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The Jewish Press of Tampa and the Jewish Press of Pinellas County are Independently- owned biweekly Jewish community newspapers published in cooperation with and supported by the Tampa JCC & Federation and the Jewish Federation of Pinellas & Pasco Counties, respectively. Copyright © 2009-2019 The Jewish Press Group of Tampa Bay, Inc., All Rights Reserved. 


April 19, 2013  RSS feed
World News

Text: T T T

On Birthright, building Jewish identity and finding love in Israel

JTA news service

Meredith Ross fell in love with her Birthright IDF escort Meredith Ross fell in love with her Birthright IDF escort NEW YORK – Meredith Ross will never forget when she first laid eyes on Lior, her partner for the past seven years.

Lior, an infantryman in the Israel Defense Forces, was escorting Ross’ Birthright Israel group on a free tour of the Jewish state when his friend, a fellow soldier, was killed. Lior was leaving to attend his funeral and had come to say goodbye. The two 18-year-olds spoke for just five minutes, but it was enough.

“I remember borrowing someone’s phone to call my mother in the U.S., crying and telling her that I was in love,” said Ross.

Seven years later, they live together in Ramat Hasharon, a leafy suburb of Tel Aviv. The Chicago native completed her undergraduate degree in Israel and now works for a local start-up company.

“Birthright was an eye-opening experience for me,” Ross said. “And on top of that it made me so proud to be Jewish.”

Alicia Rosenblum and Jordan Rubenstein met on the Rainbow Tour, a Birthright trip catering to LGBT young adults. Alicia Rosenblum and Jordan Rubenstein met on the Rainbow Tour, a Birthright trip catering to LGBT young adults. Now entering its 13th year, Taglit-Birthright Israel’s goal is to strengthen the Jewish identity of its participants and their connection to Israel. Yet the popular program also has provided a platform for untold numbers of young singles to form lasting partnerships.

No data exists on just how many participants have met their spouses on the trip. Birthright knows of several dozen marriages, though anecdotal evidence suggests the number could be much larger.

“Because our main goal at Taglit is to strengthen Jewish identity and bring Jews closer together, we consider it a privilege that we’ve allowed hundreds of couples to meet and build Jewish homes around the world,” said Doron Karni, vice president of international marketing for Birthright. “This is also in line with the findings of a study by Brandeis University that showed Birthright participants are 45 percent more likely to marry Jewish spouses.”

Of course, young couples finding love in Israel is nothing new. But Birthright’s scale, and its success in targeting participants who normally would not participate in an Israel trip, make its reach potentially far greater. The organization offers dozens of niche trips for participants with varying interests and backgrounds,such as cycling enthusiasts, fraternity brothers, foodies, and LGBTQ.

It was the LGBTQ trip that attracted Alicia Rosenbloom, who says she would never have gone on Birthright if it weren’t for what is known as the Rainbow Tour. She also wouldn’t have met her partner, Jordan Rubenstein. In July 2011, the pair exchanged furtive glances at the airport in New York. During the layover in Zurich, they began chatting.

“By the time we got to Israel we were sitting on the bus together and talked a lot more,” Rubenstein said. “A few days in we were already an item.”

Over the next 10 days they hiked up Masada, roamed the alleyways of Jerusalem’s Old City and spent a night in a Bedouin tent in the Negev. When they returned home, Rosenbloom moved from Philadelphia to New York, where Rubenstein works at Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, the LGBT synagogue in Manhattan. This summer, on the second anniversary of their meeting, the two women will tie the knot at a ceremony in Queens.

“Religion wasn’t a big part of my upbringing,” Rosenbloom said. “I wasn’t bat mitzvahed, and I kind of felt Birthright was for people who were real Jews and real religious.”

For those who find love on Birthright, meeting their significant other is the main reward.

For years it was widely reported that Michael Steinhardt, one of the program’s main funders, promised Birthright couples a free honeymoon in the Caribbean or Israel. On its website, the Birthright organization makes clear that it does not provide honeymoons to couples who meet on the trip.

“Unfortunately,“ said Rubenstein, who is planning a post-wedding getaway to the Grand Canyon, “it’s an old wives tale.”

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