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February 8, 2011 5:22 pm

“Take Back Zionism” Program Promotes Positive Image of Israel

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Birthright patron Michael Steinhardt, here with Rebecca Sugar.

At an event that combined social consciousness with socializing, Birthright Israel alumni and members of 30 Jewish organizations listened to Ido Aharoni, Israeli Consul General in NYC discuss “Brand Israel.” “Israel has been branded through conflict with our neighbors,” he said, “Paris is associated with romance, Brazil with fun and Israel with conflict. Our goal, our job, is to broaden the scope through which Israel is perceived.”

Aharoni noted Israel’s contributions to technology, medical technology and renewable energy. To speak on this point, witness to Israeli medical prowess, Dr. Elizabeth Greig, spoke of her embarrassment at the level of Israel’s advanced techniques, as compared to her unit, when both were providing aid to Haiti.

500 Birthright Alumni noisily exchanged greetings and news at the Manhattan event, a reunion for   Birthright veterans and friends, the “rights” and obligation to presenting a clear and truthful image of Israel was discussed . Rebecca Sugar, Birthright Israel Alumni Director said the program had brought a “whole generation back as eyewitnesses” to what is Israel. “We have handed over the word [Zionism] to those who attack and distort it,” Sugar said. “We have to overwhelm the lies with the truth.”

Birthright Co-founder and funder Michael Steinhardt addressed the group, discussing his interpretation of Zionism. He queried the mostly single crowd, asking “How many would like to go back to Israel?” The response was pure enthusiasm.  Continuing, he asked “How many are single?” Again, an animated response.  The final question in his series: “How many would like to get married?”

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Five raised hands, a few more gave a “shout-out.”

“You know, a good Zionist gets married,” Steinhardt advised.  He topped his presentation with a promise: any couple that meets at the event and marries receives a honeymoon, courtesy of Michael Steinhardt.  Turning more serious, he noted that, “being a Jew, a Zionist, takes pride, knowledge, and commitment.”

From Washington, D.C., the Honorable Michael Oren, Israel’s Ambassador to the United States, joined the party via video conference.  He reminisced about his first visit to Israel 40 years ago that had shaped who he is, saying he defines Zionism as “Jews taking responsibility for themselves as Jews.” Oren noted that many countries once hostile to Israel are now good friends and trading partners. “We are alive at the most fantastic, extraordinary time in the history of the past 2,000 years,” Oren said, especially as regards the modern day State of Israel.

The large crowd in attendance.

Event volunteer Sarah Gordon told the Algemeiner that she came to show support for the State of Israel. “After years of persecution, the Jewish people finally have a home,” she said. “The rest of the world constantly shows us in a poor light. It’s our responsibility to set that straight.”

Birthright Israel “Take Back Zionism” asks each individual to define a personal meaning of Zionism.”To take part, go to http://www.takebackzionism.org

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