Charles Bronfman and Michael Steinhardt are the words that are most often associated with the Birthright program, all of which have benefited from tremendous popularity among the young Jews around the world.
Few think of Guy Mark, the CEO of Birthright and his first employee. When two billionaires attracted him to lead the program 20 years ago, Mark perceived it as a great compliment. Today they can supplement themselves by making smart choices. Marcus deserves recognition that the preservation of the birthright is fresh, dynamic and experimental for decades.
JNS recently sat down with Mark to find out more about Birthright, who, in his words, has become one of the biggest, if not the biggest, Jewish celebrations today.
Q.: The far-left radical group launched this summer's campaign against Birthright. They chose at least two trips to a political mission and imposed an agenda against Israel. There is no doubt that they feel that their efforts are successful because they have got a lot of free publicity. Therefore, they are more likely to continue these activities. Do you plan to make changes to the screening process?
A: We are aware of these attempts. We interview people. People who are really interested in visiting Arabs outside the borders of Israel can go and do it if they want after seven, ten or fourteen days. There is always an option to extend your tickets.
Q.: A campaign called "Returnage Birthright", backed by such far-left groups as Jewish voice for peace and independent Jewish voices, calls on young Jews to reject the Birthright journey. Did Birthright feel the impact of the campaign?
A: I can not say, because our numbers are increasing. The biggest loser is not Birthright, but those who give up a one-time lifetime and decide to come.
We do not seek to force anyone to persuade or persuade the validity of certain political arguments. All of our members get a general orientation about Israeli and Middle Eastern geopolitics.
Q.: In any case, the fact that Israel's relatives are targeted at the Birthright shows its success. I understand that 2017 was a record year for you with 48,000 members from around the world. What do you give to such success?
A: This is due to the relevance of our programs to this age group – people who are very intelligent and who want to be at the event people who are interested in what they have been saying since childhood. What we do here, we create a community. Every year we have about 1300 groups from 50 to 60 countries. And people who come together become friends all the time.
This is a gift we did not think about when we started Birthright.
Q.: At the recent meeting of the General Assembly of the Jewish Federation, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin spoke about the birth rebirth. He called for expulsion abroad to enrich their understanding of the Diaspora Jew. But does it already exist through your program?
A: As for messaging, definitely. Every year, we have eight thousand Israelis who have interacted with the Birthright actors. In Israel, most of our Jewish existence has been passed on to us, the community, the state. We do not have to fight to lead the Jewish life.
Outside of Israel, especially in the strongest democracy in the world, people really make a decision and they deserve great appreciation for it. I think that Israel, when he or she meets with their American counterparts, gets it. I think that they appreciate the Jewish life in North America and the United States, and this is the beginning of the return mifase [“encounter” in Hebrew].
Q.: Birth rights have broken up and created specialist trips. Can you tell us about some of them?
A: Over the last ten years we have collected about 200 groups of arrays per year. We have trips to dishes, people who are interested in fashion, people who like extreme [activities]. We even have an annual scuba divers. There are people who want to focus on art and Jewish archeology. And all this is in a new form, which we call "Birthright Israel Plus", which is an extension of seven or ten days.
We also offer academic credit with Israeli universities, known as "study abroad". We have LGBT groups. We have groups disabled. We have group journalists. I find it very difficult to find a special hobby or interest for people whom they can not find today in Birthright.
Q.: What are the most popular?
A: I consider dishes. Young people like to discover the roots of Jewish cuisine. In recent years, Israel has become a great dish in the kitchen. And today you see the successful chefs in Israel, London, New York and Paris, and they themselves have reached a high level of fame. I think this is one of the reasons.
Q.: Are special groups deferred in 2019?
A: Personally, I would like to give the Jews a powerful opportunity. I believe this is a miracle that happened to us that did not happen in any other country, when in 2000 people began to speak the old language. And I see that thousands of young Jews want to learn a little bit so that they can join their own past, as well as attract the personal level to potential Israeli friends.
Q.: This winter, a winter test was carried out for a little over the age of 27 years to 32 years of age. How did it happen?
A: We are in the middle of the pilot. We have discovered that very many sensible people come from many, before having any relation to any Jewish system. Despite our doubts about the ability of people of this age group to think differently, we discovered very open people.
Q.: It's amazing that a 10-day trip might be so influential. Even Michael Steinhardt has been skeptic about this. However, 85 percent say it is changing. How do you explain the strong positive reaction of participants?
A: This is the magic of Israeli birth law. Many researchers who have looked at it over the last 18 years have no explanation. I do not think it's 10 days. This is a trip that starts with 10 days. It develops and people change perceptions, their attitudes and behavior [because of it].
Every person encounters something in the 10 days – another key that suits them and changes their lives. Some will tell you that there was a small moment in the middle of the desert, seeing so many stars. Some will say that they met with Israeli peers. Many will tell you that it was finding new friends who lived side by side but who were strangers while they were not on the same bus. Some will say that the Western Wall, Kotela, was a place that changed their perception of life. Yad Vashem. Mount Herzl. Each of them will tell you a different moment that has changed their lives, but in general it is an accumulation of experience that has changed their lives.
How does it happen in 10 days? All I can tell you is that for most of our members this is the best. 1. The best Jewish experience in their lives. For many, this is the best experience to date in their lives.
Q.: You are the first Birthright employee. It was a leap of faith to join the new program. How did you get to offer a job and who told you to say "yes"?
A: I changed my mind only after I went to Israel when it came to reverse mifgash-just because I grew up thinking of myself primarily to the Israelites. And for the first time, I really understood that first and foremost, I was Jewish-Israeli when I left Israel after the army and found myself in Yom Kippur in Germany. This was the first time I received Yom Kippur. Since then I am fast, of course. And I understood the significance of the Hebrew component in my identity.
Despite being very pluralistic, I am very proud of being a Jew. Later, I became a diplomat. And the largest Jewish city in the world, New York, was one of my destinations where I met to appreciate the high level of organizational life in the Jews. People volunteered to spare time to benefit other members of the Jewish community. I left New York with great appreciation for the Jewish life. When Charles Bronfman and Michael Steinhardt offered me the opportunity to start the first Israeli Birthright office, I saw it as a great compliment.
Q.: Is there any special event or story that has affected you most with the program for 20 years?
A: I can not be specific. I can talk about groups of people with disabilities. Each year there are eight to 12. It really does get in your gut to see people who are unlikely to leave their home – not to mention their city or country, which first comes to Israel with their loving robbers, usually their friends or parents, enjoy Israel from the height of the wheelchair.
Then there were 20 people from 180 members of the Suriname Jewish community who came to Israel and went to see their synagogue, which is currently in an Israeli museum, where most of them had their bar mitzvah. Synagogue floor is made of sand. Seeing that they were scared of tears when they saw the synagogue they grew up on, it is influential. I feel grateful that I have so much wealth.
Q.: Are there other plans to involve the Birthright alumni?
A: Now we are checking, firstly, the gathering of Israeli youth. There are many organizations that travel for a long time in Israel, such as Onward and Masa, most of whom are Birthright alumni. And we created an app in which our members refer to experience in their communities in the United States and Canada. We want to act as a bridge between actors and this experience. Since the experience that begins in Israel is a lifetime. But we can improve cooperation with other structures, federations.
Q.: Have you got a record of how many Birthsters continued? aliyah?
A: The truth is that we do not encourage aliyah. We know there are a lot of people doing aliyah. I can not tell because there is no record. You see a lot of people in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem. I believe that most people make up aliyah non-religion is the cause of marriage.
Q.: How do you describe the birthright's financing situation now?
A: There is never enough money, because in order to keep up with the competition, you need to offer higher and higher quality levels. Quality pays money. Leave the best experts. Provide the best technology. We invest a lot in educational staff. We invest more than $ 2 million a year.
Q.: Any other big challenges.
A: Yes, unknown. Now it's difficult to plan for five years now. The rapid pace of change does not allow you to plan for a long time, on the one hand. On the other hand, it informs you that you need to be as flexible as possible.
I do not want to be content with who we are. Because when you are satisfied, it makes you lazy.
Q.: Michael Steinhardt said that Birthright has saved the Jewish generation. Do you agree with it?
A: I agree with that. Unlike other organizations, Birthright, Israel is the largest nation-wide organization that exists in the world.
If we talked about 1000, 5000, or 10,000, Michael Steinhardt would not be right. But when we talk about 50,000 from the 100,000 cadres – no one really knows what's in the age group today – we are now talking about a critical mass. Jewish life in North America will definitely affect Birthright in the coming decades. This is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, ritual Jewish festivals today. Bar and bat mitzvah, Pesach – all these life events – Birthright have become one of them. And this will affect the way Jews see themselves and the Jewish existence.
I looked at the newly arrived members of the General Assembly – the people that I met in the conventions. I do not see Jewish organizations today without the birth of Israeli alumni. They are over. The new leadership is primarily people who went to Birthright. Three quarters of Hillel's presidents around the university are the Birthright alumni. He will be the only influential composer of Jewish life in the United States and North America in the 21st Century.