The success of the Birthright Israel trip, which has brought more than 200,000 young Jews to Israel from 52 countries over the past 12 years, has caused the parents of these young adults to want to go on a trip of their own. Now they can.
The UJA-Federation of New York has created the “Birthright Israel for Boomers” trip to provide older American Jews, who have never visited Israel, an experience identical to the one that young adults go on through Birthright. The first pioneer group of 34 participants from New York arrived in Israel on April 28 and remained until Wednesday.
According to Birthright Israel for Boomers Chairman, Michael Lax, “The vast majority of American Jews have never visited Israel and when they are asked why, the answer is that they really would like to visit the country sometime, but it’s not really their top priority.”
He added, “We decided that Israel needed to market to U.S. Jews in a more attractive way and since we have seen the effect of Birthright on young participants we asked ourselves, why not try this trip with older adults? Our motto was ‘when was the last time in your life that you did something for the first time?’”
According to recent studies in American Jewry, only one in five American Jews has visited or plans to visit Israel.
“The response we received about this trip was beyond any expectations,” said Nancy Leipzig Powers of UJA-Federation of New York. “Dozens contacted us and wanted to participate in the project. Since the trip is in its first stage and because of logistical reasons, only 34 will go on the first trip. However, we plan to offer more trips to Israel in the future and hope that the project will be as big as the original Birthright program.”
All of the participants in the Birthright Baby Boomers came from New York; most of them are between 50 and 60 years old and none have ever been to Israel before. Several of the participants’ children have been on Birthright themselves and convinced their parents to join the expedition.
“The program we have built for adults is very similar to the original Birthright itinerary but includes a few adjustments for those who are older in age,” said Michael Lax. “They will visit all of the tourist attractions including: Jerusalem, Masada, the Dead Sea, Eilat, Tel Aviv, the Golan Heights, rafting in the Jordan River, and sailing on the Sea of Galilee. The participants will also visit military bases such as the Palmachim Air Force Base and meet VIP’s including Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky.”
Among the participants are Ken and Sari Friedman of Long Island, New York, whose two daughters have visited Israel on Birthright trips.
“I always felt that Israel was not a safe place to go, so I refrained from visiting,” said Sari Friedman. “But after hearing all of the amazing experiences that our girls had while in Israel, I decided that I wanted to go.”
Rick and Arlene Morse, both 55, from Long Island, New York, said before the trip that they were excited about it and had been preparing themselves for the trip both physically and mentally.
“We have been exercising and watching documentary films on Jewish tradition and history, we are very excited to finally go to Israel and want to ensure that we are ready for any challenge,” said Rick Morse. “We can’t wait to visit the Western Wall in Jerusalem and are eager to climb Masada and then go bathing in the Dead Sea.”
The Birthright-Taglit program, partially funded by Israel, has enabled tens of thousands of young Jews to visit Israel for the first time. Last year’s success of bringing 32,500 people to Israel prompted Birthright and the government to agree to plan for 50,000 next year. The government funds one-third of the expenses, amounting to approximately $25 million.
Recently, eight young Jewish adults who have various degrees of mental and physical disabilities spent ten days touring Israel, on the first trip of its kind from the UK, thanks to Taglit-Birthright Israel, UJIA and Norwood.
The UJIA Birthright-Norwood ‘Limitless’ program is a special Taglit-Birthright Israel trip that took nearly two years to plan.