Birthright leaders make their case in Portland
By PAUL HAIST
article created on: 2011-09-15T00:00:00
Portland businessman and philanthropist Jordan Schnitzer opened his Portland home Sept. 12 to a gathering at which representatives of Taglit-Birthright Israel and the Israeli government made the case for increased support for Birthright Israel, which sends Jews age 18 to 26 on a free 10-day trip to the Jewish state.
Birthright Israel—launched 10 years ago with key funding from Michael Steinhardt and Charles Bronfman—is widely viewed as a highly effective Jewish identity-building program. Birthright funds half the cost of the $3,000 trip. Local communities pay the other half—this year the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland allocated $11,000 to Birthright.
The success of the program and its attendant increased demand has meant that many applicants end up on waiting lists, which has been the case here. Of last years 669 Oregon applicants for the program, 395 or 59 percent were placed on the waiting list.
In Portland to help build support for the program were Knesset Member Yariv Levin and Israeli Consul General for the Pacific Northwest Akiva Tor. Portland Birthright alumna Kali Eichen and Portland Birthright Chairperson Dana Hunt were also featured guests, in addition to representatives of the Birthright Israel Foundation.
Schnitzer, who expressed enthusiastic support for Birthright, introduced Tor.
Noting that “the majority of Jewish people are outside the Jewish community,” that is, not affiliated in any way with the Jewish community, Tor said, “Birthright is the only tool we have for potentially reaching every Jewish young person.”
He expressed disappointment over the Oregon wait-list figures for the program.
Tor called the waiting list “deadly” and explained that only a very few of those placed on a waiting list ever reapply for the program. That means, he explained, that hundreds of young Jews here and thousands across the country miss this important personal opportunity and the Jewish community loses the benefits that accrue to the entire community from the Israel trips.
Birthright Israel Foundation Senior Vice President for Development Art Paikowsky elaborated on the impact of the program.
Citing a recent study of the program’s first 10 years, during which time more than 280,000 young Jews—including 1,600 from Oregon, Paikowsky said that 73 percent of participants called their trip “life-changing,” nearly 80 percent “returned to campus prepared to make the case for Israel,” 57 percent were “more likely to marry a Jewish person,” and fully 90 percent said they were “more likely to raise their children as Jews.”
“This program is a game-changer,” he said, stressing, like Tor, that applicants who are wait-listed are at risk of being lost to the Jewish community.
He reminded everyone that dollars given locally are used to fund local Birthright.
Eichen, the daughter of Rich Eichen and Holly Robinson, introduced herself as “a Birthright success story” and made the message of Birthright personal by sharing an essay she wrote after her 2005 Birthright trip. The essay was later published in “What We Brought Back: Jewish Life After Birthright—Reflections by Alumni of Taglit-Birthright Israel Trips.”
Her essay chronicled her childhood as a largely uninvolved Jew and the dramatic transformation she experienced during and after her trip to Israel.
Levin, who is chairman of the Knesset’s House Committee and member of the Likud Party, agreed with Tor and Paikowsky that Birthright is critically important for the worldwide Jewish community and for Israel.
He said the need was “urgent” in this critical time to bring young Jews to Israel “for the future of our people.”
“There is nothing more important than to save what we can now,” he said.
Guests at the event were given the opportunity to support Birthright.