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By David Bornstein
The Good Word 



Some months back, Charles and Roz Schwartz were coming home from a trip to Israel when they found themselves surrounded by young adults who were returning from a Birthright Israel mission.  Charles was smitten, instantly enamored, impressed with the enthusiasm every single one of the young men and women expressed. By the time he got off the plane, he’d made a vow to himself to help Birthright in some way.

For those of you who don’t know, Birthright Israel began with a simple, if bold concept: to strengthen Jewish Identity, Jewish communities and Jewish commitment to Israel by sending young adults from around the world on a free, 10-day educational trip to Israel.  The trips never proselytized, though they did aim to inspire.  They geared themselves to a wide range of interests: intellectual, outdoor adventures, religious and spiritual. Participants can choose the trip that best suits them.  Since the first trip in the winter of 2000, the program has grown from a base of college students in the United States and Canada to young adults ages 18-26 in 62 countries. At this point more than 330,000 people have experienced a Birthright Israel trip.

That’s the amazing story in a nutshell. Now in its bar mitzvah year, there are more than 50,000 participants annually, a staggering number.  And Central Florida, with its large number of Jewish students at the University of Central Florida, Rollins College and junior colleges, sends more than 375 young adults on a trip every year. That’s the good news.

Here’s the part most people don’t know.

While everyone who wants to go has an equal chance, there is a lottery system to get in. And in 2012, while 382 people went on a Birthright Israel trip from Central Florida, 375 were waitlisted.  So what’s the big deal? Those 375 can apply again and go, right?

Well, it’s not that simple.  You see, most young adults have a limited window of opportunity to go on a trip like this.  Life intervenes. They get jobs. They get married.  Their schedules fill. They block out time for a Birthright Israel trip, and if they don’t get it the first time around, 80 percent of them never apply again. The vast majority of those who don’t go the first time they apply never go at all.

So when Charles returned home and got all the facts, he came up with a mission of his own: to send an additional busload of 18-26 year olds from Central Florida on a Birthright Israel trip.  He’s approached this in his own inimicable low-key style.  A friendly ask here, a pressure free letter campaign there. He made a sizable gift himself to get the ball rolling, and with a matching funds program available through Birthright, he hopes to help double participation in our community, capturing a significant portion of that 80 percent who never go.

Now it’s easy to lump Birthright Israel into all the charities that don’t really need support. After all, why should you or I give money to an organization that sends mostly rich kids who don’t need the help on a mission to Israel? The answer, my friends, is easy. Without the enticement of a free trip, most of these young adults will never go on a mission to Israel, and that mission, it has been proven, is life changing, transformative.  Take it from someone whose oldest child went and came back different, resolved on a deeper level to be a more committed Jew.  In fact, our son Ethan befriended several Israeli soldiers on the trip to the point where he was a step away from making aliya and joining the Israeli army himself.  (He didn’t, but he still considers it an option in his life.)

Take a look at the website: And if you’re moved to give, make a tax deductible contribution, however large or small, to Birthright Israel, and send it to Charles’ attention at his company, Avanti Properties Group, 923 N. Pennsylvania Ave., Winter Park, FL 32789. You’ll be participating in one of the great movements that is changing the future of Judaism.

And that’s the good word. The opinions expressed in this column are the writer’s, and not those of the Heritage or any other Jewish organization. Write the Heritage, or email your comments, critiques and concerns to


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