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January 16, 2004     Heritage Florida Jewish News
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January 16, 2004

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PAGE 16 HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, JANUARY~ By Dina Kraft Americans are touring Israel nally initiated for a five-year together--hiking desert can- period, but with the hope it TEL AVIV (JTA)--On the yons, exploring kibbutzim in would be extended indefi- stage where Yitzhak Rabin the north and praying at the nitely. gave his final speech, young Western Wall in Jerusalem's "I love it here," said Jillian AmericanMidwesternersand Old City. Schutkin, 18, from Milwau- Israeli students from the Ga- But their tour--part of the kee. The trip "has given me a lilee sit together talking birthright israel program, stronger connection to Is- about where they were the which offers young Jews free rael. Israel is something that night the Israeli prime rain- trips to Israel in an effort to is always one of the things in ister was assassinated, boost Jewish pride and bol- the back of your head, but it Clustered in a semicircle, sterbondswith Israelamong is something I had to experi- theMidwesterners--partici- Diaspora Jews--is facing se- ence for myself." With ques- pants of birthright israel--- rious funding problems,tions about birthright's fu- listen raptly as their Israeli Now in its fourth year, the ture funding, organizers are peers tell of the confusion ambitious $210 million pro- worried about the program's and horror that rocked the gram provides free 10-day survival. countryafterRabin'skilling, tours of Israel to Diaspora The program's original when most of them were Jews aged18 to 26 who have $210 million price tag for teenagers, neverbeforevisitedthecoun- five years was meant to be TheAmericanstellofhear- try on a peer trip. This wi'n- shared equallybetween three ingthenewsacrosstheglobe, ter, the program is bringing parties--a handfulofJewish on the way home from He- a record 11,000 young philanthropists, the Israeli brew school or basketball Diaspora Jews to Israel. government and the North practice. They speak of feel- In total, some 60,000 Jew- American Jewish federation ingsomewhat removed from ish youths from 35 countries system. the events, unable to visual- have come to Israel on birth- But with Israel's deep re- izewhat life was really like in right since the launch of the cession, the Israeli govern- Israel. program. About 10,000 Is- ment drastically cut its fund- That's why they came here raeli soldiers and students ing of the program thisyear, on birthright, have also participated,to $400,000 from $9 million Now the lsraelis and The program was origi- the previous year. EWISH Open Your Door to an Exceptional Market Place Your Ad in the House and Home Issue of the HERITAGE Florida Jewish News Publication Deadline: Feb. 11, 2003 Call Today and Reserve Your Space In a phone interview from New York, Israel's minister for Diaspora affairs, Natan Sharansky, said that after a lengthy debate in the Cabi- net, the government had compromised and would ful- fill its financial commitment after this year. Meanwhile, the United Jewish Communities federa- tion umbrella group also has failed to get all of its mem- bers to allocate the amounts requested for the program. "We don't know where the government and federations are," said Lynn Schusterman, who, along with her late hus- band, Charles, was one of the founders of birthright. They were among the philanthro- pists who earth pledged $5 million to the five-year pro- gram. BecauSe of the drop in funding, far fewer partici- pants will come on the trips this summer as compared with last year, said Gideon Mark, director of marketing for birthright in Israel. "It will be the first time we will have to cut down on numbers--not because of se- curity, not because of people not wanting to go to Israel, but for the first time it will be because we don't have enough money" Mark said. He blamed the UJC for the shortfall. "It has to do with federa- tions in the United States. We don't have as strong a problem in other communi- ties in the world," he said. However, Stephen Hoffman, the president and CE0 of the UJC said he be- 9 iieved the federations would beginning of a comethroughandfulfilltheir ney that starts commitmentdespitethechal- gram lenges of fund raising during birthright is a an economic downturn. "We believe the federations helped boost Israel's are willing to continue to pay industry to the at about the rate that they $90 million are now paying. We believe program's launch. that the Jewish Agency, who is our partner, is prepared to largest foreign make a greater investment erator in the in the program," he said. the start of the Hoffman said that in a bid stering business for to lower costs, some federa- bus companies tion officials have suggested guides, birthright participants pay for at least a maintained. portion of the trip. He also they said, many bir said it was not immediately alumni return to clear when the federations extended stays. would make allocations de- In Tel Aviv, the cisionsregardingbirthright. Americans and "It can be done," Hoffman dents visited the said of funding the program, dependence, where "It's just a matter of how Ben-Gurion many kids and what is worth birth of the state running the program forY May 1948. Mark said, "We know we have Sitting on to work hard to save the fu- similar to those ture of the program because rowed from the we don't know of a more suc- Aviv for the cessfui program in the Jew- than half a century ishworldtoday."Proponents birthri of the program say that to the crackly though it is costly, birthright Ben-G is the best possible way to invest in the future of Israel. Diaspora-Israel relations and "You are living inspire young Jews to become history," the activewiththeirJewishcom- tells the munities back home. our history, you are Many young Jews get their home." "There is first real sense of Jewish ergy here," observes peoplehood and pride on ,Boguslaw, 18, birthright, they say. the University "I thinkstrategically, with- and a native of St. out a strong bond to the Jew- can't wait to come ish people in the future, the JTA staff writer Jewish state will be weak- ened," Mark said. "It's the tributed con Hundreds of congrega- with a holiday as JNP is with ing the activities in tions, Jewish day schools and Tu B'Shevat. Over the past cational newsletter, Hebrew schools are taking 100 years, Jews have come Leaf. For an $18 partinJewishNationalFund's together to plant over 240 chase, students can (JNF's) Tu B'Shevat Across million trees through JNF, one tree Iian America 2004 program cel- providing luscious belts of Certificate for ebratingTuB'Shevat, theNew green.covering over 250,000 and designate a Year of the trees, on February acres of land in Israel." the honoree. 7th. During the early pioneer tificates canbe To commemorate the one movement in late 18th and a special student rate, year anniversary of the death early 19th century Palestine, dition, aLimited of Colonel Ilan Ramon, Jewish pioneers linked the Ramon Corn1 Israel'sfirstJewishastronaut, environmentalism of Tu Stamp who lost his life in the Co- B Shevatspecificallywiththe ish schools. lumbia Space Shuttle disas- practice of planting trees in Another aspect oft ter, alongwithsi 'colleagues, the land of Israel. In recent citin special Ilan Rarnon tree cer- years, Jewish environmental- with congregations to tificates will be used for JNF's ists adopted Tu B Shevat as a together families Tu B'Shevat program. Prior "Jewish Earth Day," involv- U.S. to cei to his death, Colonel Ramon ing organized seders, tree- JNFdevelopedaTu expressed his wish that 13 plantings and ecological res- sermon book, whichi million new trees be planted toration activities as away to lection ofsermq in Israel and JNF has worked express a specifically Jewish bis around the countr'J! to help fulfill the lsraeli hero's commitmenttocaringforna- the importance dream, ture and protecting the envi- ronmentalhol Tu B'Shevat embodies the ronment. Trees defend ofcongregationswiil strong dedication to ecology, againstthegreenhouse effect, pate in Tu environmentalism and con- improve air quality, prevent America by holding servation that JNF has always soil erosion and protect areas Shabbat ( championed. It falls on the that feed into water sources. Tu B'Shevat seders 15thday of the Hebrew month Jewish schools are encour- that week. of Shevat, a time when trees aged to celebrateTu B'Shevat "As the start drinkingtheNewYear's by planting trees in Israel, movement grew, rainwater and the sun renews conducting a Tu B'Shevat ally started itself. Seder using the brightly col- the Jewish res "Over the years, this holi- ored JNF Haggadah, Branch- there already was a day has taken on the theme of ing Out, reciting the bless- response," Levine planting trees in Israel, mak- ings and eating fruits and B'Shevat reminds us ingitJNF'sholiday,"explains grains from Israel (wheat, matter what Bob Levine, JNF's natiohal barley, grapes, fig, pome- have toshare this vice president for Education. granate, olive and dates), care " "Perhaps no other organiza- dancing the 'mayim' the Jew- tion is as strongly associated ish dance for water, and do-