Thousands of Taglit-Birthright Israel participants from the United States, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Germany, Russia and Uruguay came together on Monday to celebrate Taglit's Mega Event Bar/Bat Mitzvah celebration.
For the past 13 years, Taglit-Birthright Israel has offered the gift of a free, ten-day educational trip to Israel for young Jewish adults between the ages of 18 to 26.
The word Taglit means "discovery" in Hebrew and the program offers participants a chance to discover the Jewish homeland and their fellow Jews. The trip aims to strengthen the Jewish identity of the individual participants and their connection to Israel as well as to promote world wide Jewish unity by having Jewish young people from diverse countries get to know one another.
Monday's special event in Jerusalem featured Israeli musicians and dancers. Also in attendance was Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu who told participants that despite them coming from different countries, Israel is their common homeland.
"I remember a few years ago, 13 years ago, when a few visionaries came to see me in my first term as Prime Minister. And they had a wild idea," Netanyahu said.
"Now they had a wild idea, actually two wild ideas. The wanted to bring, they said, hundreds of thousands of young Jews to Israel. That’s one pretty crazy idea, but you want to hear what really was meshigene? They wanted the Israeli government to help pay for it. Now we all heard about the Jewish community around the world investing in Israel. We never heard about Israel investing in the Jewish communities around the world. And in fact, I figured, they may be crazy, but if they’re crazy, I’m crazy too. And we began that partnership. That’s how it began.
"And I believe that Birthright has indeed changed the Jewish future," said the Prime Minister. "We’ve had, I believe, 330,000 young Jews from around the world come to Israel since then, and we’re getting another 44,000 this year, with you represented.
However, he said, "Our goal is that any young Jewish man or woman who wants to come to Israel will be able to come to Israel. We’ll make that possible, and I know many thousands will come.
"I believe it’s important not only for us, but it’s also important for presenting our case to the world. Because anybody who comes here sees the true Israel. Israel is the place where Jewish history comes alive. Here you tread in the footsteps of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and Sarah, Rebecca and Rachel and Leah. You stand exactly where King David stood. Not very far from here. And you also can see how we turned the hopes and dreams of thousands of years into a reality. You see this marvelous hi-tech city of Tel Aviv; you see this flowering city of Jerusalem. You have come home. And I want you to tell the world about what you see here.
"Because Israel is not merely about the Jewish past, it’s about the Jewish future. You know when the State began a little over 60 years ago, you know what percentage of world Jewry lived in Israel? Anybody want to guess? Here’s the answer: 5%. Very soon it’s going to be over 50%. This is what we haven’t seen here for thousands of years. The majority of the Jewish people living in the Jewish State, and I hope many of you will come and join us, permanently.
Netanyahu added, "The great challenges that we face, the great danger to the world is not from Jews building in our ancestral capital in Jerusalem. It’s from nuclear weapons in Iran, those weapons that are built in Iran. It’s chemical weapons in Syria falling into the wrong hands. That’s the danger we have to focus on.
"Israel understands these dangers. Israel is focused on dealing with them. We will deal with them. But we call on responsible leaders of the international community to come join us and address the real challenges to all of mankind.
"We’ve always had the ability to send a message from this city to change the lives of so many people. This has been true throughout history. We’re changing the world today.
"You know that Israeli technology is powering the world’s computers, feeding the world’s poor. Israeli medicine is prolonging life and helping cure disease. Israeli science is pushing the boundaries of knowledge. This is the real Israel.
"The real Israel is a very different place from the Israel you see on television, or read about in the newspaper. The real Israel is a country that yearns for peace, works for peace, and is prepared to make compromises for peace. But we want a real peace. We want a peace where the Jewish state is recognized and secure for all time.
"The real Israel is a place where people are free to speak their minds, and boy do they speak their minds in this country. The real Israel is a place where men and women and minorities are free to pursue any dream they have.
"I was just in the Air Force’s cadets’ closing ceremony. We have new pilots in the Israeli Air Force. Five women pilots! That’s the real Israel.
"So when you go out and people tell you things about Israel, tell them about what you saw. Make sure when you go back home tell them about the real Israel. Tell them the truth about this remarkable and dynamic country. And now go enjoy what is your birthright.
"Enjoy Israel. Enjoy your past; enjoy you future in the one and only Jewish homeland," said Netanyahu.