What present do you buy a 65-year-old country? Over the years, the State of
Israel has received many precious gifts: a hi-tech empire, a strong defense
force, Nobel prizes, a list of remarkable individuals, and so much more.
Choosing the right gift isn’t an easy task.
Mark Twain visited the Land
of Israel in 1867. The famed writer saw many things. Milk and honey were not on
the list. Twain concluded his visit with the following: “Palestine sits in
sackcloth and ashes. Over it broods the spell of a curse that has withered its
fields and fettered its energies... it is desolate and unlovely. And why should
it be otherwise? Can the curse of the Deity beautify a land? Palestine is no
more of this work-day world. It is sacred to the poetry and tradition – it is a
Today, 150 years later, on our 65th birthday, I think it is
safe to say, Mr. Twain, that we have come a long way.
confession: I absolutely love my job as CEO of Taglit-Birthright Israel, but I
envy other CEOs like Apple’s Timothy Cook or Ferrari’s Amadeo Felisa – they can
experience the products they make. I, on the other hand, will never be able to
experience the free gift of a 10-day trip to Israel that we offer every young
Jew between the ages of 18-26 in the Diaspora. They told me I was over the age
Many times I try to imagine the feeling experienced by a young Jew
from the US, India, or any one of over 60 countries from which we have brought
around 340,000 participants, when they experience our product.
know what an iPod, a Ferrari and a Taglit- Birthright Israel trip have in
common? People who have experienced these products say they there are awesome,
Do you know where an iPod, a Ferrari and a Taglit-
Birthright Israel trip fundamentally differ? The Taglit- Birthright trip is a
product with a very short lifespan which is expected to have a lifelong
And so I find it hard to fathom what a young individual may feel
upon arrival and by their departure. However I do know what impact the free
10-day trip has had on them with regard to their connection to Israel – research
done by Brandeis University shows that the trip increases participants’ chances
of feeling very connected to Israel by 42 percent (!) by comparison with
applicants who didn’t get to go on the trip. At least a third of our
participants (over 100,000) have come back to Israel within five years of their
trip. Altogether, the project has contributed about NIS 3 billion to the Israeli
I suppose it is no wonder that the impact is so powerful – in 10
days, participants don’t only see a beautiful country with the most advanced
technologies and fun night life (which even President Obama wants to try out,
with a moustache). I think they feel the context in which the State of Israel
was created. I think they realize it is a truly miraculous chapter that is being
written in the mankind book of history.
They may not have all read
Twain’s Innocents Abroad, but participants learn that what they experience today
is only 65 years old. Before that, for over 2,000 years the place was similar to
what Twain described. I hear how participants are in awe of the fact that a
language spoken collectively over 2,000 years ago and which then “fell asleep,”
has awoken. I see how they find it incredible that their people have a state of
their own after thousands of years and it is a source of pride for them on the
personal, communal and collective level.
I know what I want to give
Israel for her 65th birthday. I want all those who haven’t yet experienced the
State of Israel to be able to come on the free 10-day trip so that Israel and
them can become lifelong friends.
The writer is CEO of
Taglit- Birthright Israel.