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Birthright participation drops 40% for summer of 2023

Organization cites higher costs costs for post-COVID travel as the reason for fewer spots on free trips to Israel

Participation in this summer’s edition of Birthright will be 40% lower than last year, the organization announced Monday, pinning the lower numbers on inflation and soaring travel costs.

In a press release, Birthright announced 12,658 people from Canada and the United States will be going on the free trips to Israel between May and September. Another 3,058 people from 24 other countries, including Ukraine, Brazil, Italy, England and Australia will also take part.

That’s a major reduction from the 18,358 participants during 2022’s summer session. 

Another 3,000 people were selected to take part in Onward Israel, an internship and fellowship program.

In the press release, Birthright Israel CEO Gidi Mark said there remains “unprecedented demand” for enrollment, with 20,000 young Jewish adults remaining on a wait list for the summer’s trips. But he told the Forward that global inflation and post-COVID increases in travel costs have had an effect on the organization’s plans, particularly since donations did not rise to compensate for the higher expenses. He estimated that trip costs, including transportation and accommodations, have gone up between 35 and 40% since 2019.

“Without offsetting donations, thousands of applicants in the future will be denied the chance, as were thousands this summer, to experience a Birthright Israel trip,” he said in the release. “We feel terrible about that, but we had no choice.”

While the Birthright press release did not mention any specific donors, in November, it was revealed that the annual donation made by a foundation run by the Adelson family to Birthright had been reduced from an average of $35 to $40 million to $20 million in 2022. That number was reduced further to $10 million in 2023. Mark told the Forward the reduction did affect the organization’s plans, even though the total amount of donations only “decreased slightly.”

Still, the Adelson family “remains fully, fully committed to the future of Birthright,” he said.

The Adelsons, who have become well-known for being Republican mega-donors, had been the largest single donor to Birthright for the previous 15 years, contributing almost half a billion dollars in that time. 

Mark remained optimistic about Birthright’s future, saying he believes the organization will be able to boost participation numbers back to previous levels in coming years.

“I believe this is the only program today in the Jewish world that has huge demand of tens of thousands,” he said. “I believe there will be many more donors that will come in make an effort for those tens of thousands.”

Editor’s note: Corrects byline.

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