By Doug Ross and Jessica Katz Yonatan | Birthright Israel Foundation

Birthright Israel has provided a life-changing experience to over half a million young Jewish adults, ages 18 to 26, from 66 countries since the program’s inception in 1999. This is quite remarkable given the fact that there are only an estimated 8 million non-Israeli Jews in the world.

Doug Ross shows one of the props from his speech, a copy of “The Snow Walker,” the story of how his great-grandfather Milton Daub at age 12 fetched vital food and medicine for his family and neighbors when New York was snowed in by the great blizzard of 1888.

Doug Ross chairs the Birthright Israel Atlanta Leadership Council. 

It has become the leading organization of its kind, partly because of its ability to engage meaningfully with Jewish millennials, allowing them to forge a connection with Judaism and their Jewish identity during a transformative time in their lives. We are proud to have sent more than 6,000 young adults from Atlanta’s rapidly growing Jewish community on this trip, but, for all the success we’ve had, there is much work left to do.

The powerful effect of the Birthright Israel experience cannot be denied. Study after study has shown that participants share an increased commitment to marrying a Jewish partner, raising a family in the Jewish tradition, celebrating Jewish holidays, joining Jewish and pro-Israel organizations, having Jewish friends, and returning to visit Israel.

Thanks in part to Birthright Israel, we see an engaged, thriving network of young Jewish professionals here in Atlanta who are getting involved and making a difference.

While most people in the Jewish world have heard of Birthright Israel, many are unaware of our fundraising needs and of our growing nationwide network of donors. At $3,000 per participant, the cost of sending this year’s 45,000-plus young adults exceeds $135 million. This amount is projected to increase in coming years as an estimated 1.8 million young Jews reach the age of eligibility.

Birthright Israel Foundation, the U.S.-based fundraising arm of Birthright Israel, has more than 30,000 donors from diverse backgrounds, including individuals, foundations, Jewish institutions like the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta, family philanthropies, and dedicated alumni and their parents and grandparents.

Birthright Israel was originally funded through the generosity of co-founders Charles Bronfman and Michael Steinhardt and a handful of passionate visionaries. As the program has grown beyond anyone’s wildest imagination, however, so has the need.

Recognizing that many of the Jewish world’s future leaders, donors and benefactors will come from the ranks of Birthright Israel alumni, communities across the country are stepping up and taking responsibility for providing this experience to and engaging with new generations of young adults.

In short, Birthright Israel is a powerful, direct investment in our collective Jewish future, which is why we are working so hard to expand our Atlanta donor base. Truly every dollar counts.

Our priority is to continue providing the gift of Birthright Israel for many generations to come as we continually adapt and add trips to meet the increasingly diverse interests of our participants.

While most contributions go toward the cost of a standard 10-day trip, Birthright Israel also designates funding for customized trips, including those with special needs, an extended 13-day trip allowing participants to earn college credit, and an abridged seven-day trip for those unable to take off as much time from school or work.

Niche trips also serve such diverse populations as the LGBTQ community and those interested in culinary arts, to name just two, as Birthright Israel provides many different trips in an effort to reach all corners of the Jewish world.

As we gather with our families to celebrate Rosh Hashanah, we want to wish the entire community a happy and healthy new year and thank those who are already part of our growing Birthright Israel Atlanta family. Let us join together in the coming year to ensure that even more young Jewish adults can receive this life-changing gift. Shana tova.

To learn more about the Birthright Israel Foundation, visit BirthrightIsrael.Foundation.

Doug Ross chairs the Birthright Israel Atlanta Leadership Council and is a member of the Birthright Israel Foundation national board. Jessica Katz Yonatan is the Birthright Israel Foundation’s associate regional director in Atlanta.