An announcement Thursday from the Diaspora Affairs Ministry, following a meeting of Taglit-Birthright Israel’s steering committee, should help put at ease trip providers who’ve reportedly been having trouble filling buses.
The steering committee, which is chaired by Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett, ratified two proposals in its Tuesday meeting: to expand acceptance criteria for potential participants of the free 10-day trip for Diaspora youth, and to increase funding to bolster French Jewry’s participation in light of the complex challenges faced by France’s Jewish community today. The changes are expected to be implemented this summer.
As part of the expanded criteria for participation, “second-timers” — youth who have already participated in an Israel trip — will be eligible for the heavily subsidized Taglit Israel experience.
The proposal was raised by Bennett in light of preparatory discussions that he held with Birthright donors and administration ahead of the steering committee meeting. The proposal received unanimous support in Tuesday’s meeting.
There is, however, an important distinction in the expansion: While currently the State of Israel funds one-third of each Taglit participant’s trip, second-timers’ trips will be purely donor funded.
Studies tracking Taglit’s 14 years of operation have found a substantial decrease in intermarriage and assimilation among its alumni, according to Professor Leonard Saxe of Brandeis University.
Since the first cohort of Birthright, Saxe told The Times of Israel in October, “We’re seeing a 50 percent increase in the in-marriage rate, versus the control group, the waiting list rate. The Taglit rate is over 70%”
In addition, he said, “Taglit alum are raising Jewish children, even if intermarried.”
In a press release, Bennett praised Taglit as “a leader in strengthening Jewish identity among young people in the Diaspora and building ties with the State of Israel. Expanding the participation criteria will add to Taglit’s positive influence in the Jewish world.”
The Diaspora Ministry also proposed to earmark a part of Taglit’s budget to fund increased participation among French Jewry.
The Times of Israel has learned that the government has instituted a new inter-ministerial task force following a drastic 49% increase in aliya from France in 2013. The task force includes the Diaspora Affairs, Absorption and Finance ministries and the Jewish Agency, and is aimed at building a new model to expedite and facilitate aliya from France, should the trend continue.
Increased French participation in Taglit is seen as a way to bolster French youths’ confidence in the face of growing anti-Semitism in the country.
“French Jews face a series of complex challenges,” Bennett said in a press release. “Through Taglit, we must act to strengthen their Jewish identity as well as their ties to the Jewish people and Israel.”