A human bridge
Taglit CEO talks about changes Zionist project has made in Jewish community and its goals for the future.
Taglit Photo: Courtesy Taglit
Taglit-Birthright, which is celebrating its bar mitzva year, is a
Zionist project whose goal is to strengthen the ties between Jewish
communities abroad and the State of Israel and Jewish identity within
these communities. Thousands of young Jews from all over the world come
to Israel through the project to get to know Israel and its residents by
means of tours, meetings and integration into society and the local
Fifteen years ago, Gidi Mark was appointed Taglit’s
first employee when it was still in its development stage. For the past
four years, after holding various positions in the project, he has
served as Taglit’s CEO. Mark, 52, lives in Modi’in and has three
children. In this interview, he talks about the changes that Taglit has
made in the Jewish community and the project’s goals for the future.
How would you describe the Taglit project?
the most successful project in the Jewish community. It is the bridge
that connects Diaspora Jews with Israel. We address young people ages
18-26 who have at least one Jewish parent. They tour the country for 10
days, and our goal is to bring them closer to Israel. And it works. It
dramatically increases their desire to raise their children Jewish,
their understanding of the situation in Israel, and their knowledge
about Israeli media sources. Approximately 40 percent of Taglit
participants have returned to Israel, making up a large part of
immigrant students in Israel and lone soldiers.
Also, the project has greatly contributed to Israel’s economy – over NIS 2 billion.
Who is involved in organizing the project?
a partnership that is made up of three parties: Jewish philanthropists
in the US, who are the project’s initiators; the State of Israel, which
has increased its investment in the project significantly in the last
three years, understanding that Israel can benefit from the project on a
strategic level, as well as Jewish communities abroad; and Keren
Hayesod and the Jewish Agency.
What new projects does Taglit have underway?
addition to the standard 10-day tour, we have specialinterest groups
that focus on specific fields such as gastronomy, music, sports,
medicine and fashion. We’re also trying to make the 10- day tour
suitable for people with special needs. We also have groups that extend
their stay in Israel in order to explore a certain field that is
relevant to the Israeli economy, such as a start-up group and a
search-and-rescue group. Our latest endeavor is to bring groups of
professionals that are considered high priority in Israel, such as
doctors and teachers, up to age 30. But that will be carried out next
yea.r This year we opened a training course for tour guides from the
Tourism Ministry, to teach them to be educators so they can be part of
the educational staff of Taglit.
Another thing is the Birthright
Israel Excel project. A program for young business leadership, it is
geared toward students who we think have the potential to lead the way
in business on an international level and contribute to the Jewish
We would like to build an international Jewish network
that will include Israel on the business map as part of its
participants’ Jewish identity. The participants come to Israel for 10
weeks and are assigned mentors from leading companies who are top
economic experts. This year, 36 out of 19,000 applicants were accepted.
How does Taglit market itself?
We have a unique marketing method that is based on word of mouth, and this brings us a lot of candidates every year.
the past, people were reluctant to come to Israel; young people put
Israel in the same category as Afghanistan and Kosovo. But thanks to the
buzz created by Taglit, we even have a waiting list.
What are your goals for the future?
are approximately 100,000 young people in the Jewish community. We
estimate that if we have the means, we can bring at least 51,000 here in
a year – that is most of the Jewish young people in the world.
Some 42,000 participants are due here in 2012 alone, and that is no small matter.
What are some of your smaller achievements?
young man who grew up in a non-Jewish environment decided to stay in
Israel. After completing his three-year army service, he met a girl,
fell in love, and they moved in together. We see hundreds of similar
cases. We have people who became active in the Jewish community in the
US after their Taglit trip, even those who had hardly any Jewish