Birthright program offers opportunities to students

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Plesset’s experienced Israel with a different program this summer.

By Julia Heimlich, News Editor

This past month, the Taglit-Birthright Israel program’s steering committee approved a major decision to loosen the eligibility requirements and allow more people to travel to the country for free.

The Birthright program was established in 1999 as a way to give Jewish young adults between ages 18 and 26 a chance to experience 10 days in Israel without charge. The trip was initially meant only for people who had never visited Israel before.  However, now those who have previously traveled to Israel on a student or organized peer trip before the age of 18 will be allowed to return with the program.

“As the program continued to be very successful, and more and more people wanted to experience it, we started to look at different ways to allow more participants,” said Pamela Fertel Weinstein, who is the Senior Public Relations Associate for Taglit-Birthright Israel.

Due to this change, teens who have already taken an organized trip to Israel will once again be eligible to participate once they graduate high school.

Junior Jackie Plesset went to Israel as a part of the BBYO summer program last year.

“Because I already went on an organized trip to Israel, I didn’t think I would be able to go again later with Birthright,” Plesset said. “But now that the trip has opened up to more people, I’ll definitely look into going back.”

Junior Emma Weisbaum is also excited about the new requirement, because she took a trip to Israel last year with her camp.

“I’m excited for this new opportunity, and I want to take advantage of it,” Weisbaum said.

The purpose of the Birthright program is to give participants access to the history and culture of Israel.

According to the Taglit-Birthright Israel website, the content of the trip focuses on three main areas; the Narratives of the Jewish people, Contemporary Israel, and the Formative Values of Judaism.

“One popular part of our trip is called Misgash,” Weinstein said. “We have Israeli peers of the same age group as our participants join our buses for several days of the trip. Many of these peers have or are currently serving in the Israeli Defense Force Army. Participants get to spend time together learning what the Jewish community is like in Israel, and the Israelis get to learn what it’s like to be Jewish outside of Israel. It’s a really unique opportunity and one of the most moving and popular parts of our program.”

According to Weinstein, the overall purpose of the Taglit-Birthright Israel program is to allow participants to build a relationship with Israel and the Jewish community, and to come home and feel a connection.

“I think that whether they’ve gone to Israel before or not, going on Birthright gives them a chance to come back with a better understanding of the country and a connection to it, that it’s not only a different place and not just a country they’ve learned about in school,” Weinstein said. ‘They have a personal connection to it and hopefully that will continue on throughout the rest of their lives.”