A trip-provider affiliated with the Reform Movement has been dropped from Birthright Israel’s list of authorized tour agencies, Haaretz reported.
Taglit-Birthright Israel, which has brought over 600,000 young Jews to visit Israel since 1999 and is best known for its free 10-day trips to the Jewish state, outsources the trips to a variety of independent tour providers.
While some are non-denominational, others are aligned with specific movements and religious organizations, including the Chabad-affiliated Mayanot Israel group; Ezra World, associated with the religious-Zionist Ezra youth group; Hillel International; the Orthodox Union, and others.
Since its inception in 1999, Birthright has also included trips organized by the North American Reform Movement.
But according to a report in Haaretz this week, Birthright Israel has dropped the Reform Movement’s trip provider, United Reform Judaism Kesher, citing a lack of interest and low enrollment figures.
“We worked very hard with them to increase the numbers, but unfortunately they could not meet our minimum and, from now on, they will have to send participants through other trip organizers,” Birthright chief Gidi Mark said in an interview with Haaretz.
Orthodox trip providers, on the other hand, have seen rising enrollment numbers, and now account for about a quarter of all Birthright participants – even though just 4.6% of participants themselves identify as Orthodox.
URJ Kesher is hardly the first trip provider to find itself dropped by Birthright Israel. At one time, Birthright listed a whopping 33 different trip providers – which over the past 18 years have been whittled down to just 10.
Despite budget cuts in recent years, Birthright Israel brought some 48,000 Jewish youths to Israel over the past year, putting the number of total participants over the 600,000 mark.
Birthright Israel drew criticism from the Reform Movement earlier this year, after it dropped a controversial program organizing meetings between young American Jews and Israeli Arabs.
“The fact that Birthright Israel has decided to halt their outreach to Arab citizens of Israel shows just how out of touch Birthright is becoming,” said Rick Jacobs, president of the Union of Reform Judaism.