I think many Jews would be surprised at how many of their fellow Jews have never been to Israel. In some cases, it is a matter of motivation; many secular/liberal Jews simply do not have the necessary level of emotional attachment to Israel to induce them to visit the ‘homeland’. In other cases, and I would hazard a guess that this is the explanation more often than not, it’s a financial issue. Travelling to Israel can be fairly expensive and in a world where so many people live from paycheck to paycheck, it’s an unaffordable dream for many.
Perhaps what we need is a Birthright Program for grown-ups, a vehicle to provide airfare and low-cost lodging to adult Jews who want to visit Israel for the first time. Similar to the way that Hebrew Free Loan operates, those taking advantage of the offer would be required to pay back the money over a reasonable time frame (a $2000 debt repaid over 4 years would only cost about $40 per month). Additionally, if and when the recipient of this generosity is in a financial position to do so, they would be expected to contribute to the fund to help other Jews avail themselves of the same opportunity. They would also have to agree in writing not to use the trip to protest Israeli policies or practices (not that I would expect mature adults to get to Israel and then say Kaddish for dead Palestinian terrorists like some of the recent youthful participants have done). Finally, prospective participants would be required to provide documentation (e.g., tax returns, statement of assets) to prove they cannot pay for the trip themselves.
My father, like so many others of his generation, was able to start his business with the help of Hebrew Free Loan. When he started to make a decent living, he repaid the loan in full and then continued to contribute to the organization for the rest of his life. Unquestionably, there would be the odd person who defaults on their repayment obligations (as is the case, I’m sure, for Hebrew Free Loan) but that number would likely be insignificant.
The upside of such a program is two-fold. One, we would be helping our fellow Jews realize what is for most of them a life-long yet inaccessible dream. Secondly, these beneficiaries of the program would likely become even more vociferous advocates for Israel, and in this era of Jewish Voices for Peace, If Not Now and J Street, Israel needs all the supporters it can get.
I would be happy to donate to this cause and I’d love to know from our readers if they would be willing to do the same.
(with thanks to Riva Toeman of Beit Halochem who was the inspiration behind this idea