There are some sights that embody the eternal spirit of the people of Israel in one glance: a grandfather holding his newborn grandson, serving his a godfather at the circumcision ceremony; a female Israel Defense Forces’ soldier taking her oath with a Bible in one hand and an Israeli-made weapon in the other; a kibbutz founded by Holocaust survivors, producing milk and honey aplenty.
For Sheldon and me, another such sight is the wonder and delight on the faces of Birthright Israel (Taglit) participants when they experience Israel for the first time. We have witnessed this sight dozens, maybe hundreds of times, and may there be thousands more. We will never tire of these images.
It is the sight of young Diaspora Jews who discover their ancient homeland and connect with it—from the holy sites in Jerusalem to the Jaffa market, and from the summit of Mount Carmel to ascending Masada—connecting with and discovering their Israeli brothers and sisters.
This is what it looks like when the present unites forces with the past, for a glorious future.
Sheldon and I joined the Birthright cause in 2007, when its co-founders, Charles Bronfman and Michael Steinhardt, introduced it to us and charmed us with their vision.
We heard that the waiting list was huge, and it pained us to know that some souls are unable to realize the dream of visiting the ancestral land. We immediately volunteered to fund the arrival of all those waiting, and the list grew longer over time.
And still, we knew we would be willing to do much more, as we have over the years. It’s a simple formula for saving the Jewish people, and that’s what Sheldon and I wanted to do.
The return was unbelievable; the type of philanthropy that not only benefits the individual but also redirects the path of entire nations to the benefit of the entire world.
Birthright graduates are more committed to their Jewish identity and are willing to support Israel from abroad. In many cases, they even stay in Israel to complete their education and some of them even become proud Israelis themselves.
A study at Brandeis University found that Birthright graduates have a 78 percent chance of marrying a Jewish spouse compared to 46 percent among those who enrolled in the program but did not participate in it.
Each year Sheldon and I lecture Birthright graduates at the Independence Hall in Tel Aviv. On one occasion, a girl named Stacey challenged me, asking what was really included in her “all-included” trip to Israel.
“There’s no such thing as free lunch,” she said with graceful defiance. “What do you expect of me in return?”
My answer was simple: “You have already done your part by coming here; by learning about the true Israel. This truth will give you the strength and resolve to stand up for Israel wherever you go. Not everyone gets to serve in the IDF, but you can be ‘soldiers’ who defend Israel’s image and actions vis-à-vis the world, and to pass on all its beauty and grace.”
Twenty years after it was founded, Birthright Israel has proved its worth. One can say that its hundreds of thousands of participants are “reborn” in Israel. They return to the ends of the earth with a renewed belief in Judaism and the unique place of the Jewish state in the world.
Birthright Israel is going strong. Let’s reach the milestone of one million participants! We look forward to accompanying you there.
Dr. Miriam Adelson, M.D., is a specialist in chemical dependency and drug addiction. She is the publisher of “Israel Hayom” and, with her husband, Sheldon Adelson, the owner of “Israel Hayom” and the Las Vegas Review-Journal newspapers.
This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.