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Birthright Expands Eligibility

Read this story in the Washington Jewish Week

Now, students who participated in organized teen tours to Israel in high school will be eligible to return to the country with Taglit-Birthright.

On Wednesday of last week, Taglit-Birthright Israel, which provides free 10-day trips to Israel for Jews aged 18-26, announced it has removed a limit on participants’ eligibility that previously omitted those who had already participated in educational trips to Israel. The change will be in effect by Feb. 19, which is when registration for 2014 summer trips begins.

Both Avi Green, director of BBYO passport and Jewish travel experiences, and Shira Kaplan, Seaboard USY’s regional director, are excited about what this change means for their respective organizations. “We view this as the best of both worlds,” said Green. “Our teens will not have to worry about losing their eligibility.” Kaplan said of the potential for students to participate in both, “There is no such thing as ‘enough’ when it comes to Israel.”

Gail Hyman, Birthright’s vice president of marketing & communication, said that part of the rationale for the decision was that 18-26 year olds are in “a very different place” than the 14-17 year olds who participate in these high-school trips. While Taglit is still working out the specifics of the expansion, she believes that this will increase registration for both types of programs. She stressed, though, that this announcement does not mean that the organization is shifting its focus away from any segment of the Jewish community; they believe that “more is more.”

Abby and Michelle Kerbel grew up in Rockville. Each participated in USY Israel Pilgrimage and the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School’s (JDS) senior year trip to Israel. The sisters share some excitement about the announcement.

Abby raised some concerns about the implications of the change, however, and what it means for programming. She suggested that, “if the funding is available to send more people to Israel, let’s channel it into longer trips, which have had more success in the long run.”

Michelle is excited that she is now eligible and that “this has opened up engagement opportunities” for her and other students active in the University of Pittsburgh’s Hillel.

Zach Birnbaum, another JDS alumnus, is also happy for the rule change, but hopes that it will lead to a change in programming for those who’ve been to Israel in the past.

“While I would certainly hike Masada again,” said Birnbaum, “and appreciate its historical and cultural significance, I think that there are better ways to spend the limited amount of time that you have in Israel, simply because I have done it before with a group of my peers similar to the experience Birthright already provides.”

Many will wait with baited breath while the details of the expanded registration take shape. In the meantime, Oz Fishman, a George Washington University sophomore who went to Israel with BBYO, is excited about the news – not just for himself, but for all of his fellow Jewish young adults. “Being in Israel on the whole is amazing; [the Western Wall and other attractions are] first-time tourist places because they’re amazing. You could choose to be bummed that you have to be there again, but it’s just a privilege to be in Israel at all.”

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