Gidi Mark: Birthright Israel aims for 1 million participants by 2028

No. 32 on The Jerusalem Post's Top 50 Most Influential Jews of 2022: Gidi Mark, CEO of Birthright Israel.

 Gidi Marks, CEO of Birthright Israel. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Gidi Marks, CEO of Birthright Israel.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

Anyone who was anyone in the Jewish organizational world thought that Taglit-Birthright Israel was merely a phase and a crazy idea of a few Israeli visionaries and Jewish philanthropists.

Twenty-three years later, Birthright Israel is the most successful social Jewish venture, with more than 800,000 participants. During almost two and a half decades, major philanthropists such as Charles Bronfman, Michael Steinhardt, and Dr. Miriam and Sheldon Adelson became the face of this attractive, young and cool idea of offering a free ten-day trip to Israel to any young Jew in the Diaspora. But the person who was there from day one and who was Birthright Israel’s first employee has mainly stayed behind the scenes. His name is Gidi Mark.

Mark is considered to be the most senior and experienced CEO of any nonprofit Jewish organization in Israel and worldwide. His broad and central approach to Judaism and his outstanding interpersonal and political abilities have turned Birthright from the new and unpopular kid on the block to the kid that everyone wanted as a friend.

Mark was able to magically bring together philanthropists from across the Jewish religious and political spectrum in order to create an empire whose budget is hundreds of millions of dollars a year.

Hoping to reach 1 million Birthright Israel participants

At the mega-event of Birthright in Tel Aviv this summer that celebrated the 800,000th participant, Mark said that he hopes to reach a million participants by the time the organization celebrates its 25th anniversary or even a bit afterward. Then, he explained, a generation of young Jews will have been to Israel and connected or re-connected to their Jewish values.

 Birthright Israel Mega Event. (credit: BIRTHRIGHT ISRAEL) Birthright Israel Mega Event. (credit: BIRTHRIGHT ISRAEL)

“After two years of limited participation, we at Birthright are experiencing tremendous demand and are preparing accordingly for the rest of the year,” Mark said at the July event. “Since the beginning of 2022, more than 25,000 participants have come to Israel from the Diaspora and we’re already preparing to welcome the one-millionth participant to arrive within the next few years.”

“Since the beginning of 2022, more than 25,000 participants have come to Israel from the Diaspora and we’re already preparing to welcome the one-millionth participant to arrive within the next few years.”

Gidi Mark

And while the organization saw a decline in numbers during the two years of COVID-19 travel restrictions, Mark did not sit back idly. One of the initiatives he pushed was to merge with Onward Israel, a provider of mid-length Israel immersion experiences for Jewish young adults

Mark explained that, “given our shared values, we saw an opportunity to combine Birthright’s programming – including our 10-day educational tours and Birthright Excel Fellowship – with Onward Israel’s longer internships and immersive living experiences. We decided, with the leadership of the Onward organization, to merge as of January 2022. Since then, they have become an integral part of Birthright Israel.” 

In recent years, Mark has been asked to speak to governments worldwide in order to share the recipe of Birthright’s secret sauce and how a crazy idea was able to connect close to a million Diaspora youth to their historic homeland. As a result, local adaptations of Birthright have been implemented in countries such as Greece, Cyprus, Azerbaijan, India and Ireland.