book of Bamidbar (Numbers), which tells the story of the Jewish people wandering in the desert, on their way to Israel. But fears, doubts and skepticism make the journey last some 40 years longer than planned. The dream of a strong Jewish people bonded with Israel is prolonged and as a result, the majority of the people missed out on the experience.
Today, we have a State and we have Taglit-Birthright Israel – the bridge that gives every young Jewish adult an opportunity to discover his or her Jewish heritage. Now is the time to call upon those who haven’t yet taken charge of bringing home the masses, who have not yet connected with their Jewish identity or experienced Israel first hand.
It is in our hands, but more importantly, it is our obligation, to make sure that all young Jewish adults takes advantage of their historic “birthright” to visit Israel, connect with their Jewish heritage, thereby attaining the crucial building blocks to help create a strong future.
Gidi Mark is CEO, Taglit-Birthright Israel.