PM's illness clouds Birthright's festive event

Despite uncertainty created by news Sharon's worsening health, Birthright elected not to cancel that evening's mega-event.

Despite the uncertainty created by Thursday's news of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's worsening health, Taglit-Birthright Israel elected not to cancel that evening's mega-event in which 3,500 young Jewish adults from across the globe packed the Jerusalem Convention Center for a night full of dancing and musical performances from local artists. A spokesperson for Taglit told The Jerusalem Post that had Sharon died that day they would certainly have called the whole thing off, but the decision had been made to "carry on as planned." Taglit director and philanthropist Charles Bronfman opened the event by telling the capacity crowd that Ehud Olmert had been invited to speak but "had phoned early in the morning to cancel." Bronfman then expressed his sympathy for Sharon, calling him a "friend of Taglit," while a film of the prime minister speaking at a previous event was projected onto a big screen moments before the festivities began. Cody Aaron, 18, from Australia, told the Post that she and her friends were "very upset" by Sharon's relapse, especially as it was happening during their first experience of Israel, but they were all hoping he pulled through, because "the country really needs him." This winter, over 10,000 young adults from places as diverse as Argentina, India and Russia made their first trip to Israel courtesy of Taglit-Birthright Israel's annual free nationwide tours, which have, since 1999, attracted over 98,000 youngsters to the country. Taglit-Birthright Israel maintains that a significant number of these international participants eventually make aliyah as a consequence of the experience, and that during the trip they are afforded a more objective perspective of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.