Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Dear Birthright, I Love You

                Today I was sent an article posted on an online publication, where the author ostensibly blames Taglit-Birthright for the death of Max Steinberg, an American IDF soldier who died this week during Operation Protective Edge. I will not link the article, nor name the author or publication, because neither deserves recognition of any kind. In her diatribe, she asserted that Birthright is indirectly to blame for Max's death, due to the fact that they brainwash their participants into joining the IDF or making aliyah, and if not for this hideous mind-control, Max would be comfortable and safe in California. Two things struck me immediately. The first is that it takes a special kind of self-hatred and lack of compassion to use the occasion of a soldier's death to strike a blow to Taglit-Birthright. Imagine a person, upon hearing the horrifying news of a Jewish boy dying in battle, thinking to herself "I should write an article blaming a Jewish organization, and indirectly the entire state of Israel, at this exact point in time." Boggles the mind.
                The second thought I had, and the reason I am writing this post, is to show solidarity with one of the greatest things to happen to world Jewry in the last 65 years. I am writing in defense and recognition of Taglit- Birthright. 
                It is no secret that I love Birthright. I have taken this 10-day trip as a staff twelve times. This means I have had the pleasure of sharing the land of Israel with my young American Jewish brothers and sisters to the tune of about 450 participants! Add to that the 100 or so soldiers I've had the pleasure to meet, and the various co-staff, tour guides, medics and bus drivers with whom I've had the pleasure of sharing a cramped bus. I have seen more of Israel than most, and I've loved (almost) every minute of it. But that's just me. One rabidly- Zionist Orthodox girl's experience. Except I am not Birthright's target demo. Most of my participants had never been to Israel. Most are non-practicing Jews. Most are not particularly Zionist. Most have predominantly non-Jewish social circles. For many, without Birthright, these Jewish kids would have zero Jewish experiences and maybe even not know any other Jewish people! (I'm talking to you, Jews in Alabama, Kentucky, Montana, etc). Birthright gives Jewish kids an opportunity not only to connect with Israel, but other Jewish kids! And Israeli Jews! And Orthodox Jews (hiiiii guys!) It is a way to build a community in a world they never even knew they could belong.
              And now to the trip. I would love it if I could honestly say that it was some right-wing, ultra Zionist, indoctrination machine. But it is not. It just isn't. I've had tour guides who are right- wing, talking about our biblical ties to Israel, and left- wing, discussing their sadness at the plight of the Palestinians. I've had religious guides, making kiddush Friday night and staunchly atheist guides, wherein I made the kiddush Friday night! I've had soldiers who loved the army or, quite frankly, would have rather been doing anything else. I've had guides who took us to Sderot and the partition wall, to the border of Lebanon and kabbalist artists in Tzfat. I've had spiritual shabbats at the Western Wall, and others where the kids lounge at a pool near Masada. So do kids fall in love with Israel and their soldiers? Yes, quite often. Does it spur some on to serve their homeland in the IDF, or even make aliyah? Blessedly, yes! Does it make kids think more about their place in the Jewish world, and how that might impact their future? YES. But why is any of this a bad thing?! 
             Honestly, unless you really dislike Israel or Jews, I don't see the problem. All I see is an organization who saw a need in the world Jewish community and filled it, pouring money and love and dedication into a diaspora Jewish nation who desperately needed something to connect to. I am so grateful for the time I've spent on Birthright- the places I've seen and the people I've met. Quite honestly, some of my closest friends are former participants and staff. So I thank you for reading this and allowing me to share my appreciation with Taglit- Birthright, and I urge you all to do the same if you can.


  1. A beautiful post, superbly written and very obviously heartfelt. Please keep up your great work !