Taglit Birthright Israel marked 20 years since its establishment with a special event at Tel Aviv University Tuesday evening, celebrating the more than 650,000 free trips to Israel it has facilitated for young Diaspora Jews across the globe.

Some 1,200 Birthright ‘alums’ and donors took part in the event, which also served as a fundraiser for Israeli participants in program best known for offering free trips to Israel to Diaspora Jews, but which also works to promote interactions between Diaspora participants and Israelis.

Alongside the 650,000 Jews from outside who have taken part in Birthright trips over the past two decades, another 100,000 young Israelis have also joined in on the free 10-day tours, giving their Diaspora counterparts the chance to meet with Israelis their own age

Gidi Mark CEO of Taglit – Birthright Israel spoke with Arutz Sheva at Tuesday’s event, crediting Birthright with a “revolution” in the attitude of young Diaspora Jews towards the Jewish state.

“Today we start the celebrations of our 20th birthday. We have really performed a huge revolution in the attitude of young Jews towards Israel in the last 20 years, from a situation where only 2,000 out a cohort of 100,000, we have managed to bring here to Israel just last year close to 50,000 participants.”

“Till today, over 650,000 young Jews from over 67 countries came over to Israel and their lives have been transformed.”

“And that isn’t even the whole story. On top of the 650 [thousand], we still had 100,000 Israelis who joined the groups, most of them soldiers. And as far as the soldiers are concerned, based on research, it dramatically enhances the motivation of these soldiers to serve our country, to serve in the IDF. They extend their military service time, and to be there as another ambassador for the State of Israel.”

Arutz Sheva also spoke with Shir, a former Israeli participant in Taglit – Birthright Israel who attended Tuesday night’s special gathering.

“Many people look from the outside and think, ‘Okay, the Israelis are taking a week off from the army just to have fun and to enjoy the week. But it is much larger than that. Those Israelis who join the groups are experiencing something that is bigger than they thought it will be, because they actually understand what is the context of Israel and the Jewish people, and they actually… learn what it means to serve in the Israeli army, what does it mean to be an Israeli citizen, not just for them but for the entire community of Jewish people around the world.”

“So it is significant also for us, the Israelis, not just for the people coming to join Taglit as participants from the outside.”

Meir Shamir, Chairman of the Israeli board of Taglit – Birthright Israel, emphasized the importance of Birthright Israel in enabling Israel to maintain the strong connection it needs with Diaspora Jews.

“There is no other project as important as Taglit. They have connected the Jewish community [of the Diaspora] with the people in Israel, with the soldiers, and all other people in Israel. Israel is a very strong country, but it is a tiny country and we need support.”

“This kind of support from the Jewish communities can be based on the relationship between the participants of Taglit and the State of Israel.”