Address by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to Birthright Israel
Photo by GPO 

Chairman of the Jewish Agency and the World Zionist Organization
My dear friend, Zeev Bielski,
Founder and creator of birthright, my dear friend, Charles Bronfman,
Another founder and creator of birthright, my dear friend Michael Steinhardt and Judy,
My dear friend, Lynn Schusterman, one of the largest contributors and supporters and workers, and founders of birthright,
Director of birthright, my friend, Shimshon Shoshani and
his Deputy, Meir Kraus,
Dear supporters, philanthropists, guests, but first and foremost, my fellow Jews, friends who came from so many different countries, Welcome to Israel!

I must share with you something, personal, exactly a year ago almost to the day, I was supposed to be a guest speaker at a similar meeting of birthright which was to take place in this auditorium.  That was on the sixth of January, 2006.  On the night before, Prime Minister Sharon collapsed and lost consciousness and by law, I was his Vice Prime Minister and I took over as Prime Minister, and as a result of all the tumult and dramatic events, it was impossible for me to come to this meeting a year ago.  I called Charles Bronfman, a good friend of mine for many years, one of the largest supporters and creator of birthright, and I said to him, Charles, I apologize.  For a long time I was looking forward to having this great meeting and I am so sorry that under those very special circumstances, I couldn’t make it.  And I was waiting a whole year to come again tonight and to hear your voices cheering and happy and singing because you are here. 

There are many events which take place in this convention center, and quite a few, I have to attend as part of my formal obligations as Prime Minister of the State of Israel.  There are none which are more joyful and inspiring and happier than the birthright meetings in Jerusalem with young people who come from all over the world. 

I look at you.  It’s not easy to see too many of you, because they keep the lights only on the stage and not in the hall.

And I can tell you something, we have some problems, not too many – sometimes when you read about it, when you watch the news, it is blown  a little bit out of proportion, but if there is one thing which makes us stronger and safer, in the State of Israel, it is our knowledge that we here in Israel are only the spearhead of a great people who are spread all over the world and who one day will use their birthright and come home where they really belong, which is here in the State of Israel. 

This is your first visit and I don’t know how many of you had a chance in this short time that you are here, and I guess that many of you have not met their friends here.  Long ago you just met and made new acquaintances and perhaps new friendships, so I don’t know whether you had the time at all even to analyze to yourself, what the meaning and the significance is of this name, birthright.  What is it?  Birthright if you want, is what Israel is all about.  Israel is the Jewish State.  Israel is the State of the Jewish people.  Israel is the place that all of us Jews have a birthright to come and live in, because this is the only place in the whole world which is ours.

Now, you come from great countries.  I know many of them.  I won’t start naming the countries where you come from because I’m sure I’ll miss at least one and they will be upset and they will have a reason for it. But you come from great countries.  Many.  Alright.  Hey guys.  Be nice to me, I can’t mention all the countries,  but many countries, and these are great countries and I’m sure that many of you wherever you live, you’ll feel great, you do many good things, you love the place you live in and it’s wonderful for you.  And I understand it.  I just want to tell you one thing, that you will understand much better and in a deeper way, in a more fundamental and basic way, when these ten days end and you go back, temporarily I want to believe, from where you came.  We’ll understand that while there are many countries in the world, which provide us Jews with wonderful opportunities, and which give us all the rights and which have created for us a basis for a good living, there is only one place on earth which is the land of the Jews, and that is Eretz Yisrael, the State of Israel.

So what do I expect?  I believe that these ten days will be exciting and inspiring.  I believe that you will start to learn something about yourselves which you didn’t know before and which most probably you could not understand before, because you never came to the place where it all started for us as Jews, going back over thousands of years of history.  Only by visiting this country, only by going to some of those places, which you heard of, which you read about, which you heard stories about, but you hadn’t seen with your own eyes.  Only by going to those places, will you start to comprehend the larger framework:  The historical base, the background of what it is to be Jewish and what it means that we, all of us, regardless of where we come from, despite the fact that we never met each other before and in some cases, we don’t speak the same language, that we can even directly talk to each other.  And yet, in some strange and dramatic and fascinating way, we all automatically feel, immediately once we meet that we are one people, that we belong to each other and that we love each other as I am sure that all of you feel.  What lies behind it you’ll find out.  It may take some time.  Maybe it will not come automatically and immediately through this visit.  Maybe it will take a little longer to penetrate, when you are back where you come from, but it will happen.  I promise you it will happen because I know all those who visited before you for the first time and went through a similar experience, and I know what happened to them.  What I want to tell you is just one thing, when it does happen and you feel you are ready, I want you to know that we are waiting for you.  And when you decide to come, not for a visit, but to come home, we will be waiting for you and hug you and kiss you and love you and help you, because you and we are one and we belong to each other, and there is nothing more that we want and need than to have you, the future of the Jewish people come to where they belong.  So now you and I together will thank these wonderful people who gave out of their own private pockets not millions, tens of millions of dollars and came to us, to the Israeli Government and to the Jewish communities across the world and said, here we give this money, you give some of yours and the communities will join in and we’ll do something which is unheard of.  We’ll reach out to all those young Jews across the world, on every continent and we’ll tell them, hey, you may not know it, you may not have heard it, you perhaps are not realizing it, but you have a birthright and your birthright is the privilege to come to the land which is yours, which you are a part of, even before you ever came to visit, and we will help you realize this birthright so that you will know, because once you know, everything will be different.  So please join me in thanking those people who made it possible.  Have a wonderful time here.  Enjoy yourself in Israel and come back.  Don’t forget.  We are waiting for you in your home.  Thank you very much.