‘Free’ trips, big payoff

‘Free’ trips, big payoff

We knew Taglit-Birthright Israel pays huge dividends in terms of Jewish identity. The free trips to Israel for Jewish youth — a joint venture of private philanthropists, local federations, and the State of Israel — have sparked feelings of attachment and peoplehood in a population once considered “at risk.” Board a plane to Israel during spring break, and you can hear the excited murmurs of young people heading to their homeland for the first time. Stop by the excavations in Jerusalem’s Old City and listen to a guide explain their heritage to a group of Birthrighters from Russia. Ask a Hillel director about the college kids who come back to campus and want to start attending Shabbat meals or get involved in Jewish social service activities.

Now we learn that Birthright pays economic dividends as well. The organization reports that it has contributed more than $535 million to Israel’s economy since its inception in 2000. According to JTA, more than 7,100 Birthright groups have come to Israel, filling more than 2.2 million hotel beds and sending participants traveling around the country in buses for more than 71,000 days. The group members have spent more than $75 million on gifts and souvenirs (which is one heck of a lot of T-shirts). That doesn’t count those who end up coming back for more.

“Not only is the project contributing to the economy and thus providing employment for thousands of Israelis, but it is also an investment in the future,” said Gidi Mark, the CEO of Taglit-Birthright Israel.

Birthright is a great idea, even without the economic boom it creates. In all ways, it’s a nice return on a “free” investment.

To find out more about Birthright and upcoming opportunities for travel to Israel or to support its activities — which include Birthright Next, for alumni — contact Justine Reuben at United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ at 973-929-3054 or jreuben@ujcnj.org.

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