What does Taglit-Birthright Israel do when Chanukah falls at the beginning of the winter trip season? They plan a mini-mega candle lighting event.
This past Sunday evening, hundreds of North American Birthright participants, along with accompanying mifgash members of the IDF, celebrated the sixth night of Chanukah at Bar Ilan University. Joining them, philanthropists Dr. Miriam and Sheldon Adelson, Israel’s Minister of Information and the Diaspora Yuli Edelstein, and Taglit-Birthright CEO Gidi Mark.
Appropriate to the calendar, the theme of the evening was miracles – picked up on by both Adelsons and Edelstein.
Speaking first, Dr. Miriam Adelson said, “Feeling Jewish in Israel is not a problem, but around the world, it is very difficult. You should feel every day that it is a miracle that you are alive because your grandparents made the choice to leave where they were for a safer future. The fact that the Jewish people continues to exist and that Israel was established – that is a miracle.”
A beaming, and clearly happy to be there Sheldon Adelson mentioned his and his wife’s feelings while they listened to the soldiers speak about how Taglit-Birthright Israel changed their lives. “A friend of mine says that Judaism is a club; it’s the best club in the world to belong to and I agree with him. There are only about 12 million Jews in the world, and therefore it’s important that each one of you belong to the Jewish community.”
Adelson said that he and Miriam decided to “take their good fortune and help to make sure there are no more waiting lists”. He said they were involved in this important project to ensure the success of Taglit-Birthright Israel in order to “enable each and every one you to feel like you belong to the Jewish people”.
Continuing, and commenting on the ever-present problem of good Hasbara, Adelson called on alumni of Taglit to become “ambassadors of good will for Israel.” Recognizing this particular assemblage was mostly college students, he went on, “when you return home … speak in support of Israel; don’t let the Muslim student associations take over the campuses…”
And, in reference to Newt Gingrich’s recent controversial remarks, Adelson – who is also a close friend of the Prime Minister and owner of Israel’s daily paper, Israel Hayom – brought the U.S. presidential election right into the heart of Birthright-land, “Read the history of those who call themselves Palestinians, and you will hear why Gingrich said recently that the Palestinians are an invented people. There are a number of Palestinians who will recognize the truth of this statement.”
Speaking last, Yuli Edelstein, Minister of Information and Diaspora and a former prisoner in Russia prior to his aliyah, received a warm welcome by telling the group he was arrested, and served time, for drug possession. Picking up on ‘miracles’, Edelstein said, “I would not be standing here if there weren’t miracles in the world. When I was born in the former Soviet Union, I did not know anything about Jewish culture and the chances of remaining Jewish were slim. I never received a Jewish education, I survived three years in jail, and yet I finally had the chance to go to Israel and here I am standing in front of you today.
If, years ago, you were to tell me that in the Jewish world there would be a project that will be successful in bringing ten, or even twenty, thousand young Jews to Israel, I would have said it’s a strange dream, but without any real chance of becoming a reality. But here you are today, part of about a quarter-million Jews who have already visited Israel through Taglit-Birthright Israel, and it is through this program that you are here today. That is the essence of the miracle of Chanukah – to make these things happen.”