HomeDecember 2013OC Birthright at Risk

OC Birthright at Risk

Birthright, known as “Taglit” (discovery) in Israel, is a ten-day experience of a lifetime.  Currently, our local community is at risk of not being able to provide this transformational experience for OC Jews ages 22 to 26.  As of this moment, Orange County will not be sending young Jews to Israel on a community trip in 2014, unless the critical funds needed are raised before the near-approaching deadline.
For many of us, Birthright has been the link to our own personal experience with Israel’s people, culture, geography and political situation.  After participating in Birthright, I became a community lay leader, a president of Hillel and a vocal and active supporter of Israel.  Subsequently, having the privilege to staff multiple Birthright trips, I have watched people discover meaning and their own personal Jewish identities.
Most Birthright participants come to Israel with little knowledge of their Judaism.  Bailey Cuzner, an OC summer 2013 participant, said “ [t]here are many things both felt and learned that contributed to what I consider the life-changing part of my Birthright experience.  I’ll share two: first, being able to go on a trip with complete strangers to a foreign land opens your eyes.  Then to add an absence of expectations being placed on you, other than to succumb to the Birthright experience, makes it mind- and heart-opening.”  Bailey decided to take a Hebrew name and have a Bat Mitzvah ceremony on her Birthright trip.  “I wanted more than ever to honor those who were lost in the myriad tragedies of our past.  I wanted to embrace the traditions that were placed down for me.  And I wanted to give my children the opportunity to know Israel.”
Birthright participants leave with an enriched sense of pride and a changed perspective on community, Israel and being Jewish.  Samantha Miles, reflecting on her 2013 Birthright experience, said, “I have made lifelong friends, I had a Bat Mitzvah and have made promises to myself and my Jewish community, and I have become connected to Judaism in a way I never thought possible.  I am so lucky to have experienced something like this and hope that these programs can continue to bring people closer to their past, their culture and to Israel.”
Each year Orange County sends one community bus (40 participants) to Israel on Birthright at a cost of $120,000.  Funds are raised primarily by Jewish Federation & Family Services (JFFS), with additional funds from the Birthright Israel Foundation.  If the full cost of a bus is not raised soon, our community will be forced to deny 40 community members an experience that is indeed their Birthright.
To date, Orange County donors have contributed $35,000 toward the 2014 bus, plus an additional to $15,000 that has been budgeted by Jewish Federation & Family Services.  Any new donations raised will have their gifts matched dollar for dollar by the Sheldon Adelson Foundation.  As of right now, Orange County’s 2014 bus is approximately $70,000 shy of the required funds.  With the Adelson match, $35,000 from new or increased donations could fund our community’s bus!
The annual OC community Birthright bus is the least we can do to give 22- to 26-year-olds this experience that changes lives and impacts not only the participants but also our community as a whole.  It is imperative to provide this trip to cultivate a demographic of people who consider Israel an important aspect of their lives.
Gidi Mark, CEO of Taglit-Birthright Israel, proclaimed, “Birthright will ultimately guarantee the long-term existence of the Jewish people.”  In a May 2012 Haaretz article, Mark explained that more than 330,000 Jews from more than 60 countries have visited Israel on a Taglit-Birthright trip.
The numbers do not lie.  In a Brandeis University study, the findings revealed in “The Impact of Taglit-Birthright Israel: 2012 Update”: Taglit participants are 42 percent more likely to feel “very much” connected to Israel, 45 percent more likely to marry someone Jewish and 23 percent more likely to view raising their children as Jews as “very important.”  To prevent this experience from being canceled at a local level, please contact JFFS to ensure the success and longevity of this important program.
Remember, having a Jewish identity comes from Jewish experience.


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