Birthright-Taglit Breakaway Launches Its First Israel Trip for Diaspora Youth

Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson

An organization that publicly split from Birthright Israel-Taglit a few months ago plans to bring its first 120 participants from abroad next month.

Prior to the split, the group, Oranim, was Birthright's largest subcontractor, having brought some 50,000 young Diaspora Jews here for visits.

Birthright, which has brought approximately 220,000 Jews to Israel for 10-day visits since its inception in 2000, is a joint venture between the Israeli government, major American Jewish donors and the Jewish Agency.

It mainly sets policy and raises funds, which it then funnels to various smaller groups that recruit the students and organize the trips.

Oranim's director, Shlomo (Momo) Lifshitz, said he split from Birthright over its demand that he stop urging trip participants to immigrate to Israel and marry other Jews.

Both these suggestions irritated the American donors, including major Jewish federations, he said.

"I shook hands with every one of those 50,000 youngsters and told them 'Welcome home,'" he said.

"That became my trademark, and Taglit didn't like it," said Lifshitz.

But Birthright claimed the reason for the split was financial: Last year, the economic crisis forced it to reduce the number of participants, and "that's when the problems [with Oranim] began," said Birthright CEO Gidi Mark.

He also denied that Birthright had censored what Lifshitz could say to participants.

But he acknowledged that his group has a different agenda than the one Lifshitz pushed: Its main goal is education.

Nevertheless, Mark added, a recent study found that Birthright participants are significantly less likely to marry non-Jews than their peers.

The big question now is whether American donors will agree to help finance Oranim's independent trips. Initially, Lifshitz said he would finance Oranim's trips out of his own pocket. However, he added, he has already begun to institutionalize cooperation with several North American Jewish Federations.

One person familiar with the situation, who is not connected to Oranim, noted that Lifshitz is well-known and well-liked in the American Jewish community, despite his controversial statements.

If he does succeed in getting funding from American donors, he could constitute a real challenge to Birthright, some sources said.

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