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|Budget||$46.9 million (2011)|
|Budget||$46.9 million (2011)|
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 for Jewish young adults, aged 18-26.
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 360,000 young people from 64 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 philanthropists, the Jewish Agency for Israel, and Jewish communities around the world. Top educators, historians and tourism professionals were recruited to plan the program, for which demand is very high. Tours are held in the winter and summer. Registration is conducted online and each round there are thousands more applicants than spots 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 over $100 million to Birthright Israel since 2007.In 2011, he pledged an additional $5 million toward the effort. In 2013, he 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 $180 million.
Eligible individuals are those who have at least one parent of recognized Jewish descent and who do not actively practice another religion, between the ages 18 to 26, post-high-school, who 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 Taglit-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 (C$250 in Canada), 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 Taglit-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 Taglit-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, hiking enthusiasts and so on.
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 Taglit-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 the country to religious and cultural sites, including in Jerusalem, 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 are claimed to aim exploring 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 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.
In 2013, Taglit-Birthright Israel launched Birthright Israel PLUS, a 4-day trip extension. This special add-on program offers participants the opportunity to take part in unique experiences including visits to Israeli technology start-ups, observing an Israeli Defense Force simulation, and a retreat for body and soul in Tzfat.
Security policies in place during the trip "ensure a comprehensive safety umbrella":
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, Taglit-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 in 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". Shabi notes the phenomenon of people who use the Birthright program to obtain free transportation to Israel, then leave the group to work with Palestinian groups. In general, the program does not encourage political discussion.
Michael Steinhardt, co-founder of Birthright Israel, is a major supporter of The Alumni Community, 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 Taglit-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, apparently due to a desire to find a Jewish spouse, and are far more likely to marry within the faith. 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 Hungarian heritage and Birthright Greece for the Greek Diaspora.
Palestinian-Americans can sign up for a sponsored two-week trip called "Know Thy Heritage." The itinerary includes the Church of the Nativity, Aida Refugee Camp in Bethlehem, Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron, Samaritan Museum in Nablus and several Christian and Muslim sites in Jerusalem. However, Palestinians with dual citizenship, foreign nationals of Arab heritage, and potential Palestinian activists entering through the Jordanian border may be interrogated at length or denied entry into Israel for security reasons.
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