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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Taglit Birthright holds mega event with thousands of visiting Jews

From the IDF website:
It's hard to describe Taglit-Birthright Israel's Mega Event to those who haven’t been there. It’s almost a phenomenon. People-sized balloons and balloon-sized excitement. Music blaring, disco balls and night club lighting. Most remarkable are the 3,000 bodies jumping in ecstatic thrill, full of motivation and bursting with joy. And most surprising is that even in the midst of this, the words said don’t get lost.

"My friend Yossi Beilin had an idea," said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the opening of his speech. "We have to bring young Jews from all over the world to Israel. It's not simple, you know, because someone has to pay for it. And then the crazy idea met Michael and Judy Steinhardt, crazy, yet very good Jews from the United States, who shared the same feelings."

"The outcome of all this is you," he continued. "From Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Venezuela, Poland, Russia, Great Britain, the US (“and Canada!” shouted the audience). Nowadays, you need not know each other's languages. You all speak Facebook. You all speak Youtube. You are all able to say what you want to say in 140 characters or less. Use these tools. Tell the world the truth."

There ‘s really nothing else to say. It is contagious. Even people wearing suits and people in their seventies danced here this evening. Where does all this happiness come from? "It's just too big to explain in words," answers Rosa from Venezuela. "This idea is too great to express. Hundreds of thousands of Jews from all over the world, different but exactly the same, who meet each other in the homeland that belongs to all of us."

Behind the scenes, Taglit-Birthright Israel CEO, Gidi Mark, wanders around, finalizing last details yet still grinning from ear to ear. He says to IDF Website, "There is a reason why we are here in these first days of January. It's an event opening the new year, announcing what is to follow. This event opens the door to the 50,000 people who will come to Israel by next January." When asked how exciting it has been to take part in the Mega Event for 11 years, he answers, "It’s as exciting as the first time every time. This place, here, is the strongest young Jewish energy in the world."

The 300,000 people from 54 countries, who visited Israel since the establishment of the Taglit-Birthright Israel program, got to meet, among others, many Israeli soldiers. Eight join every delegation that comes. One of the thousands who did so is Corp. Sivan Peleg, a military writer. Sivan does not lack stories in her bevy military experiences. Despite this, she says, "It’s unbelievable. You see things here that Israelis never get to see. Like that they discover that there are others Jews in the world, that they are not alone – ‘they are just like me’. There are people here who’ve never met another Jew, and suddenly they are in a bus full of Jews in the State of the Jews. You are told about Taglit-Birthright, but nothing can really prepare you for the experience. As a soldier, it's an opportunity to take days off from the army and still be Israeli."

"For many years, the State of Israel has received money from the Jewish community," recalls Netanyahu. "Today, we are giving back. In the near future, the State of Israel will invest over 100 million dollars in the Taglit-Birthright program. If it's up to me, it will not stop. Every Jew wishing to come to Israel can come to Israel. I believe that a strong international Jewish identity is essential for ensuring our future. We must remember that Israel is not only a 63-year miracle. It is a miracle at the top of a history of 4,000 years."
Do you think that the so-called "pro-Israel, pro-peace" crowd reads this and feels happiness, or dread?