Dr. Miriam and Sheldon Adelson at a Birthrigh
Dr. Miriam and Sheldon Adelson at a BirthrighIsrael news photo: Billie Weiss/Birthright Israel Foundation

Thousands of Jews from around the world on Wednesday night held a “Bar-Mitzvah celebration” for the Birthright (Taglit) program, which has brought some 350,000 Jewish teens and young adults to Israel in its 13 years of existence. The main event took place in Nokia Stadium (Heichal Eliyahu) in Tel Aviv, with some 4,000 current and former Birthright participants taking part.

There were many Israelis in the crowd – many of them IDF soldiers who act as guides for Birthright groups - as well as Jews from the U.S., Brazil, Canada, Romania, and Argentina. Attendees were treated to performances by top Israeli singers, as well as a fireworks show and flag display.

Among the guests of honor were President Shimon Peres, and philanthropists Dr. Miriam and Sheldon Adelson, by far the biggest donors to the Birthright project, having personally donated $180 million to it so far. MKs Amram Mitzna and Yoel Rezvonov were also present, as were donors and supporters of the project from around the world.

Speaking to the crowd, Peres said that “this was the best Bar-Mitzvah party we could give to Birthright. You make me feel young, even at age 90. The story of Zionism is an amazing story,” Peres continued. “We started with nothing, we didn't have water, and barely had land. We have no natural resources. But we do have the most important resource of all – the one hidden inside each Jews. You are our treasure,” he told the crowd of young people.

In her comments, Miriam Adelson said that the Jewish people was facing a demographic crisis, with a 42% intermarriage rate. However, she added, among Birthright graduates, more than three out of four married Jews. The solution to the crisis, she said, was for more Jews like those in the audience to establish Jewish families and grow the number of Jews. "How do we increase the number of Jews? I say by having more babies," she said.

Sheldon Adelson told the young people attending that they must now act as “ambassadors for Israel. When you return home, look out for your fellow Jews. Become a lobby to advocate for Jewish interests around the world. You can be goodwill ambassadors, the front-line soldiers of support for Israel,” he said.