When Yonatan, 21, an IDF combat soldier, met with Michael, 23, an American-Jew from Texas, there was an immediate connection. "We are brothers," said Michael, his arm placed around Yonatan.
"Israel is gorgeous. Israeli women are beautiful. I give this country two thumbs up," he added.
'It's cool he comes to this' - PM Olmert at the event (Photo: Yaakov Lappin)
Michael, like 3,000 other young Jews from around the world, arrived in Israel this week as part of the Taglit Birth Right tour, which aims to grant every Jewish youth in the Diaspora a free opportunity to visit Israel and connect with their roots.
The youths gathered for an energetic meeting at the Jerusalem International Convention Center on Sunday night, where they were given a glossy welcoming party, complete with star performers and an impressive lights and sound show.
Jews from India at the Taglit conference (Photo: Yaakov Lappin)
"I've been accompanying a group of 50 Americans for a week," Yonatan told Ynetnews. "I see how enthused they are. The first thing I told them when I met them was: Welcome home. We, the soldiers, will protect you. We are the army of the Jewish nation, not just Israel."
'We're only the spearhead for all Jews'
The youths were addressed by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who received a standing ovation. "The thing that makes us strong and secure… is that we here in Israel are only the spearhead of a great people spread all over the world, and one day they will come home where they really belong, to the State of Israel," Olmert said.
"Birthright, if you want, is what Israel is all about. Israel is a Jewish state," Olmert said, adding that all Jews "have a birthright to come and live here."
"You come from great countries," Olmert said, adding however that "there is only one place in the world which is ours."
Argentinian Jews make their presence felt (Photo: Yaakov Lappin)
The prime minister told the youths that although they came from different countries and spoke different languages, that fact did not change the feeling that "we are one people, belong to each other, and that we love each other." He added that this feeling would take root in the youths during their 10-day trip.
"When it does happen, and you feel you are ready, we are waiting for you. And when you decide to come here, we will hug you, kiss you… we want nothing more than to have you, the future of the Jewish people, to come here, where they belong," Olmert said.
Jamie, Julianne, and Carlie, three young women from Michigan, had landed in Israel only a few hours before the event.
"It's kind of interesting that he talked about us moving here," said Carlie, in reaction to Olmert's speech. "I've never heard anyone talk like that," she added. "I wasn't expecting that."
"I think it's cool that he (Olmert) comes to this," added Jamie.
Click here to recommend sites in Israel, Taglit participants should visit (Hebrew)