This address from the Herzliya Conference in Israel details four lessons derived from studies of Birthright Israel: the truth about young adults' connection to Israel, the critical elements of successful Diaspora/Israel connections, creative educational models, and the importance of adaptive institutional models.
Since the first El AL jet carrying Taglit participants landed at Ben-Gurion Airport in late December 1999, more than 160,000 Diaspora young adults have come to Israel on the program. They have spent ten days in Eretz Yisrael learning about their heritage, engaging with modern Israel, and with Israeli peers. Three-quarters of the 18 to 26 year-old participants come from North America. In addition, forty-four countries are represented among program alumni. Notwithstanding the large number of those who have come, at least 100,000 who applied to participate remained at home because of a lack of space.
Research has tracked the impact of Taglit experimentally, comparing participants with those who apply but do not receive a program slot. These comparisons yield unequivocal evidence that the program transforms attitudes to Israel, participants’ Jewish identities, and their interest in being engaged with Jewish life. The impact is immediate, but effects persist three months, a year, and even three or more years after the program.
Lessons from Taglit-Birthright Israel
• Young adult Jews in the Diaspora want to be connected to Israel.
Some believe—even claim to have evidence—that younger Diaspora Jews are distancing themselves from Israel. This belief is incorrect: younger Jews have always been less likely than older generations to see themselves as connected to Israel and, if anything, young adults today are more interested and engaged with Israel than previous generations. The key lesson of Taglit is that contemporary young adults want to be engaged in Israel; they, in fact, yearn for meaningful connections.
• Person-to-person encounters must be at the heart of Diaspora-Israel connections.
• Jewish education must engage heart, mind, and body.
• Institutions must adapt.
The Birthright Israel generation is hungry for meaningful communal engagement. The programs, the structures, the approaches are likely not to look like things that have been done in the past. But the lesson of Taglit is that the only alternative to institutional or organizational change is for new institutions to replace the old.
Reviewed by JTEC Portal Team