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Sure, with over 500,000 past participants under its belt and the infrastructure to embrace as many applicants as are interested in the free 10-day trip to their homeland, Birthright has evolved into a given part of some Jewish college students’ four-year experience, just like spending a semester abroad.But what about the others, the great bulk of Jewish students who know nothing about Israel or even about their own heritage?Once their sense of identity is validated, the process of getting them on a Birthright trip becomes easier, and the transformation they undergo in Israel stays with them upon their return.
The question is, once Birthright has changed people, what do you do with it? ” Shrage’s solution was to establish the IACT initiative in 2006, standing for “Inspired, Active, Committed, Transformed.”At three Boston-area campuses, the program trained its young, professional coordinators to treat the Birthright trip as a holistic experience involving recruitment beforehand, accompaniment during the trip, and engagement afterward.
According to Aronson, the Birthright trip is just the “first date to get second dates, and we recognize Birthright is the best first date we could dream of.“Using the Birthright immersive experience as a carrot and then translating people’s passion about Jewish identity into reality provides such an opportunity to transform Jewish life on campus.
Birthright is a starting point, but if they continue to have really good Jewish experiences during the rest of their college careers, it can solidify their commitment to Jewish life and to their Jewish community.”One huge advantage that IACT has over other Israel advocacy endeavors is its partnership with Hillel International, which gives it access on campus, credibility and the organizational infrastructure, all vital elements that were needed for the initiative to expand beyond its Boston-area scope.“I knew that for our expansion nationally to be successful, we had to partner with Hillel,” said Aronson.
In addition to receiving financial incentives for recruiting Birthright participants, they will also join the campus groups they put together on their bus in Israel.
Last month they gathered in Boston not only to receive a rah-rah speech from proud papa Shrage, but to undergo an intensive, two-day boot camp – organized by Israel-based project managers Upstart Ideas – to prepare them for the fall semester of winter Birthright trip recruitment, a period described by a veteran IACT coordinator as “a marathon run at sprint speed.” A GROUP of more bubbly, motivated young American Jews would be hard to find, and the reason is simple: it’s because the product they’re selling is one they passionately believe in.
But the bulk of the two full days dealt less with how to defend Israel before its detractors than with how to promote Israel to potential Birthright participants who never entertained much thought about Israel or their Jewishness.