Thursday, January 6, 2011
Netanyahu vows to double gov't funds given to Birthright
Speaking at program’s Megaevent, PM says "together with private donations we can increase number of people to 50,000 a year.“
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Thursday night promised to double the state’s investment in Birthright, the program that brings Diaspora Jews aged 18-26 to Israel on free 10-day heritage trips.
He spoke at the program’s Megaevent at the Jerusalem International Convention Center (Binyanei Ha’uma) in front of a lively audience of 3,000 young Jewish adults from over a dozen countries.
“My government will give more than double its investment in Birthright and over the next few years, we will invest more than $100 million in Birthright,” Netanyahu proclaimed. “Together with private donations, we can increase the number of people to 50,000 a year.”
But one of Birthright’s founders, former Meretz chairman Yossi Beilin, who was at the event last night, told The Jerusalem Post that the number of Birthright participants still falls short of the goal he set when it began.
“We wanted to bring 250,000 a year when we set out, so we’re still not where we want to be,” Beilin said. “The constraints are budgetary and we need more investments.”
Beilin also took a jab at the Jewish Agency, which he said had impeded the program’s growth in its early stages.
“They were against it from the start and fought against it tooth and nail,” he said. “Originally, we wanted Birthright to replace the Jewish Agency with its funds to go toward the program, but that didn’t happen.”
Since Birthright – better known in Israel by its Hebrew name Taglit, which means discovery – began in 2000, it has been lauded as one of the most successful and influential initiatives in the Jewish world. Studies conducted on behalf of the organization by Brandeis University’s Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies show that the visits have had a profound effect on participants.
For instance, Birthright alumni are more likely to become members of a synagogue when they return home, marry within the community and give their children a Jewish upbringing than their coreligionists who have not taken part in the program.
“Birthright passed an unbelievable benchmark: over 250,000 have come here since the program began,” Netanyahu said at Thursday’s event. “All of you should take pride in Birthright and I take pride in having been the first Israeli prime minister to start funding Birthright.”
Jews from isolated places taking part in Birthright has a particular significance, as it is the first time many of them have come in contact with a large Jewish community.
One group currently on Birthright from the Brazilian city of Manaus, located on the shores of the Amazon River 3,940 km. from Brasilia, spoke to the Post about their experience over the past week.
Felipie Liborio, 20, a journalism student from Manaus, said he was overwhelmed when he first landed in the country.
“I had many hours of flight and so when I got to Israel, I was tired,” Liborio, who wears a kippa, said. “I went to sleep, but when I woke up, I prayed and realized what a great moment it was. Finally, I was in Israel for the first time.”
There are about 1,000 Jews in Manaus, Liborio said, most of whose families emigrated from Tangiers in Morocco around the turn of the 20th century.
Debora and Camily Abecassis, cousins from Manaus, said their favorite part of the trip was climbing Masada, the ancient citadel in the Judean Desert.
“I feel more connected to the religion now,” Debora said about the effect the trip has had on her. “I have a better comprehension of what the religion is about.”
Gidi Mark, the head of Birthright, said the event on Thursday was an important milestone in the history of the program.
“This is the first Mega-event of the new decade,” he said. “I hope we continue to grow this program into the next one.”