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Significantly Fewer Slots available for Canadian Students to go on Birthright Trips to Israel as Adelson Funding Plummets and Inflation Increases

by Rhonda Spivak, March 5, 2023

Winnipeg students who go to register for a Birthright trip to Israel  may be in for a big surprise— they may not get in at all, or could be waitlisted.


Prior to Covid, approximately 2000 Canadian participants went on Birthright every year but this year there are only 1200 available spots, according to a recent article published in the Canadian Jewish News


Many students who have applied to go on the 10 day Birthright trip this summer to Israel have been waitlisted. 

Birthright Canada had only 720 spots for this summer, albeit there have been 3,420 applicants.


Birthright, which was founded in 1999 by philanthropists Charles Bronfman and Michael Steinhardt offers free guided trips to Israel to young adults aged 18 to 26.


According to the Canadian Jewish News “This year, spaces are extremely limited due to a 30 percent rise in costs per participant as a result of inflation and funding cutbacks.”


Birthright’s most generous donors, Miriam Adelson and her late husband Sheldon Adelson, through the Adelson Family Foundation, have contributed nearly US$500 million to Birthright over the past 15 years. However, the foundation is decreasing its annual commitment nearly in half this year and  it will be halving its commitment again next year to this flagship program. As a result of this fact,the US-based Birthright Israel Foundation made the decision to stop subsidizing Canadian participants.


The cost of the fully subsidized Birthright trip is $6000 Canadian per student, and the Birthright Israel Foundation in Canada (BRIFC) is now expected to cover two-thirds of the cost, with the remaining third coming from the Israeli government. 

It remains to be seen if new Canadian donors and past donors will increase their support, in light of the shortfall, and if BRIFC will eventually get back to it’s pretty-pandemic numbers.


Without a doubt, Jewish students who go on Birthright have a stronger tie to Israel, and are more likely to be involved in their local Hillel chapters on campus. Studies commissioned in the last two decades  have also shown that Jews who participated in Birthright trips were more likely to marry somebody Jewish and feel a sense of belonging to the Jewish people.


Brandeis study showed that participants were 160% more likely to end up with a Jewish partner or spouse. This is a truly astonishing  figure since the overwhelming majority of  U.S Birthright participants are not Orthodox, and demographic surveys disclose that at least 75% of non-Orthodox Jews are intermarrying.



While Jewish day school and Jewish summer camps help promote Jewish identity and continuity, not everyone can afford these options, which is why Birthright trips have been so important,and its funding cuts so tragic.


Some have suggested that older students be the ones chosen to go on Birthright first, waitlisting younger students. Others have suggested that students who have already visited Israel with other programs or with their families be waitlisted, while those who have not yet travelled to Israel be chosen to participate first. Some have suggested that Birthright Israel Foundation Israel in Canada increase the number of available spots by charging a nominal fee of $250 or more.


It is not clear how Birthright will choose which students can fill the limited spots to go on its Israel trips. The Birthright Israel website says in this regard, "Each season, we have a lot more applicants than spots to offer. Birthright Israel trip organizers try to accommodate early applications in any given season as well as applicants who applied in the past and those who are about to turn 27 and will age out of the program.  Group balance in terms of gender and age are also considerations."


Winnipeg students may have good reason to be worried about the cut in funding. Is it possible that a Toronto donor to Birthright , for example, may stipulate that he/she wishes her donation to go towards assisting only Toronto students to go on Birthright, as opposed to students in other parts of Canada? I don't know the answer to this question.


As Jonathon Tobin has written, “Birthright is too important to be allowed to be just one more victim of a bad economy or the decisions of individual foundations to shift their priorities. Organizations, philanthropic foundations and individual donors need to step up and compensate for the shortfall in Birthright’s budget. The alternative is to admit failure, not merely for a particular program, but for the North American Jewish community as a whole.”




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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.