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Jewish Journal

Birthright the ‘LA way’

by Julie Bien

February 12, 2014 | 5:06 pm

Birthright participants visiting Masada, summer 2012. (Taglit-Birthright)

Birthright participants visiting Masada, summer 2012. (Taglit-Birthright)

When registration opens Feb. 19, a Birthright trip sponsored by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles geared specifically toward entertainment professionals will represent the first time that young adults up to age 29 will be allowed to take part in the free Israel program. 

Taglit-Birthright Israel was launched 15 years ago to connect Jews ages 18-26 with their heritage. Now, the rules are being softened by Birthright organizers for certain groups. Students who had gone on an extended experiential Israel trip while in middle school or high school, for example, now qualifiy for the fully funded 10-day trip, which was not allowed previously.

This could spell a large increase in Angelenos headed to Israel come June. As it stands, last year, the Federation sent roughly 600 young Angelenos on L.A. Way Birthright Israel trips, according to Tal Gozani, Federation senior vice president of young adult engagement and leadership development.

With registration for the summer Birthright trips opening on Feb. 19 at birthrightisrael.com, Federation officials said they are excited about expanded programming for local participants.

“I have had the privilege of staffing two L.A. Way trips,” said Margalit Rosenthal, the Federation’s senior director of the Birthright Israel Experience. “For many, going to Israel and seeing all of the ways people — both other Americans and Israelis — are Jewish, opens their eyes and minds. I learned that this is so much more than an educational trip about Israel and Jewish history. This experience empowers individuals to express their Jewish identity in a way that is meaningful to them.”

The Federation sends an average of 15 L.A. Way Birthright trips to Israel each year. It is the nation’s leader in community trips sending the most local participants, according to Gozani.

Niche-option trips change from year to year based on demand. Some of the trips for young adults ages 18-22 are in partnership with local university campus Hillels, including USC Hillel, Hillel 818 and Hillel at UCLA. 

This summer, the Federation will be co-sponsoring its second L.A. Way LGBTQ & Ally trip in partnership with JQ International, whose mission, according to its Web site, is to “advance greater inclusion of LGBT Jews and Allies via identity building programs and services that embody Jewish values.” 

This trip will visit culturally, artistically and historically important sites within cities such as Tel Aviv that show the ways in which Jewish
LGBTQ life flourishes and continues to make great strides politically and socially in the state of Israel. The tour guide for the trip will be someone who understands and identifies with the LGBTQ community, according to the program description.

Another niche trip the Federation is including this year is an entertainment professionals trip — the first official trip centered on adults working in that industry in L.A. 

“We have found that up to one-half of our typical buses are filled with young Jews working in the entertainment industry,” Gozani said. “Because of the professional nature of this trip, we are able to populate it with eligible young Jews up through age 29.”

That’s a big deal for many young adults who thought they were past the age of eligibility. For nearly all trips, the deadline is 26 at the time of registration, although one can be 27 at the time of the trip. A select number of professional trips this summer, however — specifically for medical students/professionals and business students — will allow participants up through age 29. 

There have been other eligibility changes as well. Taglit-Birthright Israel, the leader in Birthright tours and the Federation’s partner in sponsoring trips — along with three trip organizers: IsraelExperts, Israel Outdoors and Sachlav — will now allow those who “participated on peer educational trips to Israel prior to turning 18 years of age” to apply. Up until now, those students had been ineligible.  

“We expect more clarifying information to come later this month and in the weeks following registration,” Gozani said. “It is too early to assess the effect of the eligibility requirements on this season. There may be longer-term effects on the number of applicants and the type of applicant.”

Both Gozani and Rosenthal feel it’s very important for young Jews to take part in a Birthright trip.

“There are two aspects of Birthright Israel that I believe are incredibly powerful and important for young Jews to experience: traveling to Israel and being surrounded by a new community of Jewish peers,” Rosenthal said. “Having this type of immersive Jewish experience is so powerful.”

Gozani added, “Birthright Israel is, for many, the first time they encounter Israel, encounter another country, live surrounded by Jews and create a Jewish community. People come back from this trip with a newfound sense of pride in their Jewish heritage and identity. The trip offers an access point into the Jewish community through Israel, through relationships, through history, through culture, or through religion — to name a few.”

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