The Birthright Season is upon us again! A central component of the Birthright program is the Mifgash. “Mifgash” is the loosely translated Hebrew word for a “meeting,” that is in this case a direct physical encounter between Israeli and American peers during the Israel trip. The Mifgash enables Israelis and Americans an opportunity to spend time getting to know one another in both formal and informal settings. This is seen as a crucial aspect of the Birthright agenda. The Mifgash is a uniquely effective pedagogical tool for increasing the participants’ understanding of one another. It is a structured encounter between individuals and also a meeting of two worlds.
Chazan and Saxe (2008) write that an educationally effective Mifgash should consist of, “viewing Israel from within the heads and hearts of Israeli peers.” The American Israel trip participants, with a Mifgash element incorporated in their program, are not looking out of their air-conditioned tour bus at the “locals,” but rather are interacting with them. Kelner (2010) expands on this point by referring to a Mifgash as a “cross-cultural-peer-to-peer encounter.” An effective Mifgash challenges negative stereotypes which are caused by casual encounters. It enables both sides to expand their Jewish horizons by learning to appreciate each other’s different perceptions of Jewishness.
Kelner observes that the Birthright Israel Mifgash model has met with “considerable success” in overcoming “the structural barriers that tourism erects between the tourist and the toured.” An educationally effective Mifgash with Israelis allows the American participants to gain an understanding of the complex multi-dimensional, multi-cultural reality that is Israel. The ability of the Mifgash to bring the outside in is best summed up by an American Birthright alumna, Lila Feinberg (2010), who recalled:
Suddenly, our world was extended and deepened beyond the microscopic scope of a bus isle…a true Mifgash.
The exposure to a wide spectrum of opinions from Israelis of different religious, cultural and ethnic backgrounds should facilitate a broad based understanding of issues within contemporary Israel. A successful, thought-provoking Mifgash should negate the viewing of Israel through a simplistic lens. The Mifgash should be a tool for inductively gaining knowledge of Israeli society and issues, and have a positive effect on all of the participant’s Jewish/Zionist identity. An educationally valuable Mifgash allows the setting of the Mifgash location in Israel itself to become an inseparable part of the learning experience.