Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky was welcomed to Buenos Aires on April 1 by the Argentine team of Taglit-Birthright Israel, at a lunch held in his honor, in partnership with the World Jewish Congress, and then toured the city with a group of local Taglit-Birthright Israel alumni.
At the lunch, hosted by Eduardo Elsztain, president of Taglit-Birthright Israel in Argentina, Sharansky's work in campaigning for and supporting outreach to Jewish communities abroad was acknowledged before an audience of influential figures in Argentina's Jewish community.
Sharansky himself applauded the important role that Taglit-Birthright Israel plays in reinforcing Jewish identity and support for Israel amongst young Jewish adults in the Diaspora.
At the lunch, Mr.Sharansky and his wife, Avital, were introduced to seven such young people, all of whom had visited Israel with Taglit-Birthright Israel.
Following the lunch, the seven Taglit-Birthright Israel alumni - Jonathan Cohen Lozie, 31, Valeria Felder, 23, Victoria Akerman, 27, Florencia Storch, 22, Matías Dobzsewicz, 23, Maximiliano Grosman, 35, and Matías Schvatrs, 30 - took Mr. and Mrs. Sharansky on a tour of Buenos Aires, and spent time talking with them about their experience of touring Israel with the organization, and about their experience of being young Jews in Argentina.
Under the guidance of the alumni, Mr. and Mrs. Sharansky visited the Plaza de Mayo, where the alumni explained to them the story of the place and of the Mothers and Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo, who continue to meet there each week in remembrance of their children who were abducted during the years of military dictatorship.
They saw the palace of the Casa Rosada, before visiting the “Cabildo”, where Argentine independence was declared. After a bus ride through Buenos Aires' main streets “Avenida de Mayo”, and “Avenida Corrientes”, they arrived to pay their respects at the site of the old Israeli embassy which was bombed in 1992.
Elsztain said, "It is an honor to host such an influential and important guest as Mr. Sharansky. His story and his achievements act as an inspiration for us at Taglit-Birthright Israel and for the young people that come to Israel with us.
"He is living proof of the importance of keeping the flame of Jewish identity alive and of galvanizing support for the State of Israel amongst our communities here in Argentina and worldwide. This is the mission of Taglit-Birthright Israel and we are delighted to salute him and welcome him to Buenos Aires."
Florencia Storch, one of the Taglit-Birthright Israel alumni, added, "All of us in the group who went to Israel with Taglit-Birthright Israel returned to Argentina with a better understanding of our shared heritage, and prouder of our identity. It has been great to meet Mr. Sharansky, to show him our city and share our experiences with him, because we understand that his life's work has been to highlight and strengthen Jewish pride and identity. It has been a really exciting and unforgettable day."
Argentina important center of activity
Sharansky was clearly impressed and moved by the stories of the five alumni, and enjoyed their company on his rapid tour of Buenos Aires.
Argentina is an important center of activity for Taglit-Birthright Israel. During the first 10 years of its existence, 10,500 young Argentine Jews have visited Israel with the organization. In addition, Argentina acts as the hub for Taglit-Birthright Israel in its efforts to bring young Jews to Israel from Venezuela and other South American nations with smaller communities.
This forthcoming summer will see record numbers of young Jewish adults aged 18-26 come to Israel on Taglit-Birthright Israel's free, 10-day educational trips. In all, Taglit-Birthright Israel will bring 33,000 young adults to Israel during 2011 on summer and winter trips, from more than 50 countries around the world. Yet demand for places continues to grow and outstrip supply and the organization's funding capacity.
Taglit-Birthright Israel has set the goal of sending 51,000 young Jewish adults annually by 2013, which means that one in every two Jewish young adults worldwide would participate in a Birthright Israel trip.
In January, the Israeli government announced it would contribute $100 million in funding over the next three years to assist Taglit-Birthright Israel achieve that goal. The organization is redoubling its efforts to match this commitment with support from Jewish communities and donors worldwide.
A new study, released in March by Brandeis University’s Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies, showed that Taglit-Birthright Israel has achieved considerable success in its aims of reinforcing Jewish identity and advocacy for Israel amongst young Jews in the Diaspora. The study, which surveyed 2,000 young adults who participated in or applied for a Birthright Israel trip between 2001 and 2005, demonstrated that:
- Taglit-Birthright Israel participants were 51% more likely than non-participants to be married to someone Jewish.
- Participants were 46% more likely to feel very much connected to Israel and 28% more likely to explain with confidence Israel/Middle East issues.
- Participants were 28% more likely to place high importance on marrying someone Jewish and 35% more likely to place high importance on raising Jewish children than non-participants.
- Among participants who married a person who was not born Jewish, the likelihood of their spouse converting to Judaism was four times higher than the spouses of non-participants.
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