Given the amount of Birthright Israel Trips that I’ve led, and the Mega Events I’ve attended, people look to me as a resource when it comes to questions related to the iconic free ten-day trip to Israel. I mean Birthright has been around for 13 years (Happy Bar Mitzvah)! Hundreds of thousands of people have participated, rivers of ink have been spilled on studies, assessments, comments, critiques and even a comic book. So you would think that one such as myself, intimately involved in the Jewish world, would actually know pretty much all there is to know about Birthright.
But no. Just this summer I’ve learned all kinds of stuff about Birthright that I never knew before. Thus I will share three revelations with you, and one incontrovertible truth. So here we go:
1. Birthright Israel has Russian Mega Events. And they Rock!
Every Birthright season is marked by one or more Mega Events. These events unite all the Birthright participants in Israel for an evening of rousing speeches, music, dance and multimedia exuberance. The lingua franca of these events is English and the participants come from around the world. The Americans are loud, the South Americans don’t stop dancing and the Russians… well, I never noticed many Russians. Why? Well, apparently it’s because Russians have their own Mega Events! I went to one this summer and it was a revelation. Jewish Agency chairman Natan Scharansky addressed the crowd, in Russian. There were dancers and singers and face painting booths Russian speakers from across the former Soviet Union and everything was in Russian and I didn’t understand a thing anyone was saying. What I did understand was the enthusiasm. One thousand young Russians Birthright participants make as much noise as 3,500 regular participants and, with the aid of Israeli Gypsy surf punk band Boom Pam, they dance ten times more. Who knew! Not me, for shame.
2. It Doesn’t End with the Trip: Birthright Excel?
Birthright Excel is a summer internship program that brings a select group of Birthright alums to Israel for a kick ass summer internship program. Based out of Tel Aviv, these students got to enjoy everything Tel Aviv has to offer while benefiting from fantastic internships with top Israeli companies. Only 36 participants are chosen and upon their return to University, they are given a mentor close to home, a business executive and philanthropist active in the Jewish community and Israel. Their responsibilities will include counseling their Excel participant for the next year focusing on a professional future in connection with their Jewish identity, their connection to Israel, social responsibility and philanthropy. How neat is that? I guess Birthright is doing its part, developing the next generation of Jewish leaders. Think you have what it takes? Click here to find out more (Birthright just redid their site so be patient if the info is hard to access… this link will get you there. Eventually). Once again, until I got the press release, I had no idea. None. Oy.
3. Birthright is really committed to providing good trips.
How committed? Pretty darn committed I would say. I mean, look. It’s a 10-day trip. Each provider is assessed by its ability to combine a fun trip with serious educational elements. This includes trips of cultural and historical relevance to the Jews, like the Kotel, the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum and more. The bulk of the responsibility for education is held by the tour guide. Israeli tour guides have to be certified by the Ministry of Tourism and that happens only after a long period of grueling study. So Birthright thought to itself, how can we make our trips even better? The answer? Have a hand in training the next cohort of Birthright Israel tour guides! Thus was inaugurated the Taglit-Birthright Institute for Tour Educators, the first of its kind training institution for the qualification of tour guides. The Taglit Birthright Institute, in cooperation with the Ben-Zvi Institute, combines the certification of instructors and guides, in accordance to the Ministry of Tourism standards, with the educational and professional enrichment of Taglit groups. Talk about commitment! This project, done in cooperation with the Ben Zvi institute, includes long and short term programs for both prospective and veteran tour guides. That’s a bold move there Gidi. And once again, I had no clue. Send an email to Birthright if you want more info. Me? I’m going to cry myself to sleep.
4. You can’t really dig all this Birthright stuff if you don’t go!
Yeah. It’s time to join over 300,000 young Jews from over 50 different countries and claim your Birthright. Applications for the next season of Taglit Birthright Israel Trips begin on September 10th if you have applied before and September 12th for everyone else. That’s in like less than a week. Get on it young Jews between the ages of 18 and 26 who have never been to Israel before! So yeah, go for it. And who should you go with? I suggest Yael Adventures – ever since I ran into a group in Jerusalem enjoying a meal at a local Steak House. They had just been to a Mega Event in Jerusalem and were hungry, so the owner of Yael Adventures took them to Stekiyat HaChatsot, the place that invented the Jerusalem Mixed Grill. That’s both classy and savvy! Try it when you come to visit, you won’t regret it. Click here to get on their list and we’ll see you in Israel! Seriously. Do it now. Register as soon as you can because as might be expected for such an awesome experience, demand far outstrips supply.