Birthright change is a mirage and a misstep
While changing Birthright Israel’seligibility requirements to include young adults, who previously participated on a teen Israel experience, appears to be a worthy addition to Birthright israel, it is, in fact, a mirage and a misstep.
The change has the appearance of bringing more young people to Israel, but because the experience will be duplicated, increased participation is an illusion. It is not that a second free trip is a bad thing. The misstep is that the precious dollars can and should be used to actually increase the number of participants who have not been to Israel by simply lowering the minimum age of eligibility from 18 to 16. This would be consistent with Birthright Israel’sgoals of getting as many young Jewish adults to Israel as possible.
Expanding Birthright Israel’s minimum age to 16 would dramatically boost enrollment in Israel experiences for teens, especially the approximately 70-plus percent of underserved Jewish teens, who are not involved in an intensive Jewish experience, including Jewish overnight camp or Jewish day school. This change would enable an explosion of exciting pre- and post-trip Jewish programming, which is difficult for Birthright to provide effectively, including Israel advocacy, leadership development, public speaking training, conversational Hebrew classes, and more. A life-changing teen Israel trip before going to college prepares and empowers teens to deal with the rising tide of anti-Israel and anti-Semitism on college campuses, enabling them to stand up to anti-Israel protestors, rather than run from them. Jewish life on campus becomes a priority in college searches, including interest in Hillel, Jewish studies courses, and semester in Israel.
Our community’s Youth to Israel Adventure (Y2I), the most successful community teen Israel experience in North America, per capita, is proof of the impact a free trip has on the rate of participation. We send an average of 100 Jewish teens, ages 16 and 17, to Israel every year on a fully subsidized community trip. This represents more than 60 percent of the identified pool of Jewish teens in our community of the North Shore of Massachusetts, with an estimated Jewish population of 16,500. We provide exciting pre and post trip programming for teens and parents focused on Israel. We take full advantage of having access to our teens for two years before they go to college, providing them with opportunities to engage educationally and socially. Key to our success is the full subsidy. The subsidy is made possible by a winning combination of funders—Lappin Foundation, Combined Jewish Philanthropies, and more than 800 donors and business that support our annual campaign.
The Lappin Foundation calls upon Birthright Israel to lower the minimum age requirement to 16. This would reverse the trend of declining Israel attachment amongst young people, as reported in the Pew study. The outcome will be a Jewishly stronger, Jewishly prouder, and more connected-to-Israel generation than we now have. Jewish continuity will be assured.
Robert Israel Lappin, president and Deborah L. Coltin, executive director, Lappin Foundation, Salem, Mass., http://www.lappinfoundation.org.