So many young people hvae been in Jerusalem over the last several weeks and all seemed to be brimming with Jewish pride.It’s always a place many of them would picture, but now they are here. This is all due to the program of Birthright. The 10-day tour of Israel sponsored by Birthright Israel, which takes its name from the Zionist notion that all Jews, no matter their nationality, have the right to call Israel home.
The program, which is offered free to Jews between ages 18 and 26 who have never visited Israel in an organized group, is becoming a rite of passage for young American Jews.
The highly structured tour seeks to forge ties between diaspora Jews and Israel, and to strengthen Jewish identity in countries, such as the United States, where intermarriage among faiths is common.
But critics say the tour presents a one-sided portrait of Israel and misses an opportunity to educate a new generation on the complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
This year, 42,000 people are expected to visit Israel on a Birthright tour. Last year, 39,000 visited. Since the program was launched eight years ago, 190,000 young Jews from 53 countries, roughly 70 percent from the United States, have visited Israel on a Birthright tour.
American billionaire philanthropist Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam, donated $30 million to Birthright last year and another $35 million this year. This, combined with a current lull in Israeli-Palestinian violence, has significantly boosted the number of participants.“It has a strategic importance for the state of Israel because in a way it’s a completion of the Zionist dream,” said Gidi Mark, director of marketing for Birthright Israel. “It’s important especially today when we don’t have as many new immigrants as we had in the past.”
The tours showcase Israel as Jewish, modern and thriving. “We didn’t want them coming away with the idea of camels, Orthodox Jews or an island under siege,”
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