Christian students tag along on birthright trip

Friday, June 06, 2008 |  staff writer

Increasingly more Christian students are somehow enjoying a free trip to Israel, designed exclusively for Jewish participants who have never visited Israel.

Since 2000, Taglit (Birthright) has brought some 180,000 Jewish young adults to Israel. Applicants undergo a very intense screening process.

“We send about five [participants] home every season out of 40,000... We catch about 100 every year before they come... We have improved the registration process a lot over the last two years,” said Gidi Mark, the director of Marketing for Birthright.

According to the Birthright website, those ages 18 to 26 may participate if they are recognized as Jewish by the community, by one Judaism’s denominations or have one parent Jewish and are not actively practicing another religion.

Nevertheless, Christians are still making a pilgrimage to Israel using this venue for Jewish students. One participant complained that there were two Christians on her trip who were disconnected from the group.

“There were two Christians on my trip, and they didn't hide it at all,” 2006 Birthright participant Elissa Glick told The Jerusalem Post. “They carried New Testaments and protested when we didn't visit the Holy Sepulchre. They were totally segregated from the group.”

One Christian student said that he wanted to learn about his cultural heritage though his family does not practice Judaism today.

"My mother's family is Jewish, but they converted in the 1920s. Our whole family gets together to celebrate Christmas... I am definitely a member of a Christian family," he said.

Though many want to visit Israel for the cultural experience, the percentage of those who abuse the system appears to be small and Birthright continues to grow. There are 20,000 youths on the waiting list for this summer’s trip.

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