Photo Credit: Erez Uzir / Birthright
The first Birthright Israel group after a year-long absence due to the coronavirus pandemic, May 24, 2021.

(JNS) Two organizations that provide Israel experiences for Jewish young adults, Birthright Israel and Onward Israel, are announcing their merger this week with the goal of strengthening the relationship between Diaspora Jews worldwide and the Jewish state.

“Since its inception, Birthright has evolved from solely the traditional 10-day trip to cater to the growing needs and interests of our participants, such as specialized trips for professional development opportunities, those with disabilities, the LGBTQ community and much more. As a result of the merger, Birthright Israel, which will include Onward, will continue investing time and effort in developing programming that appeals to different audiences of this generation,” Birthright Israel CEO Gidi Mark told JNS.

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As part of the merger, Onward Israel will become a program within Birthright with its CEO, Ilan Wagner, becoming vice president of Onward programming at Birthright. Mark remains in his post at Birthright.

Onward Israel began in 2012 as a project of the Jewish Agency for Israel and offers programs for young adults who come to Israel for six to 10 weeks to live, work and study experiences. Its goal has been to inspire and strengthen participants’ Jewish identity. Birthright Israel, meanwhile, has brought some 750,000 Jewish young adults from some 70 countries on free 10-day trips to Israel.

Those trips were on hiatus during the coronavirus pandemic. Birthright officials are hopeful that they will resume shortly for fully vaccinated and boosted young Jews. Some participants with Onward Israel were able to travel to Israel in the last year because of the extended length of their programs.

The merger isn’t the only new initiative Birthright is undertaking.

“We recently launched ‘Birthright Israel Labs,’ a new digital initiative, with the goal of further engaging and connecting alumni and the greater Diaspora community,” said Mark. “Since its launch less than two weeks ago, our amazing Birthright Israel Labs digital content has already totaled nearly 2 million views. We will continue to leverage creative methods to personalize the connection that every Diaspora Jew feels with Israel both in-person and online.”

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