Debra Berger, founder of Project Interchange, dies


NEW YORK (JTA) — Debra Berger, the founder of Project Interchange that sent influential leaders to Israel, has died.

Berger, of Rockville, Md., died Wednesday.

Project Interchange, which Berger founded in 1982 and became an institute of the American Jewish Committee a decade later, has brought more than 5,000 leaders to Israel from more than 60 countries for weeklong educational visits.

She founded Project Interchange out of a desire to inform the American public about Israel. The mission, Berger reasoned, could best be realized through educational visits for groups of highly influential leaders, who upon returning home could share their perspectives with vast audiences, thus shaping public opinion on Israel.

In 1983, she sent off a delegation of congressional staff from the United States, marking Project Interchange’s inaugural program. Berger ran Project Interchange first from first from her suburban Washington home and then from an office in Washington D.C.

AJC Executive Director David Harris called Berger "a visionary."

"She started Project Interchange from scratch," he said. "Her goal was to introduce the Israel she loved to leading American figures. She succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest dreams."

Harris said Berger "suffered from a prolonged and debilitating illness, but her courage, strength and determination inspired everyone around her."


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