The main auditorium at Binyanei Hauma was overflowing last night, as Taglit Birthright-Israel kicked off its Bar Mitvah year. The volume was high and punctuated by the continuing, always-enjoyable rivalry between the Argentinian and Brazilian participants. And, while the South Americans were clearly the life of the party, the American attendees succeeded in drowning out all.
The greatest applause though, which erupted several times during the evening, was in support of the Israel Defense Forces – both the participating individual soldiers, and the IDF in general.
The Prime Minister came to show his support. And so did several of Birthright’s original philanthropist funders, including Lynn Schusterman, Michael and Judy Steinhardt and Marlene Post.
The theme of the evening, It starts with you … Pass it Forward, allowed Taglit to honor three former participants (one who was in the IDF at the time) for their subsequent contributions to the Jewish world: Craig Dershowitz, the President of Artists 4 Israel, Scott Neiss, President/Director of Israel Lacrosse and Tomer Sapir, Co-founder and Director of AlmaLinks.
Michael Steinhardt and Lynn Schusterman both spoke at the event. Referencing that Taglit-Birthright Israel is now entering its 13th year, Steinhardt said, “Sometime this year, the 300,000th participant will arrive. You are part of a historic undertaking of the Jewish people. Becoming a Bar Mitzvah is not simply entering adulthood; it is about accepting adult responsibilities; to feel a new sense of responsibility and to be part of Klal Yisrael, the worldwide Jewish community.”
He urged the crowd to “show your appreciation. Continue to be engaged in Jewish life. Love Israel and be a proud Jew.”
Picking up from Steinhardt, Schusterman told the participants, “In times of conflict, Taglit-Birthright Israel offers a glimpse of a promising Jewish future, one in which we can focus not on the question of who is Jew, but what we can do to create a Jewish community which helps all others around us.
Each of us must know the values for which we stand, not just what we are against. I hope you realize that the true gift of Taglit-Birthright Israel is not just a free 10 days in Israel, but rather the once-in-a lifetime experience of meeting, friendship, and connection and all that you will gain from it. Israel needs you, the Jewish people need you, and the world needs you.”