Birthright Israel

Taglit-Birthright Israel
Formation 1999 (1999)
Headquarters Jerusalem, Israel
Gidi Mark
$46.9 million (2011)

Taglit-Birthright Israel (Hebrew: תגלית), also known as Birthright Israel or simply Birthright, is a not-for-profit educational organization that sponsors free ten-day heritage trips to Israel for young adults of Jewish heritage, aged 18–26.[1]

Taglit is the Hebrew word for discovery. During their trip, participants, most of whom are visiting Israel for the first time, are encouraged to discover new meaning in their personal Jewish identity and connection to Jewish history and culture.[2]

Since trips began in the winter of 1999, more than 500,000 young people from 64 countries have participated in the program.[3][4] About 80% of participants are from the United States and Canada. The number of participants has not grown beyond 40,000 a year due to budgetary constraints.[1]


Taglit delegation, winter 2012

The Birthright Israel program was initiated in 1994 and founded in cooperation with Charles Bronfman and Michael Steinhardt, as well as the Israeli government, private donors, the Jewish Agency for Israel, and Jewish communities around the world.[5] Tours are held in the winter and summer, for which demand is very high. Registration is conducted online and each round there are usually thousands more applicants than spaces available.[1]

In 2007, annual capacity was increased to 20,000 participants a year.[6] That year, Sheldon Adelson pledged $25 million to Birthright Israel to take applicants off waiting lists and to increase annual capacity from 25,000 to 37,000 in 2007 and 2008.[6] The Adelson Family Foundation has contributed many millions of US dollars annually to Birthright Israel since 2007.[7] In 2011, he pledged an additional $5 million toward the effort. In 2013, Adelson doubled his past annual commitment to Birthright Israel, announcing a $20 million challenge grant that will match new and increased gifts or pledges through 2015. This raises Adelson's total support of the program to over $250 million as of February 2015.[8]


Eligible individuals are those who have at least one parent of recognized Jewish descent and who do not actively practice another religion, between the ages 18 to 26, post-high-school, who have neither traveled to Israel before on a peer educational trip or study program past the age of 18 nor have lived in Israel past the age of 12.[9] A Taglit-Birthright Israel trip includes airfare from major cities, hotels, most meals, all transportation within Israel, and costs associated with touring the country for the ten-day trip. A US$250 deposit is required which is refunded upon return from the trip. Airfare or transportation from a participant's home to the gateway city is not included, although the trips depart from multiple cities.

Trip organizers

Trips are organized by different organizations and companies accredited by Taglit-Birthright Israel, which sets the logistical, educational, and security standards. All groups are led by licensed Israeli tour guides, all groups are accompanied by an armed security guard, and include visits to the Western Wall and Yad Vashem, as well as other sites determined by Taglit-Birthright Israel. Tours may vary according to age group and the religious background of the participants. Trips may be geared for graduate students, undergraduates at a particular university, participants from a particular city, participants who identify with a particular stream of Judaism, hiking enthusiasts and so on.[10]

El Al, Israel's largest airline company, is the major operator of the trips' flights.[11][12]


Archaeological site Tel Gezer with Birthright tourists, February 2013

Registration is conducted twice a year, in the winter and summer, and during each round there are thousands more applicants than spaces available. Trips are conducted throughout most of the year.

A Taglit-Birthright Israel trip includes airfare from major cities, hotel accommodation, two meals per day, security, all transportation within Israel, and other costs associated with touring the country during the ten-day trip.

A Ukrainian Taglit group in Israel, 2008

Tours travel throughout the country to religious and cultural sites, including in Jerusalem, the Western Wall, and the Dead Sea.[13] Trips also often include a Mega Event, which unites thousands of participants from around the world together with Israelis for a celebration featuring speeches by dignitaries and musical performances.

A major feature of the tours is a 5- to 10-day mifgash (Hebrew for 'encounter') with Israeli peers, usually soldiers serving in the Israel Defense Forces, who join the tour. The stated purpose for the mifgash is for the participants and the soldiers to get to know each other and to better understand each other's world view and Jewish identity. Guided discussion sessions explore topics such as the Jewish tradition in the modern world, how Jewish life in Israel differs from Jewish life abroad, and how mandatory military service impacts young Israelis' perceptions of service and commitment to their country.[14] More than 65,000 Israelis have participated in the program since 2000.[15]

Participants have the option to extend their plane ticket for up to three months to explore Israel and the region. The optional extension is not part of the Birthright trip, and the participant is in that time like any tourist.

Security measures

Security policies in place during the trip "ensure a comprehensive safety umbrella":[16]


Through the end of 2011, the program had an operating budget of $660 million. More than half of the funding comes from philanthropists, among them Charles Bronfman, Edgar Bronfman, Sr., Daniel Och, Marlene Post, Lynn Schusterman, Sheldon Adelson, and Michael Steinhardt. About one-quarter of funding comes from the Government of Israel, and about one-fifth is contributed by Jewish organizations and communities, such as North American Jewish Federations through the United Jewish Communities (UJC), Keren Hayesod, and the Jewish Agency for Israel; and many leading private philanthropists through the Birthright Israel Foundation, including Charles Bronfman, Michael Steinhardt, and Lynn Schusterman. The program also receives funding from the German government, through the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.[6]

According to the organization, Taglit-Birthright Israel has contributed more than 2 billion NIS to the Israeli economy.[17]


The Birthright Israel program has been criticized for its pre-trip screening process. According to Rachel Shabi in, political opinions may be taken into account: "Potential candidates who are discovered to have a 'hidden agenda' are not allowed onto the [Birthright] trips".[18] Shabi notes the phenomenon of people who use the Birthright program to obtain free transportation to Israel, then leave the group to work with Palestinian groups.

An article in The Nation claimed that Birthright invites travelers to "explore Israel without being force-fed ideology," but Nathan Ehrlich claims the trips are ideological.[19][20]

Alumni programs

Michael Steinhardt, co-founder of Birthright Israel, is a major supporter of The Alumni Community, a primary provider of post-Birthright Israel programs in the New York area. Through its follow-up programs, in which 15,000 alumni participate every year, young Jews continue to learn about Jewish culture and history.[21] I.D., a performance of monologues by Birthright Israel alumni based on their experiences, is sponsored by Birthright Israel Next, which keeps in touch with alumni by hosting trips, reunions and other programs.[22]

Social impact

At an academic symposium on Taglit-Birthright held at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 2013, Leonard Saxe of Brandeis University presented evidence that program participants tend to marry later than their peers, apparently due to a desire to find a Jewish spouse, and are far more likely to marry within the faith. The findings also show that one out of four Birthright participants ends up marrying another Birthright participant.[23]

Similar trips

Birthright Israel has inspired similar programs for other diasporas with similar goals, including Birthright Armenia for the Armenian diaspora, Reconnect Hungary for young adults of Hungarian diaspora, and Birthright Greece for the Greek Diaspora.[24]

Birthright Unplugged was founded to counterbalance Birthright Israel, with the goal of exposing Jewish and non-Jewish visitors to Palestinian communities inside and outside of Israel.[25]

Palestinian-Americans can sign up for a sponsored two-week trip called "Know Thy Heritage." The itinerary includes the Church of the Nativity, Aida Refugee Camp in Bethlehem, Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron, Samaritan Museum in Nablus and several Christian and Muslim sites in Jerusalem. However, Palestinians with dual citizenship, foreign nationals of Arab heritage, and potential Palestinian activists entering through the Jordanian border may be interrogated at length or denied entry into Israel for "security reasons".[26]

See also


  1. 1 2 3 New Israeli plan could effectively double number of Birthright participants
  2. The Birthright Challenge
  3. Taglit's official website
  4. "Taglit-Birthright Israel celebrates 400,000th participant". June 25, 2014.
  5. Saxe, L. & Chazan, B. (2008). Ten Days of Birthright Israel: A Journey in Young Adult Identity. Lebanon, NH: University Press of New England
  6. 1 2 3 Richest US Jew pledges USD 25 million to Taglit - birthright israel - Israel News, Ynetnews
  7. Adelson Foundation Gives Taglit An Extra $5 Million Boost, by Elad Benari, Israel National News, December 1, 2011
  8. "Adelson, Azrieli Foundations Award $45 Million to Birthright Israel". Philanthropy News Digest (PND). The Foundation Center. Retrieved 2 March 2015.
  9. Taglit-Birthright Israel: Frequently Asked Questions
  10. "Niche Trips". Birthright Israel. The Birthright Israel Foundation. Retrieved 2 March 2015.
  11. "Taglit - FAQ". Retrieved 27 October 2013.
  12. Zohar Blumenkrantz (August 6, 2003). "El Al to fly in 5,000 under Birthright project". Haaretz. Retrieved 27 October 2013.
  13. Taglit-Birthright Israel How to Choose a Trip Organizer?
  14. Feldman, Kiera. "The Romance of Birthright Israel". The Nation. Retrieved 2 March 2015.
  15. Taglit-Birthright Israel CEO Report (2001)
  16. Safety and Security Update
  17. 'Birthright contributed NIS 2b. to Israeli economy', by Nadav Shemer, Jerusalem Post, February 26, 2012
  18. Come, see Palestine! Upstart tours of Palestine are challenging fully paid "See Israel" holidays in a battle for the hearts and minds of young American Jews Rachel Shabi,, Jun 5, 2006
  19. "The Romance of Birthright Israel," Kiera Feldman, The Nation, online edition, June 15, 2011.
  20. Birthright's Israel: The Political Bias of the Jewish Community’s Favorite Program Nathan Ehrlich, Zeek, November 28, 2011
  21. Birthright Reshuffles Follow-Up Effort
  22. Birthright Alumni: Raw on the Stage
  23. Birthright alumni marry later - and are more likely to marry Jewish, Haaretz
  24. Jeremy Gillick (5 May 2008). "Birthright Israel, Meet Birthright Armenia". Archived from the original on 12 May 2009.
  25. Birthright Unplugged: Mission Statement
  26. Anna Lekas Miller (April 3, 2013). "A Palestinian Birthright Trip?". The Daily Beast. The Newsweek/Daily Beast Company LLC. Retrieved April 5, 2013.

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