By Robert I. Lappin
I had the great pleasure of meeting with Charles Bronfman in 1997 during Birthright Israel’s planning phase. Charles was interested in learning more about my Foundation’s highly successful Youth to Israel Adventure (Y2I), created in 1970, which includes a fully subsidized two-week community teen trip to Israel. Key to our success attracting approximately 60 percent of the identified pool of teens is the fully subsidized trip. Birthright Israel’s success is further proof of the success of the full subsidy.
It is time to marry the successes of both approaches, teens and young adults ages 18-26, to further reap the benefits of the Israel experience on young Jewish adults.
When Birthright Israel was conceived, Jewish continuity was, and continues to be the most urgent issue facing the Jewish community in the United States. Birthright Israel was created as a means of “enriching and deepening the long-term staying power of the Jewish People,” wrote Charles Bronfman (“How Birthright Was Born Against All Odds,” eJewishPhilanthropy, October 20, 2016). Now, as a result of the insidious BDS movement, both an unanticipated, serious threat and an opportunity have arisen. The threat lies in the rising tide of anti-Israel and anti-Jewish activities in academia, which is engulfing Jewish students as they arrive on college campuses, woefully unprepared to deal with this challenge due to their lack of knowledge of and connection to Israel. The opportunity lies in a ready solution to the problem of combatting BDS, while at the same time addressing the overarching problem of Jewish continuity in the United States.
The solution is to get teens to Israel en masse before they go to college, and to train them to serve as “boots on the ground on college campuses,” to quote Sheldon Adelson, by providing Israel advocacy training during and after the trip.
Birthright Israel can and should make this happen by lowering the age of eligibility to 16 and by serving as the funding source to local Jewish communities to organize fully-subsidized community teen trips to Israel with follow-up Israel advocacy training, and by funding vouchers to Jewish camps, schools, youth groups and temples equivalent to the cost of the two-week community trip, making longer trips more affordable for those seeking a longer Israel experience. Birthright Israel would not be expected to run trips for high school students. Local communities are able to do this, customizing each trip to the timing and particular needs of their teens.
The added benefit of the community teen trip to Israel is the immediate Jewish teen programming opportunities that arise, including pre and post trip Israel programming and socials for teens. The community teen Israel experience has the potential to be the silver bullet for Jewish teen engagement.
The union of Birthright Israel with Jewish teens will result in a marriage made in heaven. Then we will all wonder why it took so long.
Add your name to the list of supporters urging Birthright Israel to lower age of eligibility to 16 by contacting Deborah Coltin at 978-740-4428 or email [email protected].
Robert I. Lappin is President of the Lappin Foundation.