Wednesday, January 21, 2009

An Open Letter To Birthright Israel Participants

After continually seeing friends' Birthright pictures, I wanted to write an open letter to all those Birthright Israel participants who have returned, doe-eyed, and ecstatic about their trip.

Dear Birthright Alum,

By now you have had a chance to upload your photos to facebook and tag all of your new friends, debrief your parents about how safe you felt, and gossip to your friends about the hot Israeli soldiers.

Perhaps you fell in love with Israel, and maybe you even made a commitment to only date Jews or make Aliyah

Fantastic! Wasn't it cool how you went to that Bedouin tent, had that super strong coffee and incredibly sweet tea? Did you manage to see the lights from the Dimona nuclear reactor while you were there?

How about that trip up Massada, where you learned that Jews used to fight to the death, and even preferred dying to surrender.

What were your first impressions after seeing Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial center, and then going to Independence hall in Tel Aviv, where Ben Gurion declares that after 2000 years, the Jewish people are no longer in exile?

What a one-of-a-kind experience?!

Except that it's not....at all.

Birthright Israel is one of the most consciously planned trips out there. I would go so far as to declare it pure propaganda, if I hadn't had such a good time, and didn't feel it was so important.

I want to put into perspective the goals of the trip. There are those among us who refer to the trip as 'Birth-Rate', which I believe to be a fair approximation.

The trips take a great many different forms, as there are many providers who get their money from Birthright, the umbrella organization. The vast majority of these trips, however, end up doing the same things.

Now, I want to stress that the experiences that participants have are real. We really feel a connection to the land, the people, the history...but that does not deny the fact that the events, and often the order of the events on the trip are set up so as to lead logical, rational young Jews to certain conclusions.

The first of these conclusions is that there is a Jewish people. It comes in many shapes and colors, languages and beliefs, but ultimately, Am echad im Dam echad (one people with one blood). This goal is accomplished by taking participants to places of Jewish historical significance including the Western Wall, Massada, Sfat, and Jerusalem in general.

The next conclusion is that Anti-Semitism was and is a very real threat. A great deal of this conclusion is cemented in the visit to Yad Vashem. This museum has an incredibly humbling effect, making Jews who visit it feel vulnerable, even if they barely self-identified as Jewish.

After this, the conclusion which Birthright hopes its participants will draw is that Israel has a fundamental right to exist as a homeland and safe-haven for Jews. Listening to the Shehechiyanu after Ben Gurion reads the Israeli declaration of Independence, followed by Hatikvah brought me to tears. Well done, Birthright.

But I think the greatest achievement of Birthright is the conclusion that Israel is the Birthright of all Jews, that Jews are connected by this common bond and are responsible for the future of the Jewish state.

Every friend, friend of a friend, etc. who goes on Birthright always ends up with an almost identical set of pictures. Not that this is a bad thing. By presenting a certain story, the same way every time, yet allowing each individual to connect to that story in a different way, Birthright has succeeded in a way that most Jewish events haven't....making Jews feel like Jews, regardless of Judaism.

Israel is surely not as simply as Birthright has presented it to be, but hopefully, something was sparked inside you during your trip that made you interested enough to return and acquire an even more intimate knowledge of the land for which Jews have yearned for thousands of years. The same land for which some extremely wealthy Jews have paid thousand of dollars for you to believe is your birthright.

Bruchim hachozrim.

3 comments:

- said...

I'm confused. Is the fact that wealthy Jew pay for the trip a bad thing? It kind of sounds like a negative the way you write it :)

Y? said...

It is a fantastic thing. My point is simply that money is tied to expectations, and you should always questions the agenda of the donors.

!JustDance said...

I heart you Y?

!JustDance, formerly "-"