When Yonatan, 21, an IDF combat soldier, met with Michael, 23, an American-Jew from Texas, there was an immediate connection.
"We are brothers," said Michael, his arm around Yonatan. "Israel is gorgeous. Israeli women are beautiful. I give this country two thumbs up.”
Michael, like 3,000 other young Jews from around the world, arrived in Israel a few weeks ago as part of the Taglit Birth Right Tour, which aims to grant every Jewish youth in the Diaspora a free opportunity to visit Israel and connect with their roots.
The youths gathered for an energetic meeting at the Jerusalem International Convention Center, where they were given a glossy welcoming party, complete with star performers and an impressive lights and sound show.
"I've been accompanying a group of 50 Americans for a week," Yonatan told reporters. "I see how enthusiastic they are. The first thing I told them when I met them was: Welcome home. We, the soldiers, will protect you. We are the army of the Jewish nation, not just Israel."
The youths were addressed by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who received a standing ovation. "The thing that makes us strong and secure… is that we here in Israel are only the spearhead of a great people spread all over the world, and one day they will come home where they really belong, to the State of Israel," Olmert said.
"Birthright, if you want, is what Israel is all about. Israel is a Jewish state," Olmert said. "You come from great countries," Olmert said, but "there is only one place in the world which is ours."
"We are one people, belong to each other, and that we love each other," he said. "And when you decide to come here, we will hug you, kiss you… we want nothing more than to have you, the future of the Jewish people, to come here, where they belong.”