Local participation in Birthright Israel flourishes

by | Aug 31, 2023 | Trending News

Jewish News staff report
A group of Jewish philanthropists created Birthright Israel in 1999 with the goal of giving every eligible young Jewish adult around the world the opportunity to visit Israel. The 10-day, mostly free trip aims to motivate young people to explore their Jewish identity and support for Israel and to maintain long-lasting connections with the Israelis they meet.

Trips are available in various forms – including groups from universities or alumni of youth organizations, while others might focus more on outdoor adventures, cuisine, or resume building. Some trips group participants by age or by geographic area, among the many options.

Of the more than 800,000 young people who have travelled to Israel since the program’s inception, many have been from Tidewater, including several on recent trips.
Milo Sforza, from Virginia Beach and a student at Virginia Tech, says, “I was brought a lot closer to my faith by Birthright. Since then, I have become a lot more involved with my community.” Sforza joined a December 2022 Birthright trip sponsored by Hillel at Virginia Tech.

In January, Hunter Thomas’ Birthright experience was with an older cohort of 21- to 26-year-olds. “After meeting IDF soldiers and seeing the diversity in Israeli society and Jewish culture, Israel feels more ‘real’ to me,” he says. “It is more than the headlines and photos and videos we see in the U.S.”

Samantha Strauss also travelled last January. “I was not raised religious and am only half Jewish, so I have struggled with that identity. My desire to practice Judaism strengthened, but more importantly my connection with the community strengthened.”

Andrew Gross and many of his fraternity brothers took the Chabad of Tulane University’s trip this summer. He says that the eight Israelis on his trip were one of the highlights of his experience. “The Israelis showed me the importance of being an advocate for the country through sharing their own experience with me.

“I found Birthright to be a life-changing experience. I can confidently say that I will be visiting Israel in the near future. I think my trip to Israel strengthened my Jewish identity and demonstrated how lucky I am to be part of the Jewish community.”

Birthright Israel has been a long-time beneficiary of the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater’s annual Community Campaign.

“We appreciate all of the donors from our community who have played a role in helping send 70 to 80 young adults from Tidewater to Israel on various Birthright trips each year,” says Betty Ann Levin, executive vice president/CEO, United Jewish Federation of Tidewater.

“What an incredible investment our community is making by providing so many with this opportunity!”

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This is part of a series spotlighting local and overseas partner agencies that are beneficiaries of the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater’s annual Community Campaign.