(JNS.org) Israeli Minister of Diaspora Affairs Naftali Bennett, chairman of the Taglit-Birthright Israel steering committee, on Thursday officially announced multiple measures aimed at increasing participants in the program that provides free 10-day trips to Israel for Jewish young adults ages 18-26.
In addition to the decision to open Birthright trips to previously ineligible high school students who had already traveled to Israel through other educational programs—a development that was first reported by JNS.org—the steering committee agreed to seek funding for greater participation of French Jews in Birthright. The committee authorized Birthright directors to find the necessary funding for this measure, both internally and from sources in France's Jewish community.
Bennett said French Jews "face complex challenges."
"We must act to strengthen their Jewish identity and their connection to Israel and to the Jewish people through Taglit," he said.
The new Birthright measures could potentially increase expenses for the program by 25 percent, Haaretz reported, and questions remain about where funding for the changes will come from.
The Israeli government currently contributes $35 million a year to Birthright, about one third of the program's total budget. The additional funding comes from private Jewish organizations and philanthropists. An aide to Bennett told Haaretz that the new measures could increase the number of annual participants in Birthright by up to 10,000. It is unclear how much money will be necessary to finance the new measures, and the funding would need to come from private sources because the Israeli government does not plan to increase its contribution to Birthright, the Bennett aide said.
“I think everybody thought about [the change in the eligibility guidelines] for many years, and everybody wanted to have it. It was a matter of funding, and I think today you see more anti-Israel things on campus, and we realized over the years that people that have been to Israel again have more confidence for talking about Israel, and geopolitics, and anything pertaining to Israel after visiting with Birthright Israel. I think we’re one of the best platforms to do that for college students," Noa Bauer, Birthright’s vice president of international marketing, told JNS.org.