The following is a response to the widely criticized Slate article written by Allison Benedikt condemning Birthright for the death of Max Steinberg. These are my own two cents on the matter. 

Dear Allison,

First off, I’m not sure if your post was an article or an op-ed. It certainly was laden with personal bias. By the second paragraph you begin to place blame on a bunch of different causes, culminating in Birthright, the main target of your “article”.

Let’s focus on this blame for a moment. Who says anybody is blaming anyone? Is this the time and the place for blame?

Furthermore, blame implies that there is something inherently wrong with an American boy dying for a value he believed in. And yet, just as you would not condemn an Israeli who died for this cause, I don’t see why you would condemn an American who does the same, despite the fact that he may in fact speak only “shaky Hebrew”.

Aside for condemning Birthright for Max’s death, I am unclear as to the point of your article.

So let’s take a step back for a moment.

You are Jewish yourself, it seems. What does that mean to you? Is it a cultural thing? Something that involves synagogue on Yom Kippur and bagels the rest of the year? Because according to the statistics, if that is the extent of your Judaism, your grandchildren probably won’t be Jewish anymore.

Now, I don’t know if that bothers you at all. It might very well suit you just fine. The negativity of your article certainly suggests it.

But there are thousands of people in the world who care deeply about Jewish continuity. Some are more clear about why they care: they believe that the Jewish people have a unique mission to make the world a better, more moral place. Others can’t articulate their motivations as clearly.

Either way, those who do care, recognize that the Jewish people have already contributed tremendous value to humanity, and, if they are to continue to do so, they must be reconnected to their global mission.
It is for this purpose that Birthright was founded. And although it has a lot of room for improvement, it has shown significant results in accomplishing this very goal.

You see, when you come on a Birthright trip; you are given the opportunity, often for the first time in your life, to connect your Jewishness to something bigger than yourself. To a country, to a people, to a vision.

And you meet people, young people just like you, who are willing to die for that vision.

You suggest in your article that Max may have been “especially lost”. The sad reality is, most American Jews are especially lost. They don’t know what it means to be Jewish, or why it matters. And again, I don’t know if you even care.

But Max, “lost” though he was, seized the opportunity Birthright presented him and the thousands of young people like him, and he found. He found meaning. He found connection. And he found what he was willing to die for.

And when you do that, Allison, you start living.