No, I don’t work for Taglit, or any other Birthright trip provider for that matter. And no, I am not trying to recruit participants in order to earn a free trip back to Israel. I am just an innocent bystander, wondering why some professionals have to work so hard to get Jews between the ages of 18-26 to go on a trip to Israel that costs next to nothing! I simply do not understand. I know this isn’t exactly “free” but HEY! Wake up! Nothing in today’s world is entirely “free” and the small deposit and minimum spending money required make it a pretty good deal.
When I was in college I remember saving every last of my pennies to be able to afford a flight to Israel. Unfortunately at the time I didn’t qualify for a Birthright trip because I had attended The Alexander Muss High School in Israel and was thus unable to receive this gift. But now the rules have relaxed a bit and even more people are eligible. So, why the empty spaces? Why are people not taking advantage of this incredible opportunity, the true gift of a lifetime?
Well for starters, the recent article that appeared in Slate, in which the author blamed the death of Max Steinberg, z”l, on Birthright, delivered a false and ignorant message. Birthright participants are young adults, free thinkers, and curious individuals who for some reason or another feel connected enough to partake on the journey that they are aware is a privilege only to Jews their age. They want to engage, to learn, and to see the sights through their own eyes. As someone who has staffed numerous Birthright trips and a year long program with Young Judaea & FZY, I can personally tell you that I never attempted to “convince” the participants to leave their lives in the Diaspora and move to Israel. But, just because I returned to the U.S (you’re welcome Mom), who am I to judge those who decided to stay in the Holy land? It is undeniable that there is something special in that country and it is important to recognize that people feel the need to internalize or display that magic in different ways.
Not everyone needs to be a Zionist, and not everyone’s Zionism needs to be the same. But, to criticize others for their thoughts, especially under the above circumstances, is taking the problems that we as Jews face to a whole new level.
Despite the damaging effects of the article in Slate, it was recently written, while registration for Birthright has been moving slowly over the last few years. So,what is it? This past November I spoke about this exact topic at Congregation B’nai Israel in Basking Ridge, New Jersey. The audience consisted mostly of parents and adults and based upon their questions and discussion, I believe that like people all over the world, many Jewish adults are simply misinformed about Israel and about Birthright. And, if a teenager’s parents are not encouraging of a new adventure and they live in environments that may not be so “Jewish” or overly “Zionist”, how can we expect them to make the decision entirely on their own? They need support. And that begins with the education of the parents.
The time is now for Jews all over the world to embrace their religion, their heritage, and their culture in whichever way appeals to them. And like most traditions, this begins with the older generations. The responsibility to teach never dissipates and the responsibility to learn grows stronger. So, as my older brother always says, l’dor v’dor, from generation to generation; let’s spread the love, the knowledge and the faith, and let’s learn. Give your kids a chance. Let them grow and see the beauty of the Jewish state on their own. Give them the tools to explore their Judaism and make their own choices. The time is now. Encourage your kids, your friends, and every eligible person you know to sign up.