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Birthright Mega Event Celebrates Israel-Diaspora Relationship

Taglit co-founder, Charles Bronfman moved to tears during ceremony
By: Sammy Hudes
Published: August 17th, 2011 in News » World
Left to right: Sydney Cooper, Florence Cooper, Charles Bronfman, Edward Bekhor, Tobie BekhorPic: Birthright Israel Foundation of Canada
Charles Bronfman surrounded by award recipientsPic: Birthright Israel Foundation of Canada

It is difficult to imagine the dedication that must go into a program that will change someone’s life forever. But somehow, the Taglit-Birthright Israel program has managed to change the dynamics of many communities, in a matter of just one short decade. The success of the program was celebrated, and the efforts of those who have made Taglit what it is, - The Government of Israel, UJA Federation of Greater Toronto, and private donors - were honoured this past Thursday at the Birthright Mega Event T.O.

“People ask me ‘since you and Michael Steinhardt started all of this, has it exceeded your expectations'?’” Birthright co-founder, Charles Bronfman told the crowd of 150 guests, who were honoured with a L’chaim prior to the mega party. “I just say ‘it’s exceeded our wildest dreams.’ We never ever thought this kind of thing would happen.”

The L’chaim, chaired by Karen Morton, founding chair of the Birthright Israel Foundation of Canada also commemorated Bronfman’s birthday and was attended by Amir Gissin, Israel’s Consul General in Toronto; Mark Adler, the Member of Parliament for the riding of York Centre; Torontonian philanthropists Warren and Debbie Kimel; and Ted Sokolsky, President and CEO of the UJA Federation. Following the proceedings, Sokolsky helped Bronfman honour the top 50 Birthright Israel young–adult volunteers in the Toronto Jewish Community.

“The volunteers have all worked in such a wide variety of organizations across the city; in hospitals, for the federation itself, for Birthright Israel itself. There’s very few organizations they haven’t touched,” said Sokolsky, who referred to the Taglit program as a “peer educational experience.”

Sokolsky noted that the program was extremely successful among Canadians when it was started, despite the first trips coinciding with the Second Intifada, which began in late 2000.

Bronfman, who was moved to tears during a testimonial video, told Shalom Life that when he and Steinhardt founded the program twelve years ago, the timing was perfect.

“People did not have Israel on their radars. We asked young adults in college where they would like to have a vacation and nobody ever said Israel as one of their top 20 places,” he recalled. “So we decided that we would have to do something very unusual; give a gift. We gave the gift and it just took off.”

But not without the great support of volunteers, donors and the tireless work of Birthright Israel’s staff, Bronfman made sure to emphasize.

“Everything about it has improved with age. Nobody was twisting anybody’s arm. We said ‘look, you’ll get through with Israel and either decide if you are happy to be Jewish, if you have an emotional relationship with Israel and if you’re happy to be a member of the Jewish people or not. It’s up to you.’”

Bronfman says that the results have been outstanding, pointing to success rates that have been tallied and long term research that has been conducted. Amir Gissin said that the mind blowing success of the program, which has generated a tremendous amount of devotion and love for Israel, made him especially proud to represent Israel at the Mega Event.

“When you see what kind of influence this trip to Israel had on those people and their commitment to the Jewish community, their extended family, it’s just a heart warming experience,” said Gissin. “I think that we all discovered with the years that Birthright Israel actually answers a need, both among young Diaspora Jews and among Israelis to connect. I’m sure we will meet in ten years, in 20 years, and in 30 years until the project will come to a point where every Jewish youngster will have a chance to visit Israel from here.”

Related articles: Jewish, Birthright Israel, Taglit, UJA, Charles Bronfman, Mega Event T.O, Samantha Banks, Ted Sokolsky, Air Canada, Toronto, Amir Gissin, Debbie Kimel, Warren Kimel, Canada, Stephen Harper, Mark Adler, Israel
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