NewsBits: Birthright Israel in the News, Again

from The Forward:

Largest Outreach Effort for Alums of Birthright Raises Concerns

Taglit-Birthright Israel… has carefully tended its image as pluralistic and inclusive. But the religious slant and political orientation of the largest, most well-funded organizer of follow-up programs for Birthright alumni is raising concerns, even among top Birthright officials.

The Jewish Enrichment Center, which some people characterize as a kiruv, or Orthodox outreach organization, has been given a virtual monopoly on reaching out to the tens of thousands of Birthright alumni who return to the New York Tri-State area. This large pool of young adults represents one third of all those who have gone on Birthright trips, a majority of whom are non-Orthodox Jews.

The center is the official New York partner of Birthright Israel NEXT, an arm of Taglit-Birthright established three years ago to fulfill the critical job of follow up. This new effort provides funds to more than two dozen Hillel houses, local Jewish federations and not-for-profits nationwide to encourage alumni engagement in Jewish life. But the Jewish Enrichment Center receives more than all these other beneficiaries combined.

The group was given $1.4 million last year, according to Birthright Israel NEXT’s executive director, Rabbi Daniel Brenner. In 2007, the last year for which the Forward was able to attain tax returns, the JEC received $1.87 million. By contrast, that year, Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life was granted a total of $547,516 for programming nationwide.