While Birthright Israel trips are still on hold due to the global Covid-19 pandemic, the organization is launching a first-of-its-kind interactive tour while allows users to make choices that shape the tour in real-time
Due to the global Covid-19 pandemic and for the first time in its history, Birthright-Israel has postponed all trips since mid-March.
“While tens of thousands of Jewish young adults were planning to visit Israel this summer, the organization quickly turned to online high-quality engagement with its alumni and prospective participants,” Noa Bauer, VP of Global Marketing at Birthright.
“Cancelling trips due to COVID-19 has been painful, but our priority has always been providing safe, meaningful experiences. That’s why during this time, we’ve prioritized new ways to develop strong diaspora and Israel connections despite the skies being closed.
“Since mid-March we reached 4.4 million people around the world, and we invite the thousands of Birthright applicants whose trips were cancelled, as well as past and future Birthright participants, their families and loved ones, to take part in a virtual tour of Israel using unprecedented technology,” she adds. “We’re working with the Ministry of Health to resume trips from select countries soon and while it may take longer to bring back American participants, we expect high demand, so we encourage everyone to save their spot. We can’t wait to have everyone back!”
“I had planned on spending some time in Europe this summer with a sojourn to Israel to visit friends I had made through various Birthright trips in the past,” said Jason Miller-Goodman, a San Antonio resident, Birthright Fellow, and member of the Jewish Federation of San Antonio’s board of directors. Jason has served on the Young Adult Division board for several years and considers Birthright an integral experience for Jewish young adults. He shared his thoughts on how important the Jewish learning and engagement is.
“Birthright is more than a trip,” Miller-Goodman said. “The goal of the organization is to strengthen Jewish identity and connections. Over 750,000 participants have been able to take part in this experience. Part of that experience is going to Israel and exploring various parts of our history, religion, geopolitics, and culture. Obviously, in-person interactions are a critical part of this mission. Birthright’s core mission was never suspended as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Connecting with Birthright as an alumnus, prospective participant, or as a curious bystander is still critical.
Birthright has always been innovative in its programming and the pandemic has helped to support this notion.
“For staff members, there have been continuous training opportunities to stay engaged. The resources that have come out since the onset of the pandemic have been numerous and enlightening.
“The full Birthright experience will eventually return, and I encourage everyone to explore the Birthright Israel website for more information on the program and its mission. I also implore prospective participants and interested parties to go to the Birthright Israel Foundation blog to learn more about various experiences past participants have had. If one peruses to June 2019, they might find a familiar San Antonian. By staying connected, participants can get excited for their future travel to Israel!”
Until then, Birthright Israel is launching the first of its kind interactive video, Choose Your Own Adventure on a platform called Eko, allowing people to choose in real time which sites in Israel they want to visit. This means that the online tour led by Navee, a real and local Israeli guide, allows you to choose between a visit to Masada or the Western Wall, eat in an Arabic Bistro or a Vegan restaurant, visit Birthright’s Tel Aviv Center for Israeli Innovation or a local winery and then float in the Dead Sea or surf the beach. In each location, Navee introduces visitors to local Israelis providing a deeper perspective about Israeli culture. The tour only takes about 8 to 10 minutes and you can do it again and again with different choices each time.
While Birthright was working on the project, Professor Len Saxe of the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies at Brandeis University issued a report studying all Birthright Applicants whose trips were postponed. The study found that Covid-19 has had a significant impact on the emotional distress of Birthright applicants; At least one in five feel lonely, hampered by emotional difficulties and that they are not coping well. In addition, about a third are interested in any kind of Jewish online engagement – just like the one Birthright is Launching today. According to Saxe’s study, 18% of Birthright applicants whose trips were cancelled are willing to board a plane to Israel “Right Now”.
“The tour is available for every person that wants to get a glimpse of what Israel has to offer, from historic sites to Israeli Innovation in a fun, innovative way” says Bauer, “But we are still working relentlessly on making the proper adjustments in creating safe and possible options for Birthright trips to resume, supporting both Israel’s relations with the Diaspora as well as providing massive support and income to Israel’s periphery and tourism industry”.
Birthright Israel has a steadfast partnership with the government of Israel, donors and Jewish communities from around the world. Now celebrating 20 years since inception, more than 750,000 young Jewish adults from more than 68 countries participated in a 10-day free educational tour in Israel with Birthright Israel. Of these 115,000 are Israelis, most of which are IDF soldiers, students and young professionals.