The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles will send hundreds more young people on free trips to Israel thanks to a additional $2.1 million to help alleviate long waiting lists for Birthright Israel.
Jay Sanderson announced the program on his first day as the Federation’s new president.
“Given the success of Birthright and our strategic goal to broaden Jewish identity and Israeli identity, we wanted to make sure that people in their 20s have the opportunity to experience Israel,” Sanderson said.
Research shows Birthright’s fully funded 10-day trip for 18- to 26-year-olds significantly strengthens Jewish identity for years afterward.
In recent years, the Los Angeles Federation has contributed $550,000 annually to Birthright Israel. For 2010, it is providing an additional $700,000 that will be matched two-to-one by the Adelson Family Foundation, a longtime supporter of Birthright. The $2.1 million in new funds will cover 700 additional trips—on top of those that Birthright will pay for.
Sanderson and the Federation’s new chairman, Richard Sandler, who officially took office on Jan. 1, lobbied the board in the last few weeks of December to take advantage of Adelson’s national $20 million challenge grant, which expired at the end of 2009.
The Los Angeles waiting list for Birthright grew to more than 3,000 people last year, after Birthright’s philanthropists—including Adelson, whose 2007 and 2008 gifts nearly doubled Birthright’s budget—were hit hard by the recession.
In 2008, around 2,800 Jews from Los Angeles went on Birthright trips, but only 700 were able to participate during the summer of 2009 (winter numbers are not available yet).
An estimated 14,000 Birthright alumni of the 10-year-old program live in Los Angeles. The Los Angeles Federation has two people running Birthright and alumni programming, and Birthright Next, an independent organization that focuses exclusively on alumni, also has a Los Angeles office.
“This trip is a high-impact program, but we can and should be looking at making that impact bigger in terms of engagement in Jewish life when they get back,” Sanderson said.
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