Dennis Ross was invited to a Birthright Israel Foundation event Thursday night, Nov. 10, to help draw donors, not to address the value of Birthright.

He did so anyway, explaining that he couldn’t resist after hearing the story of one of the more than half a million Birthright alumni, Stephanie Neville.

Neville, a Michigan native who moved to Georgia after graduating from Michigan State, was raised by her Christian father after her mother died in a car accident when Neville was young. She had little contact with her Jewish relatives until she got to college, when her maternal grandmother and great-grandmother were close by.

Stephanie Neville

Stephanie Neville

After settling in Georgia with few connections, she went on an Atlanta community Birthright trip in January 2013.

“Those 10 days … were some of the best of my life,” she said. The trip cemented her connections to the Atlanta Jewish community and to Israel.

“Generous people like you have changed my life,” she told the roughly 90 people at the donor event.

Ross called her testimonial amazing and said that if her story didn’t persuade people to give to Birthright, nothing would. “There is no single program that has had a bigger effect on Jewish identity than Birthright.”

He added that he hears “Birthright changed my life” from program alumni all the time, including from a nephew who grew up in a secular home.

There are many worthy causes, Ross said, but “I don’t know of any other program that has this kind of impact you can measure” at a cost of $3,000 per traveler.

He said 80 percent of Birthright alumni marry Jews; the 20 percent who don’t still raise their children Jewish.