Taglit Birthright and Its Impact on The American Jewish Population

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Over 600,000 Jews from around the world have embarked on the informal educational, all expenses paid, Taglit Birthright trip to Israel. What this paper will draw to question is whether this is simply a free trip. This paper will look at the graphics of Birthright and analyze the impact this has on the American Jewish population. When looking at the data in a comparative fashion to the upholding on the occupation, a logical and astonishing assessment is found. In addition to an overview of the population who participates in Birthright, this paper will analyze participant’s post-trip evaluations, stronger Jewish Identities, stronger commitment to marrying a Jew and raise Jewish children, the understanding of Israeli society, and the impact of Birthright on young american Jews cultural and physiological identities. Although it is important to note the many ways in which the American Jewish population supports the occupation, this paper will be focusing on one of those key elements alone. Birthright is an essential element to analyze because of the impact it has had on the Jewish American population and therefore, upholding the occupation of Palestine. The American Jewish population is a well organized and connected community that upholds the occupation by: economically supporting institutions and businesses that enrich the occupation, lobbying American politicians to unconditionally support the occupation, promoting a political culture that does not discuss Palestinian livelihood, voting for leaders that do not critique Israel, and concealing the nature of the situation via Taglit Birthright.

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This paper will define the occupation as the military rule of Gaza, The West Bank, and East Jerusalem. Correspondingly, the IfNotNow, anti-occupation peace activists, describe the occupation as follows, “the discrimination and displacement inside Israel’s 1948 borders are connected to its rule in those Occupied Territories. This system of violence deprives all Palestinians of civil, political, and economic rights”. This is how the paper will use and define the occupation.

The purpose of analyzing these findings is to not exclusively further understand the American- Jew population, but to draw based on the American Jewish identity the potential impact they can have on the future of Israel. By extension, America’s upholding of the occupation. It is important to also note the difference in political perspectives and generation gaps. Not unlike other conflicts, each generation connected to the Israel-Palestine conflict has been exposed to different historical events throughout his or her lifetime. Generations who were alive during the first and second Intifada and the Oslo accords, commonly have a more right-wing and militaristic political opinion and largely do not support a two state solution. In contrast to the millennial population who in part has seen the fall of the Oslo accords, or others just the 2000s and after. The difference in exposure to historical events pertaining to this conflict can cause a difference in how people identify as a Jew.

To further exemplify the growing gaps between Jews, changes are occuring in the American-Jewish population, according to a major survey by the Pew Research Center. The recent survey, “suggests that Jewish identity is changing in America, where one-in-five Jews (22%) now describe themselves as having no religion.” In extension, the U.S. Jewish population has declined by half when asked if they are Jewish by religion. To highlight the contrast between the Boomer generation (born 1946-1964) and the Millenial (born after 1980), the Boomers identified as 81% Jewish by religion while 19% identified Jewish without religion; millennials responded 68% Jewish by religion and 32% Jewish without religion. The importance behind these numbers show us how the Jewish population is growing apart in the ways that they identify as a Jew. Different identities show different opinions and social orientation, specifically within Jewish communities.

Understanding who funds Birthright is essential to understanding the purpose of the program and what it aims to achieve. Formed by a group of Jewish philanthropists, in collaboration with the Israeli government, Birthright is able to give free trips. Each participant is estimated at $3,000 per trip with total programming costs in 2017 at $85,377,951. The foundation's president, David Fisher, explained, 'We have individual donors who give us as much as $2.5 million dollars a year, lots of family foundations,' Fisher said, “In recent years, the Shimon ben Joseph Foundation, the Marcus Foundation, the Schusterman Family Foundation, the Steinhardt Foundation, the Jacobson Family Trust, and the Klarman Family Foundation have donated a million dollars and more. The biggest funder of all to Birthright Israel has been Sheldon and Miriam Adelson, contributing over $200 million to the organization since 2009”. With independent donors, federation support, and an average of $40 million from the Israeli government, it is logical to conclude Taglit Birthrights success is at large because of the Jewish population. The next question to logically draw is why are countless people willing to open their checkbooks in unconditional support of Taglit Birthright? Arguably, Taglit Birthright captulates for young Jews who they are and where their people have come from, making Jewish-Americans incentivized to donate to the foundation. A large part of Taglist success, is the trackability of the impact these trips have on young Jews. In addition, recent and steadfast booms in philanthropic giving have led to an increase in people generously donating. The foundation's president, David Fisher stated, 'One of the biggest selling points we have is our ability to show and demonstrate impact, measurable consistent statistical impact'. Fisher continued by saying, 'We have been measuring the impact of the program since the beginning. We know now, 16 years later, the kind of the impact the program has had, how participants have engaged in Jewish life three, five, 10 years after their experience.' If Jews from around the world are not only participating but donating to this foundation, is it logical to assume that it is contributing a greater good to the Jewish society. None the less it draws to question, if the funding for Taglit birthright mainly comes from the pockets of Jews, doesn't this create a one sided organization? The importance of philanthropic dollars is not the question here, but rather if the funding comes from a sole source, is the funding blindsided? Or further more, biased? In order to further understand the context of Birthrights impact on Jews, it is important to note what Birthright is exposing their participants too.

Surveyed by Brandeis University, participants were asked where their strongest trip memories were. Participants had the options of Kotel, Masada, Jerusalem, Shabbat, Dead Sea, and Yad Vashem, with Kotel being the majority’s strongest memory, 25%. When participants spend their 10-day trip is Serial, they are handed a map which excludes Palestinian occupations, and an itinerary that offers no exposure to everyday life of non-Israelis. Although their are an estimated 4.4 million Palestinians living under Israeli Military control, Taglit offers no exposure to the conflict that is at the core of the Israeli state. Sarah O’Connor wrote in early March of 2019 about these controversies. American-Jewish peace activist group, IfNotNow, states that “College students across the country are already demanding that Birthright commit to confronting the crisis of the Occupation on this summer’s trips, and to do so by April 5th. They even offered some simple changes Birthright could make: Mark the West Bank on every map. Educate participants on the daily nightmare of the Occupation. Show a checkpoint from a Palestinian perspective. Although this position is being presented by an anti-occupation activist group, these claims ring fair. If Birthright is claiming to want to promote an understanding of Israel, a connection to the state, and mindfulness of the state’s wellbeing, why is it isolating half of the state’s narrative?

Created with the intention to promote Jewish continuity, and founded in the belief that an educational and culturally immersive experience was essential to fostering Jewish identity, Taglit is respectively unique and appealing to many young Jews around the world. Proven to increase bonds between Jews and Israel, forge new relationships among young Jews, and help young Jewish adults connect with their heritage. Since the program’s ignition in 1999, the increasing 600,000, 18- to 26- year old Jews have participated in the free trip leading to an inexcusable increase in stronger tries to Jewish identity. Before Taglit, religious organizations aimed toward a demographic of pre-college adolescents, however Taglit now caters towards the older, more mature population. In addition, Taglit focuses on intensive informal secular education. Unique to Taglit, participants come from a diverse set of Jewish backgrounds, including 50 countries represented, some having received a formal Jewish education and others who grew up in non-observant homes. Wide spread thorough studies conducted on Birthright is the lasting impression Taglit seems to leave on young adults, “Taglit impact on sense of connection to Israel appears to be stable and long-lasting, even after the initial post-trip “high” has worn off. The fact that even non-participants felt relatively connected to Israel (although significantly less so than participants) is a function of the generally positive feelings of American Jews toward Israel.”

Brandeis University surveyed a large number of Taglit Birthright participants and Jewish non participants in order to infer its impact on the American-Jewish population. Many questions were asked, all pertaining to identity, connection to Israel and their Jewishness, in addition to their interpretations of Israel. This information can prove helpful in a comparative fashion, none the less it is important to recount the exposure Taglit Birthright is providing its participants. When participants were asked the questions, “How important in your life is being Jewish?” three months after their trip, 74% of participants responded with “extremely important” in comparison to 66% of non-participants. Furthermore, one year after the trip, 76% of participants responded with “extremely important”. Similar figures are shown when asked on the importance of marrying a Jew and the importance of raising children as Jews. Leveling at around 65% for non-participants and 75% for participants.

Participants and non-participants were asked to respond about countless facets of Jewish identity. Participants and non-participants identified with two themes consistently: remembering the Holocaust and leading an ethical and moral life. When remembering the Holocaust, non-participants responded with 52% “very much”, while participants responded with 67%. It is unclear if this reflects a self-discovery of Jewish history or the impact of going to yad vashem and meeting Holocaust survivors on their Birthright trip.

An interesting finding as well is the participant responses when asked pre and post trip connection to the Jewish people. 38% Pre-trip participants responded, “very much”, however one year after, 65% of they responded “very much”. While 47% of non participants responded “very much”, highlighting the connection Birthright establishes between participants and Israel.

Perhaps most importantly, political attitudes regarding Israel changed after Birthright. Participants did feel an increase sense of connection, although, no shift is seen in political perspectives pre to post participants. Furthermore, a lack of difference in participants versus non-participants. In the one-year follow-up survey, both groups were asked to respond if they had been affected by the violence that had occured since the fall of 2000. The group was given positions about the negotiations between Israel and Palestinian Authority, “4 percent of participants said negotiations could not continue in the foreseeable future; 25 percent said they should continue only if Palestinian violence stops and if the division of Jerusalem and return of the Palestinians to Israel is not on the agenda; a similar proportion (27 percent) was content to drop the latter conditions and hold only that negotiations should be suspended until Palestinian violence stops; and 44 percent said that negotiations should continue regardless. Views of non-participants were nearly identical.” This is an interesting finding that is somewhat unexpected, none the less it calls to question if the lack of change in political perspective is at the fault of Birthright Israel. In this case, looking at the data changes the inevitable, perspective pertaining to Israel, and furthermore, Palestine, would indeed shift if exposure to said issues also increased. Traveling and new experiences do commonly change young adults’ political perspectives, if the trip does not educate participants past their current knowledge, no new shift will be seen. An inference can be made with regards to a lack of changing political attitudes, namely that participants were not exposed to information relevant to such issues. This inference is strengthened by comparing the vast changes in perspective of culture, identity, and religion of participants and non-participants- change is predicted.

The lack of shift in political perspective, or at least intensify pre trip perspectives, concludes that Taglit Birthright has power in upholding the occupation by limiting young Jewish adults exposure to the reality of Palestinian life. America’s relationship with Israel upholds the occupation in countless ways that this paper will not explore, however Birthright is one of those ways due to the impact on the Jewish American population. It is logical to have a physiological transformation once exposed to know information or experience something you have not before. Any young adult who has the opportunity to learn objectively inside Israel-Palestine would logically have an experience that would shift their political perspectives.

In contrast, Birthright trips have not been easily digested by all. A movement that started with a few adults walking off their Birthright trips, to dozens every summer, has become a rippling effect in the Birthright discourse. The participants who decided to walk off or asked to leave were asking questions about the occupation or Israeli military. Katie Fenster, planned a walk out with her a three other women, while on their tour bus she started a facebook livestream. She then stated, “I just wanna let you know that there’s a group of us on this trip who’ve been asking questions and trying to engage, and we have not been able to do that. And as a result, the five of us will be leaving. As we get off the bus, we’ll” — that is, the quintet, not the rest of the group — “be going on a trip with Breaking the Silence to learn about the occupation from the perspective of Palestinians and IDF soldiers” Fenster and the others are not alone. Birthright is shaping the conversation of the occupation of Palestine in Millennial circles.

The majority of these groups opposes the occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza, but compared to other American peace groups, stop at Zionism. They promote a two state solution and the general livelihood of Palestine. For most young Left leaning American Jews, this is appealing. The If Not Now peace activist group, founded a near 6 years ago, is growing at a rapid pace and represented on many American college campuses. Most of the demands of these groups are quite simple and offer birthright a clear objective. Sarah O’Connor wrote on the behalf of IfNotNow, “If Birthright truly wants to give its participants an authentic experience, it has a responsibility to educate them about the reality on the ground, including the daily nightmare of the Occupation.” she goes on to highlight If Not Now recent request, “They even offered some simple changes Birthright could make: Mark the West Bank on every map, Educate participants on the daily nightmare of the Occupation, Show a checkpoint from a Palestinian perspective.” it is inexcusable that these additions would cause an impact on anyone let alone Jews learning about the formation of Israel. These components are rudimentary to understanding the reality of living in Israel and arguably fairly basic in comparison to the other realities that come with living in Israel.

These peace activist groups show that there is opposition to what Birthright is exposing it participants to and that not every young adult is complicit. Many arguments can be made against the groups against Birthright, just like any other, however the point of this section is not to assess the validity but rather to recognize the argument against Taglit. People are angry and recognizing the many ways the Palestinian occupation is upheld by the American population on all levels.


The themes inside the Israel Palestine conflict are not an exception, in fact are unmistakable parallel to many others, nationalism, genocide, racism, militarization, corruption, and more. It is important to deexceptionalize this conflict; we continuously are teaching the cycles of violence, in Israel and in America alike. Birthright is exposing young, imprintable generations a false reality, therefor prohibiting them from forming a clique or original thought. Exposing a young adult to false truths is harming our future. Teaching the upcoming generation is one of the most crucial foundations for change. If a shift in history is desired in America’s relation with Israel, it must start with the young generation forming independent thought processes and innovative solutions. These ideas are not formed from an artificial environment but rather from exposure to the truth. Taglit Birthright is forming a bubble and incorrect perspective, this is not only wrong but it is impacting the future of America, Israel, and by extension, Palestine.

Is Taglit purposefully sheltering young American jews from the reality of the Israeli government? Or it the foundation simply not concerned in this regard and is suly aiming to connect diaspora Jews to the state of Israel? Nonetheless, the data analyzed has shown an obvious truth, birthright is impacting thousands of young adults but it is causing no lasting political shift. This finding compels the logical belief that birthright is not disclosing perfect information to its participants. To support this conclusion, participants who are attempting to engage in honest conversations with their trip advisors are being punished or expelled from birthright. Sending a message to future participants that critical thought is indeed not welcome on taglit trips. Abul Hawa is a Palestinian journalist and LGBT rights activist who has born in Barcelona to Palestinian/Syrian parents, and raised in East Jerusalem, he currently living and working in Tel Aviv - Jaffa. Hawa used to host forums for birthright participants to learn about Palestinian livelihood, after birthright cancelled meeting Palestinians he stated, I know now what Birthright is and what it represents, and it represents almost everything I’m against. Every time I even read the word 'birthright', I get nauseous. Who are these privileged kids who get to have an all-expenses paid vacation here? People who get to visit here so easily, even if they don’t have any apparent affinity with this land, while hundreds of thousands of Palestinians are denied the right to visit their homeland.” Ziza brings up an inexcusable point, Americans Jews are going on free trips to visit land that people were expelled from and now no longer have no right to. Hundreds of thousands have been secured none the less the American and Israel government steadfastly work to preserve the bubble they have established.

With the continuation of these trips it is logical to conclude that we will not see a shift in American foreign policy with Israel. In many ways Americans uphold the occupation and furthermore, the millennial generation in America has the power to stop the occupation. The future senators, presidents, CEOs, and military, the voices of the millennials will have to get louder and demand a change in America's foreign policy. Activists who have walked off of their birthright trips are shaping the conversations about the occupation in ways the public has not seen before.

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America is resistant to change and a substantial amount will have to happen for us to see the de-occupation of Palestine. Recognizing the importance of taglit Birthright on the Israel-Palestine conflict is crucial to dismantling the existing regimes.

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Dr. Oliver Johnson

Cite this Essay

Taglit Birthright and Its Impact on the American Jewish Population. (2020, October 10). GradesFixer. Retrieved September 21, 2023, from
“Taglit Birthright and Its Impact on the American Jewish Population.” GradesFixer, 10 Oct. 2020,
Taglit Birthright and Its Impact on the American Jewish Population. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 21 Sept. 2023].
Taglit Birthright and Its Impact on the American Jewish Population [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2020 Oct 10 [cited 2023 Sept 21]. Available from:
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