$500m and Counting

Birthright Israel – the 10 day trip that has changed lives and has the potential to change the make-up of the Diaspora – has achieved much in the past ten years; but what of the future?

The winter cohort of Birthright visitors is winding down. They’re going ahead with spring break trips, but at greatly reduced numbers from 2008. But what about the coming summer – at least one trip provider has informed long time staff they should look elsewhere for jobs. I’ve heard bus commitment numbers from three groups, and they are way way down. But are they even accurate? As far as we can establish, Taglit has made no official commitments for summer ’09. The $20 million pledge from the Adelson’s appears to be solid, yet comes with the need to raise $10 million in new gifts. A daunting challenge in today’s economy.

To date, the Jewish world has invested over $500 million in Taglit Birthright Israel (over 200k participants at $2300 per). But, according to CEO Gidi Mark, “In terms of funding, from today on it is a question mark”.

Gary Rosenthal, writing in The Jewish Week, has this to say:

“One of the negative ripple effects of the economic crisis at home is that projects to strengthen ties between Israeli and American Jews will suffer. Most dramatic is the case of Birthright Israel…

and it seems clear that trips to Israel this year will bring far fewer people or may even be suspended.”

As investments go in the Jewish world, I strongly believe Birthright is a pretty good one. But the future depends on not only numbers (of participants) but on developing a new financial model. And perhaps in the long run, that new model will be one of the positives that will emerge from the current economic crisis.