July 17, 2008
Extending the Birthright privilege
Organizers chart a new course to keep alumni connected beyond 10 days
(Page 3 - Previous Page)Funding Trips vs. Alumni
Diverting funding from the trips wasn't an option: In the first seven hours of registration for the summer 2008 trips, 12,000 people applied, and the number reached 40,000 in 72 hours, by which time registration was closed. Because those who don't make the list might not reapply, a new program gives reappliers priority.
Still, growing waiting lists persist even after a two-year, $60 million matching grant from the Adelson Family Charitable Foundation in 2006 nearly doubled the number of available slots. Sheldon and Miriam Adelson supplemented that amount with another $6.8 million challenge grant when they realized how many people were still on the waiting list.
While pressure to get more participants on the planes stays strong, support continues to grow: Dozens of major foundations and federations stand behind Birthright. This year, Taglit-Birthright's annual budget is about $90 million, funded by philanthropists, Jewish federations and the Israeli government.
A year and half ago Bronfman and Steinhardt agreed that Bronfman would continue to fund trips, while Steinhardt would continue funding trips but would also launch Birthright NEXT, an entity separate from Taglit-Birthright. Other philanthropists have since joined him.
Participant follow-up was built into Birthright from its inception, and more formal alumni programming had been in place since 2004, but the budget for those components of the program was less than $1 million until 2006. With the establishment of Birthright NEXT, the number rose to $8 million.
Even so, that boils down to only about $60 per alumni -- a number that will shrink further as the alumni pool grows and pales in comparison to the $2,700 allocated per participant for a trip.
Birthright NEXT is designed to approach each participant while they're in Israel, attaching the NEXT name and Web site on all the literature and gifts, as well as explicitly discussing how participants will integrate their experience into life back home.
There are follow-up e-mails, and many groups set up their own Facebook pages. But Birthright struggles to keep track of alumni, since this highly mobile age group might have five different addresses in as many years.
Last year Birthright NEXT hosted two multicity events: Five thousand alumni attended The Eight -- Chanukah concerts co-sponsored by JDub Records -- and another 3,000 saw the Israelity concert tour, according to Rabbi Daniel Brenner, Birthright NEXT director.
Birthright NEXT offers grants of up to $5,000 for alumni to host their own Israel or Jewish programs.
There is also a push to get alumni back to Israel for long-term programs, allowing them to study, work or volunteer there for three months to a year. The Israeli government, with support from the American Jewish community, established MASA three years ago to offer grants for 18- to 30-year-olds -- whether they are Birthright alumni or not -- to go to Israel for longer programs.