Does Birthright work? It is hard to believe that thirteen years ago and over 300 000 Diaspora and Israeli participants later people once asked the aforementioned question. The mission statement of Birthright posits that vision of the organisation is to: diminish the growing division between Israel and Jewish communities around the world; to strengthen the sense of solidarity among world Jewry; and to strengthen participants’ personal Jewish identity and connection to the Jewish people.
Is this aim achieved? Rather than quote from the (overwhelmingly positive) scholarly articles I have come across in my doctoral research on the effectiveness of Birthright, I will give a window into both the Israeli and American participant’s reactions, in their own words. The following partial transcript was taken from a summary activity in Tel Aviv on the last day of an “Amazing Israel” Birthright group I had the privilege to guide:
- Words cannot explain the impact Birthright has made on my life…thank you for giving me a sense of identity & something to know I can stand for. The glory of Israel and its people have overwhelmed me….I know Israel will be part of my future. It’s been a privilege.
- I gained a whole new perspective on this trip and totally changed my views of Israel and being Jewish…I am shocked that in such a short amount if time I have gained so much more pride in being Jewish.
- I never really felt part of the Jewish community until I came here…I want to come back and really experience what it is to be part of this community.
- Shouting of Masada and hearing our voices echo back was one of the most moving moments of my life. I can’t begin to tell you how much this trip has changed me for the better.
- My dream has become a reality & I found myself riding a roller-coaster of historical facts and emotions. There are really no words to describe my experience over the last few days, but I can say that it has made a profound impact.
- (Hebrew) I discovered many things about myself and Jews from over the sea…how they are different from us and yet so similar. I was amazed how this trip changed their conception about Israel. It made them realize what Israel is, what Zionism is, what Judaism is, what it means to have a home and a sense of belonging.
- (Hebrew) The most incredible day was when we were at the Kotel on Friday. It was so incredible just to dance & be happy with no regard to where all the people had come from and what their views were…an incredible experience!
- I will never forget this trip. I now have a better understanding not only of Israel but also what it means to be Jewish. I cannot even put into words the impact that this trip has had on me.
- (Hebrew) Initially I had my doubts about this experience. ..But soon realized that we are one big family. I will never forget this experience my whole life! I pray that the whole house of Israel will live in peace in Israel.
- This trip changed my life. I was unsure about this trip. I never got a bar-mitzvah, attended Hebrew school or attended a synagogue. I was embarrassed about being Jewish. Now after this trip I am proud to be a Jew. This trip makes me want to attend Temple & raise my chidren Jewish.
- I cannot even begin to express how deeply moved and touched I have been on this trip. I hope that I can live my life as a better person and as a better Jew. I will never forget this experience thank you for changing my life.
- I was introduced to a beautiful place where I finally felt at home. I am glad I was able to learn where I came from, because I know what I should do to help further Judaism. I will always remember my first time in Israel
- This trip has meant the world to me It has clearly shown me positive ways to be a Jew in my daily life and to define Judaism for myself. I’ve experienced being in a Jewish community in a way I never could have imagined. We’ve learned about the ties that bind us, about selflessness & about action. I hope to make a difference back home.
- (Hebrew) It was an incredible trip. The values love of the homeland, religion and people have been incorporated into the group in a way that is almost unbelievable.
What more can I say?…