Steven Zvi Gleiberman

Was Birthright Just A Fling?

Birthright Israel
Birthright Israel

Scrolling through the pictures of our Birthright trip, a smile slowly forms around my face as I reminisce about our 10-day excursion. Climbing Masada, sleeping in those messy Bedouin tents, hiking through the knee-deep water tunnels, the night out in Jerusalem and every memorable activity in between. I’m reminded of the quirky Hebrew word of the day, the Jewish identity activity in that boiling hot room, the airport jelly bean fun, the Israeli soldiers teaching us their songs under the campfire and the way our Israeli bus driver wove through traffic at full speed as if it were a NASCAR race. We experienced a powerful Shabbat in Jerusalem, hiked around the country, did water sports in the North and mediated in the south.

We had an action-packed time and were sure to document our experiences on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and Snapchat. Yet as I finish staffing yet another Birthright trip and still deciding which pictures to publicly post, I ask myself the following question; were these last 10 days just fun filled memories? Was birthright just a fun time with strangers I have never met before and will never see again? Is Birthright no different to me than any other of my other vacations where I just had fun for the sake of fun? Or is it the start of something more?

The dictionary defines a fling as “a casual or carefree event with little to no emotional involvement”. And so, I ask myself; Is Birthright merely a 10-day fling?

Just something that I have many fun memories about, but emotionally means nothing to me?

I sure hope not.

And here’s why……

The concept of Birthright was never intended to be a free or moreover a carefree vacation. Yes, the trip was boatloads of fun and obviously didn’t cost us money, but it’s not a free trip. Somebody had to pay for it and the Birthright sponsors who gifted us this trip include Jewish philanthropists, Jewish foundations and agencies, former Birthright alumni and even the Israeli government.

They footed the bill not because they enjoying giving away their money but rather because they believe in the vision of Birthright Israel.

The vision of Birthright Israel as per their mission statement is “to ensure a vibrant future for the Jewish people by strengthening Jewish identity, Jewish community and Jewish connection to Israel”. In short, Birthright’s vision is to create an ongoing meaningful dialogue in order to strengthen our own Jewish identity, community and Israel connection. Meaningful conversation about our identity and continuity as the proud Jewish nation. A meaningful conversation about our Jewish community and lastly, a meaningful impactful conversation about our personal connection to The State of Israel.

We most definitely started these discussions on our Birthright trip. We had our Jewish identity session, explored various facets of special Israeli communities all over the country and spent many late nights talking to our Israeli soldiers about Israeli culture, lifestyle and struggles. We even put a yamukah on a camel.

But since Birthright isn’t a 10-day fling but rather the start of an ongoing dialogue about our identity, community and Israel, how can we continue these conversations that we started on Birthright?

It’s very simple…

We take any one of the many activities that we did on Birthright and make a firm commitment to develop them further.

For example, we went to the Israeli-Syrian (and Israeli-Gaza) border. Yes, the views were timeless and breathtaking. But views aside, maybe we should make a point to research it further (online, with another participant, on campus, with an Israeli from our trip etc.) to gain a clearer understanding of The State of Israel and its inner conflicts. The Hebron riots of 1929 was 90 years ago. That’s kind of a long time to be fighting over some real estate. So, to continue our exploration of Israel, let’s commit a set amount of time to factually understanding the conflict and struggles, from its deep historical roots all the way to the very present. As there is widespread misinformation in the media and especially social media, once we have a clearer understanding of the conflict, we can spread the actual truth and can lend our support with fuller and firmer conviction.

We had a self-introspection meditation activity in the Negev dessert. An activity of calm mindfulness. But if it’s only a “1-time exclusively in Israel Birthright thing”, it doesn’t change our convictions or identities as a productive human being. So maybe let’s make it priority, especially in today’s fast paced world to dedicate a few minutes every day (or every week or whenever you choose) to take a step back to breathe and introspect. To help ourselves rediscover who we are, why we are here and what we really want our future to be like (yeah, like the song). Yoga, Transcendental Meditation, Tai Chi, Hiking, Mantra and long walks on the beach are just a few of the many unique self-care activities we can do to assist ourselves in our introspection journey. Besides, these activities have been medically proven to reduce stress and anxiety as well as increase self-awareness, imagination, creativity, patience and tolerance.

We visited the Western Wall, experienced a unique Shabbat (for many of us our first Shabbat ever), visited the Yad Vashem memorial and may have felt some unique spiritual moments during these times. So maybe let’s use these moments as an opportunity to explore our personal spiritual connection and integrate a bit more spirituality into our daily lives.

We may have met another participant on our trip who we had some genuine chemistry with. Maybe let’s commit to continue pursuing that relationship. Or maybe after seeing so many “regular” and “normal Jews” will get us to commit that maybe maybe maybe, even if only for the sake of Jewish continuity, we will only date Jewish people from now on.

Like I said in our group circle session underneath the stars in the pitch-black Negev desert; “Birthright has never claimed have all the answers. Birthright won’t solve the Jewish identity issue. It won’t make us fully understand our emotional connection to Israel. It won’t even solve the Palestinian-Israeli dispute. 10 days is barely enough time to decide on an ideal roommate. But 10 days is surely enough time to start”.

And that’s why I implore each and every one of you to turn over a new chapter and use Birthright as the springboard for your personal journey of exploration.

But don’t do it for me.

Don’t do it for the Birthright coordinators and educators who spent countless nights planning and executing every minute detail of our trip.

Don’t even do it for the donors who paid thousands of dollars for your Birthright trip.

Do it for yourself.

Do it for you!

Do it to understand your true Jewish identity.

Do it to understand your unique Jewish community.

Do it to understand and appreciate your connection to Israel.

And last but not least, do it to understand your what sort of “Jewishness” you wish to impart onto the next generation.

Regardless of your future decisions, I wish you all the best of luck on your upcoming journey and I’m here cheering for you every step of the way.

A fantastic future full of optimism, opportunity and growth awaits you!

About the Author
StevenZvi grew up in Brooklyn and in his professional life worked in the healthcare industry in New York City. Wishing to create additional meaning and purpose in his life, he moved to Jerusalem in November 2020, where he lives with his wife, works in the Medical Technology space and volunteers for Hatzalah. He uses his writing capabilities as a healthy outlet not to receive money, recognition or fame. It’s his hope that his articles will have some positive impact on the Jewish nation and humanity worldwide. He may not live forever, but his contributions to society might.
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