Tuvia Book
Author, educator, Tour-Guide, artist

The Other Birthrighters: The Mifgash Phenomena

For over a decade, I have had the privilege of guiding Taglit/Birthright groups in Israel. A recent group I guided was a rather special Routes Travel “Amazing Israel” group called “Through the Shutter.”  This was also a niche trip which consisted of 41 Americans and eight Israeli soldiers who were mostly photographers or students of photography.

The trip encouraged the group to look at Israel through different angles.  To try and comprehend the reality behind the medias distorted perception.  In addition to producing beautiful and thought-provoking images of Israel it also set me thinking about the Birthright participants that rarely get the attention they deserve, the Israeli IDF soldiers who take time away from their units to serve as informal ambassadors of Israeli youth.

Birthright is an intensely powerful and enriching educational phenomenon for the Jewish American participants, made all the more enriching in recent years, by the inclusion of a mifgash element in the 10 day trip.  This is when eight soldiers join the trip for five (or sometimes the whole ten) days and travel together with the American participants.  They stay in the same lodgings, participate in the same activities, which include hikes and discussions and, perhaps most importantly, enjoy a lot of unstructured downtime with the group.  The mifgash provides opportunities for Jewish adolescents from the Diaspora to interact with their Israeli counterparts, and vice versa.  Such interaction creates a more representative encounter with Israel.  The mifgash also challenges negative stereotypes both sides have about the other.

Observing the initial meeting between the two groups is nothing short of amazing.  The soldiers meet the group in uniform and one can almost feel the barrier between the two worlds.  However, once the soldiers dress down into civilian clothes, the wall quickly comes down and the group is generally amazed by how much they have in common culturally.

The two other occasions the soldiers once again don their uniforms are at the powerfully symbolic sites Yad Vashem and Mt.Herzl.  This only serves to emphasize the fact that these bright affable youngsters are giving some of the best years of their life to their land and our people.  Quite often these encounters lead the American participants to question their own ties are to their community, faith and to their land.

On my most recent trip, at Yad Vashem one of the Israeli soldiers, Dor, a sniper in an elite combat unit, told the group that during his high school trip to Poland he made a decision to serve in a combat unit to ensure the safety of the Jews in Israel and worldwide.  We live in a fortunate age where Jews are in control of their own destiny, largely because of selfless and proud young men and women like Dor, who give some of the best years of their lives (and if necessary are willing to sacrifice those lives) to make the world a better and safer place for all Jews.

About the Author
Dr. Tuvia Book was born in London and raised in both the UK and South Africa. After making Aliya at the age of 17 and studying in Yeshiva he volunteered for the IDF, where he served in an elite combat unit. Upon his discharge he completed his BA at Bar-Ilan University, as well as certification in graphic design. He then served as the Information Officer at the Israeli Consulate of Philadelphia, while earning a graduate degree in Jewish Studies. Upon his return to Israel, Dr. Book graduated from a course of study with the Israeli Ministry of Tourism, and is a licensed tour guide. Tuvia has been working in the field of Jewish Education, both formal and informal, for many years. He has guided and taught Jewish students and educators from around the English-speaking world for some of Israel’s premier educational institutions and programs. Tuvia has been guiding groups for Birthright Israel since its inception and, in addition, has lectured throughout North America, Australia, Europe and South Africa. Tuvia served as a Shaliach (emissary) for the Jewish Agency for Israel as the Director of Israel and Zionist Education at the Board of Jewish Education of Greater New York (Jewish Education Project). He was a lecturer/educational guide at the Alexander Muss Institute for Israel Education (AMIIE) in Israel for a decade. Tuvia has lectured at both Bar Ilan University and Hebrew University. He was a Senior Editor and Teaching Fellow at the Tikvah Fund. He is a research associate at the Hudson Institute. Tuvia is the author and illustrator the internationally acclaimed Israel education curriculum; "For the Sake of Zion; A Curriculum of Israel Studies" (Fifth edition, Koren 2017), and "Moral Dilemmas of the Modern Israeli Soldier" (Rama, 2011) and has a doctorate in Israel Education. His latest book, "Jewish Journeys, The Second Temple Period to the Bar Kokhba Revolt – 536 BCE-136 CE," was published by Koren this year. To order: