Birthright held its Mega Event on Tuesday night and 2,500 participants gathered in Jerusalem to attend.
Jews between 18 and 26 from seven countries came, as did Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
Birthright was initiated by donors Charles Bronfman, Michael Steinhardt and Lynn Schusterman in 1999, in cooperation with the government, Keren Hayesod-United Israel Appeal and the Jewish Agency.
“Birthright is important for the Jewish future, it is fantastic for the Jewish people,” Netanyahu said.
“When you go back to your countries, I want you to keep close to your hearts everything that you see here in Israel, and to share it with your families, with your communities and with your college friends,” he told the participants.
Eugene, 25, and Alexei, 26, came on Birthright with a Russian-American delegation from New York.
They told The Jerusalem Post
that “this trip had changed [their] lives.” They now want to learn Hebrew and come back to Israel for internships in their chosen fields.
Though Eugene and Alexei come from non-religious families, they confided that the highlight of their trip was celebrating their bar mitzvot on the top of Masada.
Tal, 21, a Sabra and a soldier who served in the IDF’s special forces, was proud to participate in Birthright and become “an ambassador of the Israeli nation, so that Jews across the world get to discover Israel.”
The ceremony honored the memory of philanthropist Edgar Bronfman and prime minister Ariel Sharon, who both died recently, and continued with Avraham Tal’s live performance, giving the young adults an example of what the Israeli music scene has to offer.
In the past 15 years, Birthright has brought 350,000 young Diaspora Jews to Israel in an effort to create a bond between Diaspora and Israeli Jews, deepen the participants’ Jewish identity and to help them connect with the State of Israel.
The project aims to give participants a real Israeli experience by bringing them on a free 10-day trip to discover the Jewish state, its culture and its unique history.
Studies by the Brandeis University in the US have proven that young adults who participate in the program are more likely to marry within the Jewish faith and to promote Israel in their home countries.