Birthright suffers plunge in American Jewish participation this winter

By World Israel News Staff

Haaretz reported Tuesday that the Birthright program has seen a sharp drop in participation rates this winter season, mainly among Jews from the U.S., the country that provides “by far” the largest number of participants.

Birthright is a free 10-day trip offered to young Jews ages 18 to 26 (now raised to age 32). It has brought hundreds of thousands of Jewish youth from around the world to Israel with the goal of increasing their identification with the Jewish State.

Haaretz says the plummeting numbers are “unprecedented,” and although the program has seen dips before, it has never experienced “a downturn of this magnitude,” unrelated to any “security situation.”

The paper cites five key Birthright trip providers who say “the drop ranges from 20 percent to 50 percent – depending on the provider – in comparison with the last winter season.”

The winter season runs from December to March.

Although the providers weren’t sure of the reason for the plunge in participants, they speculated to Haaretz that because of looser eligibility requirements, “young Jews feel less of a sense of urgency nowadays to register for the program,” as the eligibility age was raised to 32 a few years ago.

Another possible explanation the providers mentioned is that the sudden decrease could be linked to growing disengagement among young American Jews to Israel, Haaretz reports.

The paper points to recent studies suggesting the younger generation of Jews feel less connected to Israel due to the country’s policies which are perceived as opposing their largely progressive values.

However, Birthright disputes that the downturn signifies a larger trend. The organization told Haaretz that it attributes the drop to the winter registration opening during the Jewish High Holy Days.

“While this affected numbers, it was not indicative of our overwhelmingly successful year,” Haaretz quotes a Birthright spokeswoman saying.

She told Haaretz, “2019 will be another remarkable year.”