Gidi Mark
CEO, Taglit-Birthright Israel

Strengthening the Bond Between World Jewry and Israel

Since its inception, the State of Israel was a vision realized by the combined commitment of Israeli and world Jewry. Today, perhaps more than ever, this joint commitment needs to be not only robust and visible but mutual and reciprocal. Any failure to stand united will direly affect our long-term collective fortitude and communal resilience.

We have always believed that the modern State of Israel is a chief representation and guarantor of the thriving existence of the Jewish people.

Firstly, Israel’s existence and prosperity are vital not only for the citizens of this nation but also for Jews worldwide. Israel is not just our ancestral homeland or the base of our joint historical and religious narratives; it is also a modern beacon of democratic and liberal ideals, a testament to our enduring living spirit as a people, and a stronghold of our capacity to overcome adversity.

Secondly, the digital frontier turns us all into targets on the battlefield. This digital age has brought both opportunities and threats. It has made our world smaller and more accessible, but it also exposes us to new hazards. The online space has become a battlefield of misinformation, hate speech, and cyberattacks – against Jewish people everywhere. Attacks that are translated into action:

Nearly two months have passed since the devastating Hamas assault on Israel, and antisemitism is on the rise at an alarming rate across the globe.

In France, the Interior Ministry revealed a staggering statistic – 1,247 antisemitic incidents were reported in the first two weeks after October 7th, a number nearly three times the total for the entire year of 2022! With Jewish houses and Jewish-owned stores being spray painted with a Star of David, people being questioned if they are Jewish by hecklers in the big cities, and many threats and violent incidents against the Jewish community, the very fabric of life of the biggest Jewish society in Europe feels threatened as hatred rears its ugly head.

Denmark’s Jewish association echoes this sentiment, reporting a 24-fold increase in antisemitic incidents for October compared to the average of the previous nine months. Such a dramatic rise is nothing short of shocking, leaving the Jewish community deeply concerned for its safety and well-being.

Across the English Channel, the Community Security Trust, diligently tracking antisemitic incidents in Britain, witnessed a grim milestone. More than 1,000 such events were reported in just 28 days after the war broke out, marking the highest tally ever recorded for this duration. It is a chilling reminder that antisemitism remains a persistent and dangerous force.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, American Jewry faces its own disheartening reality. In the weeks following the tragic events of October 7th, the Anti-Defamation League reported an astonishing 388 percent spike in antisemitic incidents compared to the same period the previous year. Even in New York City, home to the largest Jewish population worldwide, hate crimes against Jews surged by 214 percent in October 2023 when compared to the same month in 2022, as documented in the city’s crime statistics. Students across the state were chased into locked classrooms and libraries.

These numbers are not just statistics; they represent real people, real communities, and real lives affected by the venom of hatred. We must unite in the face of this growing threat, reaffirming our commitment to tolerance, understanding, and preserving our shared humanity. Antisemitism, like all forms of hatred, has no place in our world, and it is our collective responsibility to combat it with unwavering resolve. In the face of this reality, we must create a unified front in defending our shared values and protecting our communities, wherever they may be.

Confronting such deep-seated challenges – which thrive on the safety of distance, the bliss of ignorance, the wake of antisemitic ideologies, and the sheer hatred of Israel – must consider a notably effective tool: first-hand and immersive shared experiences. The power of such immersive experiences lies precisely in their ability to debase the founding blocks of the path of ignorance, blind hatred, over-simplistic rhetoric, and the blatant demonization of Jews and Israel alike.

In comes Birthright Israel, whose sole purpose since inception has been the forging of meaningful, intelligent, and emotionally engaging explorations of our identities as Jews, as well as our connection to Israel and Israeli peers. Birthright Israel’s mandate – to transform the lives of young adult Jews – has always aimed, among other things, to solidify our vitality as a people and to present unity – not uniformity – as a core Jewish value. These experiences not only foster a deep sense of identity and belonging but also build bridges of understanding and empathy between our diverse communities.

This is shown in a Brandeis University survey, which shows that 85% of the Jewish students who were asked are concerned about Israeli lives and talk about the war with family and friends almost every day. Moreover, 40% feel personally threatened by the war, and most of them (over 60%) have personally encountered hostility toward Israel from people they don’t know.

It is also no surprise that the survey found that 70% of Jewish college students feel high levels of support for Israel, but 15% feel no support. At the same time, Birthright alumni are significantly more supportive compared to non-alumni. Being in Israel, whether on a Birthright program or any other educational opportunity, appears to be the key factor.

Those who have experienced Israel firsthand return home with a newfound appreciation for Israel’s complexity, a deeper understanding of the nuanced and delicate situation in the area, a stronger commitment to their Jewish identity, and a network of friends and allies spanning continents. Israelis, too, benefit from these encounters, gaining insight into the diversity of Jewish life outside their borders and forming lasting friendships with Jews from around the world.

These emotional connections are not just personal; they have a ripple effect that strengthens both communities. Diaspora Jews who have experienced Israel firsthand become intelligent and better-informed voices on behalf of Israel, advocating for its values and boldly defending its right to exist. Israelis who have hosted participants from abroad gain a deeper appreciation for the global Jewish community’s vibrancy, challenges, assets, and resilience.

These days, as Israel faces security threats, world Jewry has risen to the challenge: many thousands took to the streets, while others scout social media and make their voices, moral standing, and commitment to Israel heard. Alas, we are also paying a heavy price in the form of a striking spike in antisemitic rhetoric and actions, alongside open calls in support of terrorism and the destruction of Israel. Israelis who have connected with their overseas counterparts are trying to support and comfort as much as they can.

To ensure our people’s continuity and our values’ resilience, we must continue to invest in programs that bring as many people as possible, specifically Jewish people, to Israel. We should invest in expanding and diversifying the opportunities to explore and learn about Israel, in Israel. These experiences strengthen the bond between the Diaspora and Israel and vice versa and deepen our connection to our shared heritage.

In unity, we find strength. It shows us all that we are not alone. We are not two people but one. Together, we can weather any storm, fortified by the emotional connections that come from experiencing Israel firsthand, and continue to be a light unto the nations.

About the Author
Gidi Mark is CEO of Taglit Birthright Israel and has been with the organization since 1998. Prior to this he served in Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs in embassies and consulates in Istanbul, Bonn and New York.