Birthright Israel: A Model Ethnic Charity
February 14, 2010
Israel, a Zionist charity that provides free 10 day trips for young Jewish
adults to visit Israel, celebrated its tenth anniversary in January.
Shortly before the creation of the charity, American Jewish college
students were asked to name the top 20 countries they would most like to visit.
Israel did not make the list at all and prominent American Jews became
alarmed. Too few young Jews seemed to care much about Israel, and about
religious observances, and too many of them married non-Jews.
Also of concern was the lack of growth in the Jewish population worldwide
— stagnant between 1970 and 2000, at 13 million.
was created to correct these problems. One of the co-founders of Birthright,
Michael Steinhardt, stated at the
of the organization, “We are at a crucial juncture in the history of the Jewish
people, a time when we must do everything possible to strengthen young people’s
connection to their culture and religion.”
In the 10
years since its creation, over 250,000 young Jews from 52 countries of the
Jewish Diaspora have visited Israel through the Birthright program.
Seventy five percent of them have been American.
The organization hopes to bring 27,000 young people to Israel this year,
a 20% increase from previous years.
It is estimated that at current rates 1/3 of American Jews born since 1995 will
go on Birthright trips by their 27th birthdays.
The program is open to all young Jewish adults, ages 18 to 26, who have
never traveled to Israel, or lived there past the age of 12.
Participants must have at least one Jewish parent and not be practicing
another religion. Its founders hope
that the trips will inspire those who are non-observant and in danger of
assimilation to strengthen their identification with Judaism, to discourage
intermarriage, to create a stronger Jewish community worldwide, and to increase
allegiance to Israel."Taglit” is Hebrew for discovery, and young Jews are
supposed to discover their racial and religious essence through contact with the
land of Israel. “Birthright,”
refers to the right of each Jew to belong to the tribe and the right to settle
in the land of Israel.
The deep concern about the ethnic basis of Judaism can be seen in this statement
by Charles Bronfman, a main sponsor of Birthright Israel, on why encouraging
Jewish identification and Jewish marriage is so important: "You can live a
perfectly decent life not being Jewish, but I think you're losing a lot—losing
the kind of feeling you have when you know [that] throughout the world there are
people who somehow or other have the same kind of DNA that you have."(Washington
Post, Jan. 17, 2000).
trips are organized by various private Israeli companies accredited by Taglit-Birthright,
which sets the educational and security standards. Tours vary according to age,
degree of religiosity, and interests of the participants. One of the required
features of the trip is a 5–10 day encounter with Israeli peers, especially
soldiers serving in the Israeli Defense Forces, who join the tours. Over 30,000
Israeli soldiers have taken part in the program, disseminating a strong Zionist
itineraries include visits to historical, religious and cultural sites around
the country. The required sites are chosen for their emotional pull to Jewish
historical memory as a long history of persecution: the Western Wall (the
remnant of the Temple destroyed by the Romans), Yad Vashem (the Holocaust
memorial), and Masada (the last stronghold of Jews battling against the Romans
in 73 AD). There are five central themes: contemporary Israel, the narrative of
the Jewish people, their values, their arts and culture, and the Jewish calendar
(most importantly, the Sabbath).
Completion of the trips is celebrated by a huge “Mega event.”
Mega event brought together young Jews from 52 countries, musicians, Israeli
luminaries, and benefactors. (Mega event highlights can be viewed at:
) The music is hip, the attractive young soldiers are dancing, and the audience
participation is loudly enthusiastic.
With great emotion, Israeli President Simon Perez tells the enormous
crowd that they are in “a family reunion of Jewish youth. Each of you is so
precious, and we don’t have enough of you!” He states that it is “difficult to
be a Jew, but it’s great” and points out that “we are always struggling. He
concludes by saying, “let’s be together forever.” Also speaking are the largest
benefactors of the charity: Michael Steinhardt, Charles Bronfman, and Lynn
Forbes Magazine includes all three in
its yearly listing of billionaires.
additional speaker at the most recent Mega event was Natan Sharansky, former
world chess champion, who once served ten years in a Soviet Siberian labor camp
for treason and spying for the US.
Because the Americans considered him a human rights spokesman, he was awarded
the US Presidential Medal of Freedom by George W. Bush and the Ronald Reagan
Freedom Award by the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation. (Present at that
ceremony were Joe Lieberman, Dianne Feinstein, and Cindy McCain.)
Thereafter, Sharansky became a pillar of the political right in Israel,
opposing plans to withdraw from the settlements in Gaza and taking a hard line
on the Palestinians. He has made
Jewish Peoplehood a priority and is director of the Israeli Diaspora Museum, a
required stop on the 10 day Birthright Israel trip. According to him,
“Birthright is one of the brightest ideas in Jewish history.”
the responses of some of the participants who were interviewed at the Mega
event, Sharansky seems to be right.
Typical responses include: "It made me feel like I was taking part in something
bigger than myself.” “Too many times during the trip, I found myself speechless,
and by the end of the trip, I found myself connected to the State of Israel and
even more a Jew.” “Coming to Israel and learning more about why being Jewish was
special really changed my view of myself and my life. A year ago I would have
never believed that I would be on a program like this — or be wanting to marry a
Jewish girl — my whole perspective on life and on Judaism has changed because of
released at the same time as the 10 year Birthright celebration is the first to
describe the long range impact of the program.
The results are quite spectacular. The report by the Cohen Center for
Modern Jewish Studies at Brandeis University is based on responses of interviews
with 1,223 participants of the program between 2001 and 2004. The study found
that of those who are now married 72% had a Jewish spouse, compared to 46% of
married non-participants. 73% said that Birthright was a “life changing”
experience.” Participants were 23% more likely to say that they felt “very”
connected to world Jewry. And those
on campus were much more likely to come to Israel’s defense in student and class
a sociologist who specializes in American Jewish life, described the current
situation for Jews as “a race between intermarriage and Birthright.” The study
found that 52% of intermarried Birthright participants said that raising their
kids as Jews is “very important,” compared to 27% of inter-married
non-participants. Birthright participants are 12% more likely than
non-participants to have a special meal on the Sabbath (an important indicator
figures are quite astonishing if one considers that they pertain mainly to
secularized Jews. Devout Jews from
observant families who have traveled to Israel were not eligible for the trip
because many have participated in post-high school year-in-Israel yeshiva
programs and are not in need of assistance to prevent assimilation.
For the great majority of secular young Jews, however, Birthright Israel
is an inspired idea which has been enormously successful in promoting Jewish
networking among its alumni Birthright Israel has begun an alumni outreach
program called, “Birthright Israel Next.” According to the Executive Director of
Birthright Israel Next, “behavior is only going to change through relationship
building. Young American Jews don’t
feel comfortable in existing institutions like synagogues.” One of Birthright
Israel Next’s ideas is to organize free Sabbath dinners. Birthright Israel Next
will pay $18 per person for up to 16 people for Birthright Alumni to host a
Sabbath dinner at their homes, thus encouraging young fellow Jews to continue to
participate in Jewish life. Over 700 have now done so.
Not only do
many of the participants in Birthright Israel become more Jewish, some of them
actually become American-Israelis. The State of Israel, one of the benefactors
of the charity, generally encourages Diaspora Jews to immigrate to Israel.
When the Jewish Agency, which is in charge of Israel’s relationship with
world Jewry, sends officials to speak to Birthright groups, many stress the
possibility of living in Israel. In
addition, all of Birthright’s tour guides are Israeli and personally support
immigration. If an American Jew
decides to live in Israel (full or part time), he will not lose his American
citizenship and can easily add an Israel citizenship.
Under the Israeli ‘Law of Return” an American of Jewish origin going to
Israel becomes an Israeli citizen automatically unless he declines the offer.
In the future, dual citizenship for a great many Jewish Americans, even
for a majority, seems inevitable.
Also inevitable will be the growing problem of divided loyalties.
above Birthright Israel was designed to raise $100 million per year from a small
group of donors: the Israeli government, the American Jewish Federations, and
private donors. (Additional funding also comes from the German government –
Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.)
In practice, the program has relied most heavily on its founders and
principal donors, Michael Steinhardt and Charles Bronfman.
One ought to
give credit where credit is due, and obviously Birthright is an inspired Jewish
idea and its philanthropic donors most generous for a Jewish cause. Although
it’s easy to find wealthy Jews who contribute to Jewish causes that strengthen
Jewish identification and prevent intermarriage, this is definitely not the case
non-Jew billionaires come to mind for their philanthropic contributions.
Ted Turner has donated huge amounts to the United Nations for
environmental study and population limitation.
Turner is America’s largest private landowner, owning 2 million acres —
greater than the areas of Delaware and Rhode Island combined.
Bill Gates has just donated a vast sum to be used to develop vaccines for
AIDS and other African diseases. In the
past, he has also set aside millions for inner city education. However, the
financed by his foundation explicitly denies eligibility to White children.
Warren Buffett has donated several billion to the Gates Foundation.
Recipients of Bill Gates
a moment that a program were created called “Birthright Europe,” in which every
young adult of the Euro-White Diaspora had the opportunity to travel to Europe
for 10 days in order to visit European sites of historical, religious, and
artistic significance, to befriend White Europeans, to learn to appreciate the
superiority of his European culture, and thus to decide to marry only Whites.
Would Turner or Gates or Buffett give
the enormous amounts necessary for great numbers of vulnerable young Whites to
travel to Europe to develop pride of race and heritage?
many may laugh at the improbability of this suggestion is because they cannot
fathom a wealthy person of European heritage helping his own kind.
Jewish philanthropists come from the tradition of taking care of one’s
own, and are very influenced by the strong religious imperative for
individualized charitable giving called “tzedakah.” The highest form of charity
in Judaism is to help sustain a fellow Jew by offering him a substantial gift in
a dignified manner before he becomes impoverished.
Israel, as its website states, is a gift to young Jews. It is a benevolence
given to them before they become impoverished by assimilation. Or, as a Jewish
campus organization states, “With only about 14 million Jews remaining in the
world, the Jewish community has genuine fears of extinction, so there’s a
certain urgency about keeping Jewish traditions alive and teaching them to the
next generation.” According to a site describing the program, “the founders of
Birthright felt it was their moral
obligation to touch the lives of those people whom no one was touching.”
charity begins at home. For Whites, charity is misplaced everywhere else.
Trudie Pert is a pen name.
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