They have already infiltrated the beaches of the Dead Sea, the bars of Jerusalem and the clubs of Tel Aviv, but on Wednesday evening thousands of Taglit-birthright trip participants converged on the Palmachim Air Force Base to celebrate the program’s 10 year anniversary.
The anniversary bash brought IDF soldiers and Diaspora Jews from nine countries together in a festive commemoration of the 10-year-old Zionist educational program and its longtime partnership with Israel’s armed forces.
Ashkenazi: 'This is your real home'
Along with appearances from some of Israel’s top performers – including pop singer Einat Sarouf and Taglitbirthright alum and hip-hop star SHI 360 – high level authority figures and philanthropists also reached out to the young crowd.
“This is your real home,” IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi told the guests, to a roar of cheers. “I can guarantee that it will remain so until the end of time,” he said. “I hope you will be ambassadors of our justness, our cause, our dreams and our hopes,” he added.
Ten years ago, Taglit was founded to bring Jews ages 18-26 from all over the world for a 10-day trip across Israel. Wednesday night’s “Mega Event” – held annually – commemorated the participation of 250,000 youth from over 50 countries.
But the event, the first of its kind to be hosted on an IDF base, also sought to recognize the IDF’s involvement in the program. To date, over 40,000 soldiers have joined the trips as part of an initiative to expose the Diaspora Jews to Israel’s young servicemen and women.
During a brief awards ceremony, Taglit honored three combat units and two non-combat units from across the various branches of the IDF for their remarkable participation in the program.
“Tonight, we honor the men and women of the IDF,” said Lynn Schusterman, a founding supporter of Taglit.
17,000 Birthright alumni live in Israel today
But the evening was marked primarily by blasting music, flashing lights and a jubilant crowd. Participants and soldiers came together, dancing and singing wherever they could find space in front of the towering, makeshift stage that was flanked by two helicopters from the base.
The evening began with a stirring performance of “Shalom Aleichem” in Hebrew, during which Jews from all over the world rose from their seats to sing along.
Taglit has succeeding in reinforcing Jewish identity around the world while strengthening ties to Israel, according to a 2009 study at Brandeis University. As many as 17,000 of the program’s alumni are living in Israel today.
This summer, 21,000 Jews will travel across Israel with the program,
which matches a handful of Israeli soldiers with groups of around 40
foreigners from all over the world to experience Israel.
Sheldon G. Adelson, one of the richest men in the world and a leading
supporter of the program, was one of the “Mega Event’s” guests of honor.Adelson: 'Jews should be pro-Israel'
A Boston native, Adelson spoke of the importance of ties between Israel
and Jews around the world.
“I think Jews should be pro-Israel,” he told The Jerusalem Post
the event. “That’s their heritage and that’s their future.”
On stage later with his wife and two children, Adelson shared a more
personal perspective. He spoke of his father, who never had the
opportunity to visit Israel despite a life-long dream. “Without you, we
have no family,” he told the Jews hailing from around the world.