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Philanthropists press federations to
raise more money for Birthright.
Jewish Telegraphic Agency
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September 27 • 2007
To a large degree, the funding
crunch is a product of Birthright's suc-
cess. The program was only expected
to last five years, but now, with par-
ticipation skyrocketing, the plan is to
keep it running indefinitely — and at
ajor philanthropists behind
Birthright Israel are pres-
suring the United Jewish
Communities and the Jewish federa-
The Need Increases
tion system to contribute more fund-
In 2000, 9,462 Jews between the ages
ing to the program.
of 18 and 26 took the free trips. This
When the initiative to send Jewish
year, nearly 36,000 from around the
young adults on free 10-day trips to
world, mostly North America, are
Israel was launched in 2000, private
expected to participate, with thou-
philanthropists, the government
sands more on the waiting list.
of Israel and the federation system
Birthright has cost $314 million
agreed to share the costs equally.
over the past eight years. Private phi-
But this year, with the budget for
lanthropists have contributed $147
Birthright hitting $80.6 million, the
million and the Israeli government
federations thus far have contributed
$75 million. The federation system,
only $5.5 million.
Birthright sources say, has contributed
"I don't think there has been an
about $43 million. Additional funding
honest-to-God buy-in," said Charles
comes from other sources, including
Bronfman, who founded Birthright
the Jewish Agency for Israel.
with fellow philanthropist Michael
Casino mogul Sheldon Adelson has
pledged $60 million over the next two
In an unprecedented step to cull
years to pay for the tens of thousands
more money from the UJC system,
of Jews on the waiting list. Yet with the
Bronfman's foundation is setting aside program receiving 2,000 applicants a
about $1.5 million for local Jewish
day and typically having to close regis-
federations to hire full-time develop-
tration only a few weeks after it opens,
ment professionals to raise money for
Birthright officials say more money
Birthright. In addition, the UJC and
will probably be needed.
Birthright are discussing the creation
Each trip to Israel costs about
of an endowment fund of up to $500
$2,000, according to Birthright's direc-
million to fund Birthright on a con-
tor of international marketing, Gideon
Mark. The federations' contribution
Bronfman has written a scathing
per trip in 2007 will be approximately
essay deriding the UJC for contribut-
$175, according to Jay Golan, the exec-
ing less than 1 percent of its budget
utive director of the Birthright Israel
to Birthright. He and the other private
Foundation, which oversees private
philanthropists who back Birthright
funding for the program.
say that without more money from
Adding to the frustration of
the federation system, a program that
Birthright supporters is that most
is widely seen as the most successful
federations use the travel program in
Jewish continuity effort cannot keep
their fundraising pitches.
up with demand.
Sources familiar with the situation
For federations, said Eric Levine, the say the UJC is having trouble convincing
UJC's senior vice president for Jewish
federations to contribute more money.
peoplehood and identity, the situation
Using a pre-existing formula
is not so simple.
employed for other shared costs, the
"In all honesty, everyone wants to
UJC suggests to each individual fed-
fund Birthright to a greater extent," he
eration how much it should contrib-
said. Federations, however, are multi-
ute to Birthright. For 2007, the UJC
issue organizations. "The fact is that
requested $9 million from the federa-
we don't want to pull money from a
tions, an increase of 50 percent from
poor person's mouth to pay for a free
last year; so far it has collected $5.5
trip to Israel," Levine said.