The first Birthright Israel groups for 2022 landed in the Holy Land this week, after a series of suspensions since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. About 2,000 Birthright Israel participants from 45 states and provinces in North America are expected to arrive in February and March.
Taglit-Birthright Israel is a non-profit organization that offers free, life-changing trips to Israel for young Jewish adults between the ages of 18 and 32. Its mission is to give every Jewish young adult around the world, especially those less connected to their faith, the opportunity to visit Israel and explore the country on an educational trip.
The 2020 outbreak of COVID led a to suspension of the Birthright program that ended in May 2021, before the Delta variant grounded it again. This was followed by another suspension in December due to Omicron, when planned trips were forced to cancel.
"After a long hiatus, we are excited and honored to bring back so many participants from North America on these important and exciting tours to Israel," said Birthright Israel CEO Gidi Mark.
However, when the borders were closed in December, news emerged that Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked exempted “Jewish tourism” including groups like Birthright.
According to a report from the Israeli daily, Haaretz, the interior minister made the decision, “claiming that it was an endeavor of national importance. The team that approved it included representatives from the health, foreign and interior ministries. Shaked declined to comment.”
The news resulted in pushback from tour operators who work with Christians and called the exception discriminatory.
Nevertheless, tourism has now picked up and has been open to groups and individuals alike since Jan. 9. Birthright Israel organizers are looking forward to the summer, when they will welcome an additional 15,000 North American young people along with others from around the world.
“Our summer trips are filling up quickly and we are excited and optimistic that we will now be able to accommodate the 100,000 North American young adults that signed up for a trip over the last two years and couldn’t travel due to Covid,” Mark added.
As with all travelers, participants in the Birthright program must be fully vaccinated to travel to Israel.
Tal Heinrich is a senior correspondent for both ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS. She is currently based in New York City. Tal also provides reports and analysis for Israeli Hebrew media Channel 14 News.