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Thursday, July 10, 2014

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Birthright celebrates 11 years of free trips to Israel

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Party guests, from left, Melissa Schapira, Carrie Ostronoff and Shaye Shiewitz. [Photo by David Collin]

Nearly 800 Birthright alumni and hopeful participants gathered on Thursday in Toronto to celebrate 11 years of changing lives.

The Mega Event, presented by UJA Federation of Greater Toronto and Magen Boys Entertainment, celebrated the fact that since 1999, nearly 300,000 young Jewish adults have travelled to Israel with Taglit-Birthright Israel to learn about their homeland for free.

Dean Medina, outreach co-ordinator for UJA’s Community Connect and one of the co-chairs of the Mega Event, said that the hundreds of Jewish youth who packed The Warehouse Thursday night, as well as the money that was raised to support more Birthright initiatives, exceeded his expectations.

Although it’s too soon to calculate the grand total of funds raised, Medina said he’s confi dent the grand total surpassed their initial goal.

“Israelis, Birthright alumni, non-Birthright alumni, literally young adults from all corners of the Toronto Jewish community came together to celebrate not only over 10 years of Birthright Israel’s existence, but the strength and pride of our Jewish community,” Medina said. Throughout the night, party-goers were treated to performances by DJ Skratch Bastid, as well as Bongo & B Ent., a drumming company.

“We had some amazing hand drummers by Peter B and Marko Bongo, and they started getting everyone going with a choreographed drumming session,” Medina said.

Later in the night, two Air Canada flights to Israel were raffled off.

Medina added that if not for UJA’s support, the party would not have been the success it was.

“[UJA] believed in this project, and as a result we were able to throw what was probably the biggest Jewish party for young adults ever in the history of Toronto.”

Kicking off the celebration was a private reception called From Founders to Future. It was held in honour of Birthright cofounder Charles Bronfman, who was also celebrating his recent 80th birthday.

Chaia Nadal, Birthright Israel Foundation of Canada’s director of development, said that the reception, which included speeches by Bronfman and Toronto’s consul general of Israel, Amir Gissin, was meant to honour three generations of community supporters and volunteers – Birthright alumni, their parents and grandparents.

Speaking to a crowd of about 150 people, Gissin said that Birthright is not just a life-changing experience for Diapora Jews who travel to Israel, as it also deeply affects the Israeli soldiers who travel with the groups and forge relationships with “their peers, their extended family in the Diaspora.

“When soldiers are on the bus for 10 days with kids their age, who are being exposed to Israel for the fi rst time, the kind of friendship and understanding that is being created is amazing and it affects Israeli society in a very signifi cant way,” Gissin said.

Bronfman, who credited Birthright alumni and volunteers for the ongoing success of the program, said, “When people ask [co-founder] Mike Steinhardt and I, ‘Has this exceeded your expectations?’ I say, ‘It’s exceeded our wildest dreams.’”

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