Birthright not fazed by economic slow-down

Taglit CEO says fact that gov't contributes to program shows "Israel does not just take, but also gives."

birthright logo 88 (photo credit: )
birthright logo 88
(photo credit: )
For nine years, TaglitBirthright Israel has been giving Jews from all over the world the opportunity to experience Israel for the first time. The recent worldwide economic crisis, however, as well as the persistent tension with the Palestinians, may make things more difficult in the years to come. The Birthright program, which takes groups of mostly unaffiliated young Jews who have never visited Israel on a 10-day tour of the country, receives its funding from private philanthropists and Jewish federations. It is the first program, in fact, to receive financing from the government to aid the plight of Jews living abroad. Jewish federations account for 25 percent of the total funds Birthright receives, but there are fears that this is not enough. The economic crisis has had an impact on individuals' ability to make donations from within their communities, limiting the finances the federations can bring in - although this does lead to greater fundraising efforts, and it is ultimately a personal decision whether to donate. "There is an economic crisis, so we shouldn't fool ourselves, but there will always be those who are affected worse relative to others," says Mark Wilff of New Jersey, who works with the United Jewish Committee. "The philanthropic societies of the US, Canada and other countries will continue, though. People still feel the need to give to those who have been affected and are in need of assistance with tuition and fares." Birthright is seen not only as a lesson on what it means to be a Jew, but also as a tool to change a trend of apathetic Zionism, mostly in North America - a task previously believed to be impossible. Matt Bielski of New York came on Birthright in 2002 and has since made aliya, finished his army service, and begun MBA studies at Bar-Ilan University. "Birthright gave me that extra push to finish my undergraduate degree as quickly as possible and come to Israel," he says. "Birthright helped me fall in love with Israel." Taglit CEO Gidi Mark says that "despite the current worldwide economic situation, we have secured the places for the next group of Birthright trips, and we are working very hard to secure the places for the group after that." Mark remains positive, saying, "Birthright is the first program to receive... assistance from the Israeli government toward the aid of Jews living abroad. This shows just how strong Birthright has become, and is a victory not just for Birthright but for Jews worldwide, as it shows that Israel does not just take, but also gives." In 2000, Birthright had 1,500 participants. This year, it reached 42,000 participants - a 3,000% increase. Although that number is expected to drop next year, as Mark says, "There is no need to worry just yet."