The recession means fewer Yale students of Jewish descent will have the chance to visit Israel free of charge.
The number of Yale students traveling to Israel this summer and next winter through the Taglit-Birthright Israel program will fall 50 percent due to continuing economic fallout. Rabbi Shua Rosenstein, co-founder of Chabad at Yale, said he expects the number of Yale students traveling on birthright trips to fall from 40 to 20 this year.
Founded in 2000, Birthright provides free, 10-day winter and summer trips to 18-to-26-year-old Jewish students from around the world. Funding for the trips comes from the government of Israel, Jewish communities and private donations through the Birthright Israel Foundation.
On several occasions, Rosenstein has accompanied Yale students on Birthright trips organized by the Mayanot Institute of Jewish Studies, one of several institutions that arrange logistics for trips. Most Yale students who participate in Birthright do so through Mayanot-organized trips, Rosenstein said.
“Mayanot is taking less trip participants this summer than the last few years due to the fact that Taglit-Birthright Israel’s overall [participation] numbers are lower this summer,” said Rabbi Avi Weinstein, who coordinates Birthright trips for Mayanot. “This is a result of the current economic downturn and the effect it has had on fundraising.”
Birthright’s budget this year stands at $80 million, compared to $110 million in 2008. While some of the organization’s major donors lost money in the December implosion of investor Bernard Madoff’s Ponzi scheme, spokesmen for the program said Madoff specifically had no effect on the number of students Birthright could sponsor in 2009.
This year, Birthright will take 25,000 students to Israel, down from a record 40,000 in 2008. Excluding last year, this year’s participation is the highest in the program’s history: In 2007 and 2006, Birthright sent 17,000 and 15,000 students to Israel, respectively. Last year’s trip corresponded with Israel’s 60th anniversary, Birthright spokesman Steve Rabinowitz said, which explains the uptick.
Rabinowitz said that while numbers have been cut, trip amenities have not.
“Same airline, same bus charter, same 10-day trip, same age group,” he said. “There’s nothing different.”