By Alina Dain Sharon/JNS.org
Click photo to download. Caption: Taglit-Birthright Israel trip participants with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Credit: Taglit-Birthright Israel.
Shira Kaiserman remembers her 2010
Taglit-Birthright Israel trip like it was yesterday. While the New Yorker’s
group was visiting Mount Herzl, the guide began to tell them the story of
Hannah Senesh, an Israeli national heroine who was caught and killed by the
Nazis after parachuting into Europe to help rescue Holocaust refugees in 1944.
“As a woman you don’t really hear about a lot of
modern-day Jewish women who made such a strong contribution to the Jewish
people,” Kaiserman told JNS.org. She
was so affected by the Birthright experience that she left a career in
advertising for Jewish non-profit work, now serving as the director of program
marketing and social media at the Jewish Community Center in Manhattan.
Click photo to download. Caption: A Taglit-Birthright Israel trip through Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life. Credit: Photo courtesy of Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life.
belongs to a new generation–maybe even a new category–of young Jews who have
come out of the Birthright program, which in January marked its “bar mitzvah”
anniversary. Some members of this Birthright generation have gone on to make
different, and meaningful, choices across different areas of life.
Perhaps no one has seen the trip’s impact more
tangibly than Susannah Sagan, the associate director of Ohio State University’s
(OSU) campus Hillel. At OSU, many Birthright participants return to campus and
begin taking Jewish studies courses, getting involved with the university’s
pro-Israel group, Buckeyes for Israel, or with the American Israel Public
Affairs Committee. Some of these students “come back and start living in the
[Hillel] building,” Sagan told JNS.org.
In the 13 years
since philanthropists Charles Bronfman and Michael Steinhardt joined forces
with the Israeli government, the Jewish Agency for Israel, global Jewish
communities, and other philanthropists to fund Taglit-Birthright Israel, the
program has taken about 350,000 young Jews on free 10-day trips to Israel.
A series of studies by Brandeis University’s
Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies has surveyed program alumni regarding
the impact of Birthright on their lives and looked at those who applied to the
program, but didn’t participate, as a control group. Most recently updated in
2012, the studies show that Birthright often creates a new community for
“The evidence is clear that Taglit inspires a
stronger sense of Jewish identity,” said Brandeis University professor Leonard
Saxe, a chief author of the research. While the surveys didn’t ask directly
about leadership, it’s clear that Birthright “produces a desire to be part of
the Jewish community,” Saxe added.
The research shows that former Taglit
participants are 42 percent are more likely to feel “very much” connected to
Israel compared to people who didn’t go on the trip. More survey respondents
who participated in the program are likely to belong to a religious
congregation than those who did not. Birthright participants …read more