A private Israeli company is bringing 120 North American Jewish youth to Israel on a free 10-day trip aimed at strengthening their Jewish identity.
The Kfar Saba-based Oranim was once a major operator for trips funded by Taglit-Birthright Israel, but broke with the famous program last year.
Birthright trips, which target less-affiliated American college-age Jews, are intended to encourage participants to deal with their Jewish identities on their own terms, so operators are forbidden from openly urging participants to make aliya or adopt lifestyle changes.
For Oranim president Shlomo "Momo" Lifshitz, these demands were too much.
"Oranim answers the problem of the increasing distance of youth, mainly in North America, from Judaism and Israel," he said.
"Today, we need a different voice that will initiate a connection between us and the Diaspora. Instead of sweeping the painful issues we face under the table, [this voice] will raise them for a direct discussion in an open and honest dialogue," said Lifshitz.
Since last week, some 120 college-age Jewish youths have been touring the country on trips funded entirely by Oranim. Through this pilot program, Oranim hopes to show that it can do what the globe-spanning birthright has done for over 200,000 young Jews - bring them closer to their Jewish identities on a mass scale.
Whether Oranim's program will survive remains to be seen. The pilot group is costing the company some NIS 1 million. But by demonstrating that it can implement such programs, Oranim hopes to bring the Israeli government and Jewish donors in to help fund future trips.
In creating its own version of the birthright model, Oranim is also seeking to make some changes, with possibly the most significant one being extending Birthright's upper age limit from 26 to 35.