(photo credit: David Karp)
A record 23,500 participants are expected to visit Israel this summer as part of Taglit-birthright israel's free, 10-day educational trips, the organization announced over the weekend.
Nearly 32,000 applications were received for this season - a record high. The number of US applicants for the program establishes participation in Taglit-birthright Israel as a rite of passage in its own right and marks a paradigm shift among young American Jews who formerly visited Israel at lower rates than the rest of the world.
The 23,500 participants, between the ages of 18 and 26 and from 35 countries worldwide, will be divided into 560 groups-some with special interest themes like the environment, journalism, and others - and will visit Israel between May 1 and August 21, 2007.
The expected income for tourism from these trips this summer is estimated at approximately $47.5 million, the organization said.
Much of this expenditure in hotel accommodations, entry into cultural sites, food and transport costs will be in Jerusalem alone, as the 40th anniversary of the unification of Jerusalem forms a focal part of this summer's trips.
Approximately 4,380 soldiers are expected to join various trips in peer group encounter meetings - a central theme within the program which helps build personal relationships between Israeli youth and their Diaspora peers.
"We are delighted to be bringing a record number of participants during such a monumental occasion in the history of Jerusalem," said Dr. Shimshon Shoshani, CEO of birthright israel International. "This summer's participants will be provided with the opportunity of a lifetime - to learn about the State of Israel, their Israeli peers and, moreover, what is means to be Jewish."
Given the proven impact of the trips on Jewish communities abroad, this record registration represents great potential for future solidarity among world Jewry. We are grateful to Dr. Miriam and Sheldon Adelson for their generous gift which allowed us to double the size of our summer programs."
Since the establishment of Taglit-birthright israel almost seven years ago, more than 123,000 young adults from 51 countries have visited Israel through the program and over $227 million in tourism revenues has been created.