Is birthright Israel in danger? From this tag-team Charles Bronfman/Michael Steinhardt letter in this week’s NY Jewish Week, it seems to be, as the two philanthropists charge the American Jewish community to step up their support of the program. Apparently, 8,000 kids are leaving on birthright trips this winter. But 12,000 more are on the waiting list.

Bronf-n-Stein are not walking away from their roles in creating and funding the project, but with this letter, issued an appeal to American Jewry:

We philanthropic partners will continue to do our part. We did not start this exercise to simply walk away or put it on others at its most critical time. But we cannot do it by ourselves. It is now simply too big. We need you. We want you. Just as our forefathers and foremothers all participated in building the Mishkon, we must participate in building the Jewish future.

Can American Jews save birthright? And ensure Jewish continuity? And stem the tide of future intermarriage while reaching out to those who have already intermarried and are feeling estranged from Judaism and Jewish community? And encourage the creation of innovative Jewish cultural institutions? And support our synagogues and send our kids to Hebrew schools? And provide day school education for every child (as JTS Chancellor Ismar Schorsch suggested two weeks ago)? And make sure that the reforestation of Israel continues through donations to the JNF? And support scientific and medical research? And provide funding that keeps ambulances running and hospital emergency rooms stocked with supplies and staffed with professionals who can help Israeli victims of terror? And support the IDF? And help widows and orphans, the poor and the blind, the uneducated and the unemployed? And help victims of natural disasters, locally and abroad? Heck, once we’ve come this far, why not solve “the shidduch crisis” and create world peace?

Some of America’s Jewish philanthropists do have the money to fund these initiatives. But when it comes to the average Joseph Jew, do our dollars make a difference? How can we support one cause at the expense of another? Is giving time equivalent to giving money, or do Jewish fundraising campaigns prize our coins over our creativity? And how are we ever supposed to feel comfortable with the charity choices that we make?

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Esther Kustanowitz

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  • The answer is simple. No. You cannot support all those important causes with dollars alone.

    The only way to support them all is to, rather than give money, give yourself. Moving to Israel and building the Jewish state helps in more ways than a $18 donation ever will, and you are investing your future in the Jewish people rather than in Wall Street.

  • First of all, it is an outrage that the Orthodox community, accross the board, has never given Mr. Steinhardt the respect he deserves, instead they largely shun the most impactful decision in modern times, made to help the Jewish people become stronger, in numbers and in spirit.

    I am dismayed to learn that many religious folks are considering him a taboo subject.

    I would be happy to be shown proofs that disclaim my assertion.

    Now as far as moving to Israel, the thing is that you have to visit there sometimes quite often, to really get what Israel is all about, and why you must move there.

    These visits are not affordable for many Jews, now I have heard and this is true that there are those who go elsewhere to vacation. So one could say that these people are very far from the fold, that it may be a lost cause to focus on them, in this way. Perhaps there are better ways to whet their appetite for Judaism.

    I am not sure how. I know such people very well, and there is a deeply rooted disinterest in Judaism, that is imo impossible to breach, now there are those with the whole pintele Yid thing, so I won’t argue that.

    So Jason, these persons are not moving to Israel, so efforts would be better to provide families who have never gone as a family such a trip, as they do w/ the young people.

  • Thanks to these two philanthropists, I found a strong connection to Israel that I didn’t have before. I would love to move there, but that is not in my near future.

    Because of my experience in Israel, I will become a strong supporter. It will just have to wait until I have some financial security.

    All that it takes is time. Those who have been impacted from this trip are still young. But once we gain financial security for ourselves, we’ll be able to chip in our part.

  • I completely agree with Fivel. After my trip last summer Birthright is definitely part of my charitable giving priorities, as are other Jewish organizations I never would have thought about giving to before. But, having said that, I’m in my mid-twenties and trying to gain financial stability on my own, so the amounts of money I have to give at this point aren’t large.

    For me going to Israel did not awaken a strong desire to move there, but it did awaken a strong desire to learn more and be more involved in Judaism and as a supporter of Israel.

    I definitely hope American Jews step up and support this program, because the experience it provides can really be life changing and is (very cliche I know) priceless.

  • Birthright was the best experience I have ever had and, like Stacy, I hate to sound trite but it really is priceless. I was an hour late this morning to work because on my way out a neighbor asked me what I thought about her son doing Birthright. And I talked and talked and talked and still, no matter how long you go on for, you can’t emphasize enough how important this trip is. I think it’s sad that American Jews are taking this opportunity for granted. I understand some people can’t give much, but if you can donate money to any charity, this one should definetly be at the top of the list. With that said- Dave, I want to show my friends pictures! Please put them up!

  • Think Globally, Act Locally.

    How much time and money does it take to link up with a Jewish community, and participate?

    Birthright is wonderful – but there have to be landing pads afterwards, communities in which people can continue to make Judaism part of their lives.

    Working locally is win-win – it facilitates one’s own growth while helping other Jews. It’s like the chassidic rebbe’s description of himself and his followers as “lamplighters”: one candle’s light is not diminished when it lights another candle.

    Make it happen where you are.

    I know how much I benefitted from such totally “un-Federated” activity – from the guys/women who took it upon themselves to make communal Shabbat meals on campus, and the times I pitched in to run synagogue services, and make it happen for others.

  • birthright israel is alive and well, and very effective in its mission. Yes, send money, if you can. It is the greatest. It really works. It is amazing. So few things work, and this does.

  • It’s interesting that this should come up… My husband has been an occasional donor to various Jewish causes, and his mother invests in Israeli company stock (and I plan to, also). I hear about birthright a lot; sadly they really don’t cater to single people in their 30s, so a group of friends meeting said description put together their own trip.

    Also… I know this is a tender issue, but what about non-Orthodox folks making aliyah? Is that OK? Will they be supported anywhere close to as much as Orthodox are? I just keep finding that the vast majority of the info I come across is oriented towards Orthodox people. Is it another case of only the Orthodox being considered “real” Jews? (My husband and I are halachically Jewish, with beliefs and observances probably in the “Conservative Reform” camp; I come from an intermarriage (mom was Jewish), and am somewhat new to all the inter-sect politics.)

  • Ann, aliyah is well received by everyone is Israel and your denomination does not in any way affect your acceptance. On the contrary, the Orthodox remain a minority in Israel. However, most Israelis are not affiliated with any particular religious movement so your affiliation is not as pertinent an issue as it may be in a North American community.

    It is material if someone is a convert because it may lead to some issues with the Israeli rabbinate.

    In your case, if you and your husband are halachically Jewish, then you will not encounter even bureaucratic issues that pertain to religion. Sometimes you have to provide evidence that, for example, your mom is Jewish, but to a great extent this only comes up in situations where there may be a religious component to something that you seek to do.

    Most people in Israel, as well as most olim, just live their lives – families, work, home, career.

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