A GROUP of North Americans pass Ein Avdat in the Negev Desert during last month’s inaugural Taglit-Birthright Israel Extreme Outdoors Tour.
(photo credit: TAGLIT-BIRTHRIGHT)
Throughout my career I have traveled between New York and Israel many times. Israel is my home, but for the past five-and-a-half years New York City has been where I work and live. When my term as president and CEO at Israel Bonds was ending, I began to plan the next chapter in my career. My intention was to go back to Israel where I would resume my business endeavors, however, before finalizing my plans I was asked about the possibility of taking on the top position in an important Jewish organization.
My inclination was to say no and return to Israel, but considering how important the Birthright Israel Foundation is, I felt compelled to say yes.
If you were to ask anyone who knows me what my greatest passion is, they would tell you how deeply I care about Israel and the future of the Jewish people. After devoting a lifetime to business endeavors, many of which have had a positive financial impact on Israel, I believed I was ready to direct all my attention to something that spoke to the core of my being. I firmly believe that there is no better way to secure the future of the Jewish people and the State of Israel than through Birthright Israel.
Earlier this week I traveled to Israel to spend Hanukka with my family.
Though I had boarded such flights too many times to count, this time was different.
This flight was full of energetic, fresh-eyed young Jewish millennials about to begin their journey on Birthright Israel. Their excitement added even greater fuel to my enthusiasm for this organization and my new position as president and CEO of the Birthright Israel Foundation.
As I settled into my seat on the plane I began to think about the miracle of Hanukka. Hanukka is a holiday that celebrates the perseverance of the Maccabees.
We all know the story: there was only enough oil to provide light for one night but in the truest definition of miracles, the oil lasted for eight nights, the time it took to produce new oil for the Temple flame.
Today, more than 2,000 years later, the Jewish people have their own modern miracle... Birthright Israel. For 10 days, young Jewish adults explore their homeland, and connect with the history, culture and vibrant democracy of Israel, all while finding their place within the Jewish story. They arrive at Ben Gurion Airport with questions, second- and third-hand views of the Middle East, and in many cases no knowledge of Judaism or Israel at all.
While many miracles are left up to faith, Birthright Israel is a miracle we as a global Jewish community can all be part of and benefit from. The Jewish people of today are experiencing a new golden age. However, our future will only remain vibrant if we continue to connect our children and grandchildren to the wider Jewish community and the State of Israel. Giving the gift of exploring their heritage is the ultimate gift we can give our youth.
If you look at the generation of millennials, the future leaders of our community and our world, we can all find joy in knowing they have grown up with tremendous freedom. But it is this freedom that has caused them to drift away from their roots. They do not know the world of our parents and grandparents, or a world without Israel. If we do not provide them with the gift of Birthright Israel, our Jewish communities will not have the strong foundation that they need to thrive for generations to come.
When I lived in Israel I saw the Birthright Israel buses and the logos in store windows, but it was not until I came to New York that I truly appreciated what Birthright Israel means. Whenever I met young Jewish adults, their involvement in the Jewish community and their connection to Israel was often the result of their Birthright Israel experience. A true miracle indeed.
As I walked through the airport, I could not help but smile. I was excited for the transformative journey that lay ahead for all the Birthright Israel participants who were about to experience their homeland for the very first time. As the new president and CEO of the Birthright Israel Foundation, I know I have a big job ahead of me. I intend to put all my effort into ensuring we raise more money than ever and I truly believe the sky is the limit.
Birthright Israel is one of the most exciting enterprises the Jewish people have taken on and it gives me the greatest satisfaction to know that each dollar we raise is going directly toward changing the lives of young Jews.
If we care about the Jewish people, if we care about Israel, this is an investment we all must make. We must become stakeholders in the Jewish future and that future depends largely on Birthright Israel.
The author is president and CEO of the Birthright Israel Foundation, which raises funds in the United States to support Birthright Israel, a program which currently provides 45,000 young Jewish adults annually the gift of a 10-day trip to Israel.