Last year 357 young adults from Oregon had what many describe as a life-changing Birthright trip to Israel, but 382 others were put on a waitlist. Birthright Israel Foundation Portland cochairs Dana Hunt and Alan Bacharach organized a gathering to help raise enough money for a half bus from Oregon, which costs $60,000. About half of that has been raised. Donations can be made online at birthrightisrael.org or by sending a check to the Birthright Israel Foundation, 33 East 33rd St., NY, NY 10016.
The Dec. 6 event at Bacharach’s home featured Birthright participant-turned-staffer Daniel Stoller speaking about his experiences (see an excerpt of his speech below) and an update on Israel’s economy and upcoming election by Guy Rolnick, the founder and editor-in-chief of Marker, a leading financial publication in Israel, as well as deputy publisher of Haaretz Group. In an interview before the program, Rolnick said the tent city protests in Tel Aviv in the summer of 2011 seem to have had a lasting impact, especially on public and politicians’ conversations heading into the Jan. 22 Knesset elections. Even with the recent Gaza operation, people have remained focused on the economy instead of security, as they have during past campaigns, he said.
“You have much of the discourse about the economy and not about security issues and the never-ending peace process – that is quite a novelty for Israel,” said Rolnick. He added that during the primaries many newcomers emerged, “and most of the new faces are journalists and young people who participated in the social uprisings last year.” “The Israel middle class feels squeezed because of the cost of living and (economic) inequality,” Rolnick said. “A lot of people feel they are alienated by the government and decision makers, and many people in the middle class feel they are left out and have no real influence.”
While the social protests erupted during a period of economic growth enabling the government to increase expenditures to meet some of the protesters’ demands, next year’s projected shortfall in tax revenues means “the next government is going to face challenges of meeting demands of the public and avoid losing control of the budget.” Still, Rolnick said he is hopeful because: the issues are on the table, the new breed of politicians want to deal with it, and other politicians who wanted to sweep the problems under the rug failed to do so.
Taglit-Birthright participants experience Israel as safe, amazing country (Excerpted from a Dec. 6 speech by Daniel Stoller, now of Oregon)
I was a Taglit-Birthright participant in 2007, staffed a trip this past June and leave on my next Taglit staffing adventure this Sunday (Dec. 9). Oftentimes you read or hear quotes from Taglit alumni that describe their trips as “life-changing experiences,” and I’m here to show you why this is true. I’m 25 years old, which means I grew up during the second Intifada. From age 13 to 18, my peers and I heard the media describe Israel as a war zone. Looking back on this, it’s amazing that I’m here tonight. Taglit helped instill confidence in teenagers such as myself that I had a right to visit Israel and that it was, in fact, a safe place.
Upon landing in Eretz Yisrael I didn’t even have to wait for our group Shehekianu (blessing for new experience or first of something) to realize how special this opportunity was going to be. It was 2007, two years after the phased ending of the second Intifada. Leaving the airport, I kept looking for tanks, soldiers and high flying jets. I didn’t see any. As the trip went on, it became clear to me that the picture I had drawn of Israel in my head wasn’t even on the right kind of paper.
Israelis live normal lives, but it isn’t until you visit that you know this. There’s no classroom or movie that can give you the understanding of Israel that a 10-day trip with Taglit gives you. I couldn’t believe how close the “West Bank” was. At the Golan all of the Eli Cohen stories I had heard came to life. Being there made it absolutely clear why his work in Syria and specifically the Golan is such an important part of Israeli history.
Yad Vashem is a Holocaust museum unlike any other. Somehow the Israelis have found a way to create a museum about one the worst eras for the Jewish people that leaves you feeling liberated when you exit.
I enjoyed participating in Taglit so much, I jumped at an opportunity to lead a trip this past June.
As a North American staff member, the experience was just as rewarding. An engaged, enthusiastic crowd pushed me for discussion sessions every single night. One participant told me his experience in Israel was going to change his dating habits. He said he had never dated another Jew, but his experience had shown him the importance of continuing the Jewish religion. Though this isn’t a formal objective of Taglit, I thought it was a good side effect. Since the Pillar of Defense operation started, I have found myself glued to the Jerusalem Post, FOX News and CNN, and the difference in coverage is astonishing. If I had not been to Israel, I might have formed a sympathetic view of the terrorist organization in Gaza. I find myself taking my knowledge to social media and other forums, trying to educate anyone willing to listen. Had I never been to Israel, my emotional ties to the country wouldn’t exist, and while I’d have shown support for Israel, I might not have clearly understood the conflict. So, I embark on my next staffing adventure knowing Taglit will continue their incredible security and allow the next generation of young Jewish adults to experience Israel just as I did. Taglit- Birthright has never stopped and with your support, never will.