The now-famous Taglit-Birthright program, which brings Jewish young adults to Israel for free 10 day trips, will increase the number of trips and participants by 20% in 2010. According to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), the participation of soldiers in the project will grow, as well.
This week, Birthright celebrated its 10 year anniversary, proudly acknowledging the feat of bringing 250,000 young Jews and children of Jews from around the world to Israel, where they also spend time meeting IDF soldiers. In last week's "mega event" commemorating the birthday, Birthright CEO Gidi Mark told attendees that the organization would bring 27,000 young people to Israel this year, a 20 percent increase from previous years.
"We are celebrating 10 years of the Birthright project, and even though we have succeeded in including over 250,000 young Jews in this initiative, to date, the situation of Judaism in the Diaspora is not so good," Mark said. "Most young Jews have still not visited [Israel], and this is a problem we are striving to correct."
During the celebration, attended by President Shimon Peres, Head of the Jewish Agency Natan Sharansky called the Birthright project an important tool of public diplomacy in this time.
"This is one of the brightest ideas in Jewish history," Sharansky said, "while [Birthright] Jews hear claims in their countries that Israel is the most frequent violator of human rights, they can recall their stay in the country and thereby be ambassadors for the state."
Birthright executives expect the program to continue to grow in the next five years, and the IDF Education and Youth Corps said that the number of soldiers participating in the tours will continue to increase over this time as well. The only way the IDF would not get more involved is if budget allocations to Birthright are cut.
Birthright programs are wide in scope, and cater to all kinds of participants - religious, secular, intellectual, outdoorsy, and everything in between. To be eligible, applicants must be 18-27 years old, Jewish (or consider themselves Jewish), and can not have participated in any organized peer trip to Israel over 7 days long. Participants are treated to 5 star service and tours, visiting a wide variety of sites throughout Israel, and learning about the country and the Jewish people.