Birthright Celebrates a Milestone

By Joshua Yaffa

Published June 02, 2006, issue of June 02, 2006.
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On Monday, June 5, Stephanie Lowenthal will embark on a trip taken by 99,999 others before her: a 10-day tour of Israel that is paid for by Taglit–Birthright Israel, a philanthropic organization that sponsors excursions throughout the Holy Land for young Diaspora Jews.

Lowenthal — who works in corporate communications for the Nasdaq stock exchange — was introduced as the six-year old organization’s 100,000th participant earlier this week at the Israeli Consulate in New York.

“What a wonderful opportunity to experience Israel in such a unique way,” she said of the Birthright program, which annually brings more than 12,000 Jews between the ages of 18 and 26 to Israel for cultural and religious-themed group trips.

In a conversation with the Forward, Lowenthal, who never visited Israel before, expressed great anticipation regarding her trip, which will include stops at the Dead Sea, the Negev, and the Western Wall, as well as an informal mifgash (meeting) at which travelers will interact with their Israeli peers.

“To see these sights that I learned about in Hebrew school with other Jews that are going through the same thing — that’s pretty special,” she said. Lowenthal’s winning smile and background in media relations certainly won’t stand in the way of her becoming an informal ambassador for the birthright program, which in many circles is known as much for its matchmaking potential as for its cultural programming. But Lowenthal, who is in a relationship, said that she is not looking for love.

Philanthropist Michael Steinhardt, co-founder of Taglit-Birthright Israel, spoke about the lasting influence of the program, mentioning that “nearly all young leaders of Jewish organizations today are birthright graduates.”

In fact, according to Steinhardt, one of Birthright Israel’s most pressing concerns is “lessening the backlog of young people who want to go on the program who we can not accommodate due to lack of funds.” For this coming summer, the program received 15,000 more applicants than they are able to accommodate.

“Right now I’m just most excited to land,” said Lowenthal, who leaves for Israel Monday. “I’m expecting to feel right at home.”

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