Source: The Jewish Week
Gary Rosenblatt writes about Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu's announcement of the Israeli government’s decision to more than double its investment in the popular free 10-day trips for young Diaspora Jews, Birthright Israel, to $100 million in funding over the next three years. That, along with the commitment of funders in the US to significantly increase their donations to Birthright, means that by 2013, more than half of all Jews in the world between the ages of 18 and 26 will have had a ten-day free trip to Israel.
The Israeli Government funding, which will rise over the three-year period from $26 million this year to $40 million by 2013, is aimed at increasing the number of Birthright participants to 51,000 annually by 2013. Last year, 30,000 Diaspora Jews went on the program. Presently places on the program are available for only about half of the young Jews who apply. The increased funding aims to allow almost all who apply to participate in Birthright Israel.
Celebrated as one of the most successful Jewish identity projects in recent years, Birthright Israel has brought more than 250,000 young Jews to Israel since its beginning in 2000. Based on data showing that an Israel trip was among the most effective contributors to Jewish identity formation, Birthright aimed to counter trends showing declining connection to Israel and weaker Jewish identification among young Diaspora Jews.
In 2009, a Birthright-funded study by Brandeis University found that participants in the program were 57 percent more likely to marry other Jews and 30 percent more likely to view raising Jewish children as very important.
In addition to bringing more young people on Birthright, programmers are planning to improve the quality of the tours. A program to train tour guides to help heighten and sharpen the Israel experience for Birthright participants is in the works.