For the broad diaspora population of Jews in the United States, Israel can seem like a far-off place despite its significance as their ancestral homeland. Luckily, due to the leadership of Michael Steinhardt and Charles Bronfman, young Jews between the ages of 18 and 26 have the opportunity to rediscover their history and place in Jewish society through a Taglit-Birthright Israel trip. Through partnerships with about 20 trip organizers, the Taglit-Birthright Israel program has provided free educational trips for over 350,000 young Jews from 64 countries for more than a decade.
The Taglit-Birthright Israel experience has been lauded by Jews both at home and in Israel, and studies suggest that the program has been a success. Researchers at Brandeis University’s Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies have found that 9 out of every 10 participants experienced greater closeness with their homeland through the trip, and 23 percent were more likely to regard passing on their heritage to their children as deeply important. In response to the program’s continued success, Taglit-Birthright Israel has been the beneficiary of generosity from the Jewish philanthropic community, which fully funds every participant’s trip.
Chicago residents participating through the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago can expect a 10-day trip packed full of tours, fellowship, and fun. Beginning with orientation programs and an introduction to their Israeli peers, the experience includes everything from a trip to the Hamat Gader hot springs to detailed tours of Independence Museum, the Western Wall, and Yad Vashem. Those who are interested would do well to apply as soon as registration opens. In 2011, nearly 64,000 young Jews applied for 25,000 openings, a common occurrence.
Providing the gift of a Taglit-Birthright Israel trip to every interested Jewish young adult will require greater philanthropic efforts. For information on contributing to the mission, visit BirthrightIsrael.com.