For the first time in its history, Birthright Israel has postponed all trips since mid-March due to the global coronavirus pandemic.

“While tens of thousands of Jewish young adults were planned to visit Israel this summer, the organization quickly turned to online high-quality engagement with its alumni and prospective participants. Since mid-March, we have reached 4.4 million people around the world,” says Noa Bauer, Birthright’s vice president of global marketing.

It is now launching an interactive video “Choose Your Own Adventure” on a platform called Eko, allowing people to select in real time what sites in Israel they want to “visit.”

This means that the online tour led by Navee, a real Israeli guide, allows users to choose between visiting Masada or the Western Wall, stopping at a vegan restaurant or winery, seeing Birthright’s Tel Aviv Center for Israeli Innovation, and then “floating” in the Dead Sea or “surfing” the beach. In each location, Navee introduces visitors to local Israelis providing a deeper perspective about Israeli culture.

The tour takes about eight to 10 minutes. Users can pick different choices in multiple visits.

Birthright participants dive into a waterfall at the Ein Gedi Nature Reserve in the Dead Sea Valley. Credit: Melanie Fidler/Flash90.

“We invite the thousands of Birthright applicants whose trips have been canceled, as well as past and future participants, their families and loved ones, to take part in a virtual tour of Israel,” says Bauer. “It is available for anyone who wants to get a glimpse of what Israel has to offer—from historic sites to Israeli technology in a fun, innovative way.”

While Birthright was working on the project, Professor Len Saxe of the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies at Brandeis University issued a report studying all Birthright Applicants whose trips were postponed.

The study found that the coronavirus has had a significant impact on the emotional distress of Birthright applicants:  at least one in five feel lonely, hampered by emotional difficulties, and that they are not coping well. In addition, about one-third is interested in any kind of Jewish online engagement. 

According to Saxe’s study, 18 percent of Birthright applicants whose trips were canceled said they were willing to board a plane to Israel “right now.”

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