(photo credit: Neta Shor)
A record-breaking number of North American applicants signed up to take part in Birthright-Taglit this year, according to data released by the organization on Wednesday.
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The Birthright-Taglit program, which brings young Jewish adults from the Diaspora to Israel on free, 10-day educational tours of the country, said it received 40,108 applications during the sevenday registration period for summer trips that ended on Tuesday – 1,334 more than the year before.
Calling it “the most successful project in the Jewish world,” Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein, who serves as chairman of Birthright-Taglit’s steering committee, hailed the new application figures.
“We see Taglit-Birthright Israel turning into a real rite of passage for a majority of young Jews worldwide and we hope many thousands more will come to Israel,” he said.
Birthright-Taglit officials also pointed out that this year’s record was achieved despite opening registration for only one week, compared to last week’s two weeks.
The number of applicants far outpaces the funding capacity of the program.
Organizers estimate they can send 15,000 young adults of the 40,000 registered from North America for trips between May and August.
In all, Birthright-Taglit will bring 33,000 young adults to Israel during 2011 on summer and winter trips, from more than 50 countries around the world.
Birthright-Taglit has set the goal of sending 51,000 young Jewish adults annually by 2013, which means that one in every two Jewish young adults worldwide would participate in a Birthright trip. In January, the government announced it would contribute $100 million in funding over the next three years to help Birthright-Taglit achieve that goal.
“We again see how strong the demand for the Taglit- Birthright Israel trip is and each year the demand keeps growing,” said Taglit- Birthright Israel CEO Gidi Mark.
“At the same time, the historic decision of the government of Israel is also a challenge for our partners – to meet the bar set by the government and invest in the future of so many thousands of young Jews around the world who are simply waiting to go on the trips.”
Birthright-Taglit has been praised for being one of the most effective ways of strengthening ties between Israel and the Diaspora.
Research has shown that it makes a profound impression on its young participants who, upon return to their country of origin, tend to stay in closer contact with the Jewish community and Israel than coreligionists who have not taken part in the program.
The data from the registration shows that Birthright applicants come predominantly from Reform or unaffiliated backgrounds. Asked to describe their religious affiliation, 41 percent of applicants said they were Reform; 26% said “just Jewish”; 21%, Conservative; 4%, Orthodox and 8%, other.
Fifty-seven percent of applicants are ages 18 through 21; while 43% are age 22 through 26.
Since Birthright-Taglit was launched in 2002, the initiative, which is funded by the government and private donations, has tried to maintain a non-partisan approach towards organizing its Israel tours. Last year, however, it was criticized for allowing one of its groups to visit Hebron.
More recently, it was involved in a spat with the left-leaning advocacy group J Street, which was barred from organizing a trip because it was deemed too political.
J Street fired back at Birthright, saying it had permitted the American Israel Public Affairs Committee to take part in putting together a similar tour. It then announced it would organize its own tour of Israel and the West Bank this summer.