Coming full circle

Former top AIPAC official Elias Saratovsky tapped to lead Birthright Foundation, succeeding Tapoohi

Saratovsky, who went on one of Birthright’s first trips, enters role as organization looks for new funders amid budget cuts

Elias Saratovsky, a former top AIPAC official, has been named the next CEO of the Birthright Foundation, succeeding Israel “Izzy” Tapoohi, who has served in the role for the past six years, the organization announced on Thursday.

Saratovsky will enter the position in a complicated time for the organization, as one of its major funders – the Adelson Family Foundation – recently announced that it was scaling back its donations significantly and as the Israeli government has also yet to extend its contract with Birthright Israel. Earlier this month, Birthright Israel announced a 40% reduction in the number of North American participants on its trips due to budget cuts.

One of Saratovsky’s main focuses will be building up its bench of donors to make up for the loss of Adelson funding. “We believe Birthright Israel is an endeavor that the whole Jewish community benefits from and everyone needs to contribute to its success,” Tapoohi told eJP late last year. “We were always aware that there was a plan to decrease what the Adelsons could give us.”

In a statement congratulating Saratovsky, Dr. Miriam Adelson alluded to this need to bring more rank-and-file donors on board. 

“Birthright Israel is the largest-scale educational project in Jewish history and has transformed hundreds of thousands of lives, including Elias’,” Adelson said. “I look forward to working with Elias to grow the support from the greater Jewish community so that we can continue to transform the lives of as many Jewish young adults as possible.”

Saratovsky, who worked for AIPAC for 21 years, is an alumnus of Birthright Israel’s first round of trips in the winter of 1999–2000. In a statement, Saratosky credited this trip with launching his career as a Jewish professional.

“As a first-generation American with parents from the former Soviet Union and grandparents who survived the Holocaust, my formal connection to Judaism was limited. However, my passion for the State of Israel was always strong,” Saratovsky said. “That trip shaped my identity and helped me realize that Israel is a central part of our history and our collective Jewish consciousness. I now have the honor to ensure that future generations develop their own Jewish identity and build a lifelong, personal connection with the State of Israel.” 

Saratovsky most recently served as AIPAC’s national director of regional affairs and before that served as the organization’s Southwest regional director, among other roles. He will formally enter his new position at the Birthright Foundation in September. Tapoohi will retire at the end of the year, the organization said.

“It’s incredible to have as our new president/CEO an alumnus from the very first year of Birthright trips,” said Charles Bronfman, a co-founder of Birthright Israel. “Elias brings both the skills necessary for this role and a real understanding of the magic of this program. I have total confidence that under his leadership Birthright Israel Foundation will achieve new heights.”