Birthright Israel was created with the idea that every Jew is entitled to a free trip to Israel. It operates on the premise that if a Jew experiences the Jewish state as a young adult, between ages 18 and 26, he or she will develop an attachment to the country and become a more committed Jew.
And it works. Since 2000, Birthright has sent more than 300,000 Jews to Israel. A 2012 Workmen’s Circle study suggested the existence of a Birthright “bump” in Jewish identity and attachment to Israel after participation in the program.
But until now, young Jews who had previously visited Israel — on a high school trip, for instance — were not eligible for the 10-day Birthright trip. Last week, though, the Taglit-Birthright Israel steering committee voted to change the rule and to welcome Jews to the program regardless of their past Israel experience. The change will go into effect this summer.
It’s a good move. It means that several thousand more young Jewish adults will become eligible to participate in the program each year, according to Birthright. And not only will there be a larger pool that will benefit from the Birthright experience, but each Birthright group can be seeded with Israel “veterans,” who can lend a greater depth to the first-timers’ experience.
And these veterans will not be taking opportunities away from the unaffiliated Jews who are Birthright’s traditional focus. The trips of the second-timers will be funded solely by donors; the trips of first-time visitors to Israel are one-third funded by the Israeli government.
The new policy should answer the concerns of the operators of high school programs in Israel. They had complained that the heavily subsidized Birthright trips have hurt enrollment in their programs. Now there will be no Birthright penalty for having visited Israel previously, a penalty that was in nobody’s interest.
Birthright’s decision is a good one for everyone.