Thursday, January 27, 2011

Taglit Birthright Israel

Many of us back in the US, whether we are Jewish or not, have heard of the landmark program Birthright Israel which has brought over 250,000 young Jewish adults from around the world to the Israeli homeland over the last ten years. Did I mention that this 10-day trip is.....FREE. No strings attached, seriously. No really, there are no hidden agendas. I realize how mind boggling this is to hear, but that's the truth. So, basically, this leads me to my next point, which is the fact that despite the widespread knowledge and awareness of the program's existence, not many people actually know the details of how it is funded and how important of a program it really is. Just yesterday, my mom forwarded me an email blast from Birthright Israel which announced the following:

You read that correctly: (US) $100 million. Quite a pretty penny to spend on giving young adults a free vacation, isn't it?! What this means that over the next three years, the increased funding will allow the Birthright Israel program to send approximately 50,000 young Jewish adults to Israel every year, rather than the current approximation of about 30,000 individuals per year.  This means that by 2013, 1 out of every 2 young Jewish adults will have participated on the Birthright Israel program.

Clearly, the Israeli government, along with private funders and philanthropists, would not contribute such immensely extravagant sums of money unless it was for good reason. There are plenty of other causes out there in the world in need of much monetary help. So why does the Israeli government, private philanthropists and Jewish communities throughout the world continue to open up their pocketbooks? The answer is in the name of the program itself: birthright. Literally, every Jewish person on Earth has a G-d given right, by birth, to be a part of Israel. The Balfour Declaration of 1917 voiced the preference for the creation of a Jewish state, and in 1948 that vision became a reality with a vote agreed upon by the United Nations. Every Jewish person from that point forward would have a right to the Jewish homeland for both political asylum as well as cultural unity. After the massive losses from the Holocaust (6 million), the time was fitting for this state to finally be established. 


It is difficult to fathom how many Jewish people would be living today had the Holocaust not happened. Imagine the children that would have been born to each of those 6 million people, and then their children's children, and then those children's children. On and on it goes. Have you ever really thought about what was lost? How many future children never had the chance to be born? How many unborn artists, writers, doctors, soldiers and scholars did we lose?  Every Jewish person, whether they can trace back their ancestry or not, lost masses of family. Only recently has my father been able to locate a few distant relatives from what should have been today nearly one hundred people (factoring in those who were lost, their unborn children and future families, and their unborn grandchildren, etc). A massive hole was punctured within this community that we share; and it is a hole can never be refilled. The concept, when you really think about it, is truly disheartening. I heard somewhere that the Jewish population worldwide is only now resurfacing the numbers that existed worldwide pre-Holocaust, in the early 1940's.  Imagine that; it took nearly 70 years just to get back to where we once were nearly a century ago. 

Now, stick with me here for a minute. I'm about to take a little tangent but I promise to bring it all back around. The losses incurred actually remind me a little bit of Bowen's multigenerational theory, a throwback to my counseling degree. This theory basically says, in a nutshell, that emotional issues  and family patterns are passed down through generations. It also implies that there is a sense of responsibility that families bring with them down through the generations. For instance, let's say that your grandparents were refugees who moved abroad to escape persecution and to provide their family with a better life.  You, being the grandchild, might feel a lot of pressure to keep the family traditions intact and to be extremely successful. So too is the story with the case study of New London, Texas; a town in which a 1937 school explosion killed the entire city's population of children. Thus, literally an entire generation from one town was entirely and completely and forever lost. Imagine what this would do to the survivors, and to the survivors children, mentally. This is muligenerational theory, and the Holocaust is an example of this, but on a much larger scale.

So, this brings me back to my original point, of why Birthright Israel is such an important program. There was so much lost, and so many generations of families that would never come to be, that it is imperative now, in today's time, to preserve the tradition, the history, the culture and the identity of the Jewish people. That is why Birthright Israel forks out millions of dollars every year. They are trying to rebuild a culture that was severely amputated. And, you know what? I think it's working. I am currently reading the novel, The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell, which basically discusses how some ideas turn into phenomenona that spread like wildfire. I think we are in the midst of watching this program, Birthright Israel, unleashing into a firestorm of its own, much like the concept discussed in Gladwell's book. After participating in Birthright Israel, people say that they feel more connected to the religion, more proud to be part of a tradition and an historic culture, and more aware of their place both in the world and at this time in history.
Thus, that is why, every year, Birthright Israel sends - what will soon be - 50,000 young adults between the ages of 18-26 on a ten-day, free trip to Israel with peers their age.  Nearly 50,000 Israeli soldiers have also participated on these trips in order to bridge connections between foreign Jews and Israeli citizens. Everyone is affected differently by the program, but I can tell you that I am living proof of the program's success. I am living in Israel, after all, aren't I? And I am not the only one. Just come and meet my classmates in my ulpan and the hundreds of thousands of alum around the world. The impact is worldwide, neighborhood by neighborhood, person by person. And I guess the hope is that the inspiration that we honed from the trip will be passed on through the generations to come. I really think it was a brilliant business plan and after ten years in the making, it is exciting to finally be seeing the results of this risky and expensive yet utterly life-changing experience.

Now, are you curious to see what the trip is like? Allegedly, the trip is valued around $5,000 US per person. That is no cheap vacation! You can choose what type of trip you want to go on: non-denominational, reform, conservative or orthodox. And you can choose what time of year you would like to go: winter or summer. Competition to get on a trip is fierce, because, as I mentioned, it's FREE! Everything from the flight, to the hotels, to the  entrance fees and the food. And get this, they even give you a small stipend of "spending money" to be used on food when they let you loose in certain places. Since space is limited, there are some insider tips as to how to get booked on a trip on your first try. Take a look at just a few of the many sites you would see if you were to participate on one of these trips:



As you can see, the trip is incredibly fun, filled with a spirit of camaraderie and togetherness that most have likely never felt before. After all, visiting a country where nearly the entire population is of the same background and beliefs as you as literally a foreign concept for most of us. That is why most, if not all, participants have agreed that the experience is life-changing. If you are between the ages of 18-26, GO! And if you're older, there are still opportunities for you, and A LOT of them. Check out the many study, internship and graduate options available for young Jewish adults out there: Birthright Israel NEXT. Be sure to click on "browse all" when you follow the previous link. You will learn about dozens of cool opportunities!


  1. I am so bummed I never went on Birthright Israel, but fortunate I had the opportunity to study in Israel for 2 mos during HS!

    Your section about the the Holocaust reminds me of a book I actually picked up in Israel, called Children of the Holocaust by Helen Esptein, I remember it having a great impact on me when I was younger, and giving me a greater understanding of the effects of the Holocaust on survivor's children.

  2. You still got the whole experience if you were here for 2 months!! You were way ahead of the times, as usual (meaning that you are always up on the trends before they happen)! :) I am going to have to look for that book, it sounds really interesting. You should tell me what books to read so we can have a virtual book club. I'll make Samantha bring them in February!

  3. I always regret that I didn't do Birthright. Oh well, guess I will have to travel there as a, gulp, 30-something! :)

  4. Yes, there are lots of fun adult trips for you Caryn!! :) Are we really called grown-ups already? We still have a few years left, right? We're not 40 yet!


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