Birthright

In the General Assembly of Jewish Federations in 1994, Yossi Beilin had his action plan for a free vouchers program distributed. The program offers every young Jew a right to visit Israel with this opportunity funded by the Jewish People. This right is not dependent on the economic status of the youngster, or on his or her linkage to a Jewish community, or to the question of whether he or she had visited Israel before or not. This way, hopes Beilin, we can strengthen the Jewish identity of many Jews and uphold Jewish continuity.

 

The assumption was that, if it was clear to every young Jew that at a certain age he would receive a gift from the Jewish people, many would choose to take up this opportunity. It would become easier to get to those who are not part of any Jewish community; and many young Jews would meet other Jews. A database and connections with many Jews could be created to ensure the follow up of these visits. 


The Jewish people would sponsor the trip: a third would be paid by the government of Israel, a third by the UIA, and a third by Jewish philanthropy. When the idea was first presented many dismissed it, or thought it was far-fetched. Some objected to it. But Beilin continued with his project, initiated a feasibility study and contacted Jewish leaders. 


In 1997, Michael Steinhardt and Charles Bronfman, two Jewish businessmen owning important foundations active in the field of Jewish continuity, joined Beilin, adopted his idea, and set up offices in Israel and in the US to promote it. They have managed to convince the GA that gathered in Jerusalem in November 1998 to support the free Vouchers program. 
After Barak's government took office in 1999, Beilin managed to convince the government to allocate the budget for sponsoring its part in the project, and in January 2000, the Birthright project was launched in an experimental framework of 5 years. 


The success surprised even the initiators: up until July 2002, more than 28,000 young Jews from all over the world participated in the program. More and more people in Israel and abroad are involved in the project. There are long waiting lists of young Jews who are waiting for their turn to visit Israel (even during the harsh times which Israel is going through). Participants are enthusiastic; many express their will to return to Israel (for visits or studies), and want to keep in touch with the project and with Israel. The potential for sequel programs and for the usage of connections that were created with many Jews is tremendous.


--- Go to the Birthright Website