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Birthright Israel: More Than a Gift, an Incredible Opportunity

Birthright Israel: More Than a Gift, an Incredible Opportunity

Birthright participants atop Masada at sunrise

I’m a millennial and like others in my generation, my Jewish upbringing consisted of summer camp, religious school, youth group events, and celebrating Jewish holidays – until I finished the programs that had once given me a structured Jewish life. When I went off to college, I had a strong Jewish identity that weakened as I became increasingly detached from the Jewish institutions of my childhood.

By my senior year in college, having heard numerous times about a free trip to Israel, I finally decided to take advantage of it. I had no idea what was in store for me, especially because, as it turned out, this “free trip” was my entry into a lifelong connection with Israel and a renewal of my Jewish engagement. On Birthright, I found what was missing in my Jewish life: a new group of young adult Jewish peers to connect with and an immersive Jewish and Israel education experience that left me hungry to develop deeper relationships with the Jewish community and with Israel. Birthright brought me back to a camp state-of-mind in a new context: exploring the Jewish State surrounded by thousands of years of history, Jewish symbols, Hebrew, and Israeli culture.

Dayenu (it would have been enough) if Birthright had provided me with an inspirational,10-day trip, but it did so much more.

My Birthright trip staff – the shaliach (leader) at my local Hillel – provided connections that enabled me to spend a year volunteering and growing as a leader as a participant in one of the many long-term programs in Israel for young adults. My experiences gave me a deeper understanding of and connection to Israel that empowered me to pursue a career in experiential Jewish and Israel education. From a Birthright participant to a longer-term program, to earning an M.A. in Jewish education, staffing numerous Birthright trips, and then on to my current role promoting Israel engagement initiatives for the Union for Reform Judaism, I consider myself a true Birthright success story.

If I was an enigma, my experience would be a delightful story for Birthright, but I’m not. With more than 500,00 alumni, Birthright attracts more Jewish young adults than any other program out there. Almost everyone in my graduate school classes participated in a Birthright trip, and many went on to other, long-term initiatives in Israel.


What is it about Birthright trips that empower participants to go on to enrich their own Jewish lives and those of others, whether they become active in Hillel, pursue careers as Jewish professionals and communal leaders, or return to Israel to find their passion or live a more engaged Jewish life?

Although I don’t have answers to all these questions, Birthright certainly is one way we can engage millennials who have drifted from their Jewish identity or never connected with Judaism when they were younger. Encourage the young people in your life to go on a Birthright trip – not because it’s a gift, but because it can help them:

  • Build new and meaningful relationships with North American and Israeli peers
  • Be inspired by Jewish life
  • Have a life-changing adventure that encompasses the land, the people, and the history, as well as promotes an understanding of what makes Israel so magical and so complex that so many yearn to be there

Of course, the no-cost aspect of a Birthright trip makes it accessible to all, but more than that, these trips offer millennials opportunities to find community, add meaning to their lives, experience new things, and see unfamiliar places as part of an incredibly enriching and exciting adventure.

Visit our website to pre-register and get on our priority list for Winter 2017 or Summer 2018 trip dates. If you know an 18-26-year-old who should take advantage of a Birthright Israel trip, send them to for more details!

Rebecca Bigman, the Israel engagement manager at the Union for Reform Judaism, coordinates URJ Israel travel programs for teens and young adults. She earned a master’s degree in Jewish education from New York University, and is an iCenter iFellow, specializing in innovative and engaging Israel education.


Rebecca Bigman
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