A Trip Creates a Lifetime Connection

In the past seven years Taglit-birthright israel has brought 125,000 Jewish young adults from 50 different countries to participate on a free 10-day educational trip to Israel.

The Taglit-birthright israel project is a major success by all standards, and its greatest impact is threefold. For the participants, it's a once in a lifetime opportunity to experience an unforgettable journey to Israel. For the Jewish community worldwide, it's a process that enhances Jewish commitment and peoplehood. For Israel, it's a project that unites young Jews from all over the world and injects millions of dollars to the country's economy. The project has contributed $230 million to the Israeli economy, as the young participants help keep tourism alive using services such as hotels, restaurants, transportation, security guards, tourism and entertainment sites.

Taglit-birthright israel aims to make an educational trip to Israel an integral part of the life of every young Jew. The project enables its participants to see Israel's different facets - old and new, pluralistic and Zionist.

The participants receive roundtrip airfare to Israel, lodging, touring and ground costs, and experience Israel and its people in a program that maximizes their interaction with the country and its people. Taglit-birthright israel in Hebrew means discovery, and there isn't a better word to describe the experiences of these tens of thousands of young Jews - finding out about their identities, their Jewish roots, Israel and Israelis.

A unique partnershipThe collective effort that makes Taglit-birthright israel possible is unprecedented, and is meant to bestow a personal 'birthright' of a visit to Israel upon every young Jew. "Our project is a unique partnership between the Jewish philanthropists who created the project, the Israeli government and the Jewish communities in the Diaspora (North American Jewish Federations through the United Jewish Communities, Keren Hayesod and The Jewish Agency for Israel)," says Dr. Shimshon Shoshani, Taglit-birthright israel's International CEO.

"When this project started seven years ago it was innovative in many aspects. It focuses on an age group that was relatively neglected before (18-26); it leaves a profound impact during a 10-day trip; it operates in a method of free market and outsourcing; and its marketing is based on one-by-one strategies rather than on organizations." Wishing to make a meaningful difference in the relationship between Israel and Jewish communities worldwide, Taglit-birthright israel gives its participants the opportunity to meet and connect with Israelis - and at the same time allows Israelis to strengthen their solidarity with their Jewish peers abroad.

To accomplish these important goals, the educational trips take the participants on an all-encompassing tour of the country - seeing contemporary Israel, its art and culture and its historic sites, as well as learning about local Jewish communities and about the values of the Jewish people. One of the project's important innovations is 'Mifgashim' ("encounters"), where Israeli soldiers spend five days with the group. The impact is profound; according to IDF officers who participated in Mifgashim, the soldiers were filled with a sense of pride in their country and its people and were exposed to the importance of keeping traditions and a Jewish way of life. On the other end, the participants also developed strong relationships with the soldiers.

Philanthropists make a commitmentOne of Taglit-birthright Israel's most exceptionalcharacteristics is its source of funding, which is divided among the Israeli government, the Jewish communities around the world and different philanthropists. While the funding is supposed to be a third from each factor, the philanthropists usually contribute up to 50% of the project. This is the first time in history when a group of philanthropists signed an educational agreement with the State of Israel; the first time that Israel has taken responsibility over Jewish education and Jewish future in the Diaspora. The birthright israel Foundation channels all private funding from the United States into the project, as well as supervising the continued Jewish journeys of American alumni, to keep the spark of the Taglit-birthright israel trip glowing for them.

The Foundation has seen explosive growth in the last two years, with an increase of nearly 600% in the number of donors in 2006 and a 26% increase in funds raised.

"Taglit-birthright israel is such a bright light among forward-looking projects in the American Jewish world; there is only praise for its impact and scope. So potential donors, from grateful parents of trip participants to the largest Jewish-oriented foundations and philanthropists, want to help the project reach even more people and make an even bigger impact," says Foundation President Jay Golan. The Foundation Board has become one of the 'hottest' assemblies of the best and brightest Jewish leaders of the 21st century, combining younger financial and social leaders as well as founding philanthropists.

A positive experienceThe effects of the program are immediate. A research project by the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies at Brandeis University, which was conducted in the course of seven years and accompanied Taglit-birthright israel's progress, shows the positive effect Taglit-birthright israel trips have on their participants. The research shows that the affinity the participants feel for Israel increases in a meaningful way following the trip and that the experience strengthens their Jewish identity and their ties to their Jewish community. These young adults seek to know more about Israel and about Judaism after they return from their trip. According to the research, the trip offered by Taglit-birthright israel has three major meanings for the young Jews: a journey to their Jewish roots, a Jewish group experience and a fun vacation.

An example of efficiencyDr. Shimshon Shoshani, CEO of Taglit-birthright israel, has gone through many public positions in his lifetime, such as Director General of the Ministry of Education and Culture and Director General of the Jewish Agency - but Taglit-birthright israel means the most to him. "Looking at the different public roles I have gone through, I feel that being CEO of Taglit-birthright israel is the most important one," discloses Shoshani. "It is a project that strives to promise the future of the Jewish people and the future of the state of Israel; for me it's a great emotional investment that yields great satisfaction."

Shoshani defines Taglit-birthright israel as the initiative of Jewish philanthropists who decided to set up an independent project in order to cope with the pressing problem of assimilation and to strengthen the connection between the young generation and the state of Israel. "The group of philanthropists decided that the subject is important enough to invest enormous sums to achieve the wanted results," says Shoshani. "By doing so, the philanthropists demonstrated determination that they are used to from the business world, and managed to prove that a project that works in a non-institutional way has great chances of success in the Jewish world."

Taglit-birthright israel is a major innovation also on the organizational level. The project works with a very limited headquarters and overhead that deals with determining policy, educational and logistic standards, planning and budgeting, research and control - but doesn't deal with the execution of the project itself. "We have 25 organizers," says Shoshani, "part private and part institutional, that deal with recruiting Jewish young adults all over the world, as well as with the execution of the educational trips in Israel, while the headquarters supervises and inspects the entire process. This is why the project has become an example of efficiency of educational trips in Israel,? concludes Shoshani.