Posts Tagged ‘Birthright’

Shabbat Yisrael

February 8, 2010

This Friday we’ll be celebrating Shabbat together at Ohio Wesleyan.  After services, we’ll be sharing a meal and hearing from students about their travels to Israel.  Coincidentally, in this week’s Torah portion, Mishpatim (Sentences) the Jews are presented with a list of rules they must follow to earn access to the land of milk and honey.

Unlike in biblical times, these students may not be aware of, let alone fulfill the mandates: “Six years you may sow your land and gather in its produce.  But in the seventh year you shall release it and abandon it; the poor of your people shall eat it, and what they leave over, the beasts of the field shall eat;” or, “You shall not allow a sorceress to live.”  It’s unlikely these were requirements for the summer teen tours and intensive study programs they attended.  Those who traveled with Taglit Birthright didn’t even have to pay for their trips.  That program, offers 10 day free trips (for a fee, you can extend your stay to do volunteer work or more extensive travels) to Israel for Jews between the ages of 18-26.

I was not eligible for Birthright because I traveled to Israel on two educational trips with my peers in high school.  However, I had a few friends who went on Birthright trips after college.  They saw the trip both for what it was, a once in a lifetime opportunity for a free international adventure, and what it could be, a chance to meet and network with other Jewish young adults, specifically potential life partners.  For some, Birthright was their first extended time spent exclusively with other Jews, learning about their religious and cultural heritage, and engaging questions about their Jewish identity.  Studies have shown that these may be more lasting benefits than being in Israel itself.

When I first announced Shabbat Yisrael, I received an email from a (Jewish) faculty member concerned that I was promoting Birthright.  She fears that Birthright promotes a Zionist ideology and asked that I consider other ways to present perspectives on Jewishness and it’s relation to Israel.  I explained, as readers of this blog already know, that I am not a unilateral supporter of Israel.  I believe, however, that traveling to Israel and having an opportunity to see first hand both the good (the history, beautiful landscapes, kibbutzim) and the bad (the wall, settlements, guns everywhere) is essential to seeing the Israeli-Palestian situation as a real-life situation.  For that reason alone, I think Birthright is a great opportunity.  True, one of the primary missions of the program is to engage Jews from around the world with their brothers and sisters in the Israel.  But, this does not necessarily imply blind acceptance of the IDF stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

I trust that we will hear various perspectives about students’ travels to Israel.  Some will speak simply to being in a land set aside for Jewish people, a place where Hebrew is spoken and businesses are closed on Saturdays rather than Sundays.  Others will speak about the soliders they met, people their own age who are required to serve their country before heading off to college.  And some will speak of the tragic conflict that keeps everyone’s eyes and ears always open for suspicious packages and people.  We will grow from hearing all sides of their stories.


Jewish Summer Camps: “Where Fantasy Island Meets Lord of the Flies”

November 14, 2009

The subtitle of this post is taken from the book Camp Camp. The book is a follow-up to the popular Bar Mitzvah Disco which chronicles outrageous Jewish rite of passage parties held between the 1960s and 1980s. yom sport (I have mentioned BMD to some of you and promise to bring it to campus soon.)  Both books depict a Jewish world very familiar to people who have  learned the facts of life – real and romantic – on the dance floors of our own bar/bat mitzvah circuits and during long summers spent away from home.

I spent 4 1/2 summers as a camper and 3 1/2 summers on staff at a Jewish overnight, summer camp.  For many Conservative Jews from the New York tri-state area, Camp Ramah was the Jewish summer camp.  While the vast majority of my hometown was Jewish, at camp everyone was really Jewish, at camp I was immersed in Jewish life from morning davening (prayers) until we said the sh’ema in bed at night (more on this tradition another time).  We had teachers from Israel and the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York.  We used Hebrew words and phrases to refer to everything from the hadar ochel (dining hall) where we ate kosher meals, to the bet am (meeting halls) where we performed plays for one another entirely in Hebrew – one of my favorites, “Chaim & Yossi’s Excellent Adventure,” an adaptation from Bill & Ted.

Scan 1Recently, I read about the 2000-2001 National Jewish Population Survey which noted three activities that most are most successful in instilling individuals with a sense of Jewish identity.  On the list –  attending Jewish Day School, traveling to Israel, and spending time at a Jewish summer camp .  It occurs to me that this experience was for me what the Birthright trips to Israel have become for many young Jews.  College students who never attended camp are not too late.  In many ways, experiencing camp as a staffer can be better than it is as a camper.  For one think, it makes cabin raids a whole lot easier.

Learn more about working at Jewish Summer Camps @ The Foundation for Jewish Summer Camps website, where you can search for a camp by name or region.  Who knows where you might go this summer!

Birthright Study Released

November 11, 2009

This story is a few days old, but still interesting.  Hopefully it will mean good news for the future of the program.

Brandeis University Releases Research on Impact of 10-Day Educational Trip to Israel
Monday, October 26, 2009

Press Release

The Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies at Brandeis University released “Generation Birthright Israel” today, a research study attesting to the profound and long-term impact on alumni of the Taglit-Birthright Israel experience. The study, which focuses on the early rounds of the 10-year-old project, documents participants’ strengthened connection to Israel, their greater sense of belonging to the Jewish people, and their increased interest in building Jewish families.

Since its launch in 2000, the Birthright Israel organization has provided free educational trips to Israel to 220,000 Jewish young adults ages 18 to 26 from around the world. This first ever long-term study of the program shows that it is achieving its original objectives of closing the gap between Jewish young adults in the Diaspora and Israel, and strengthening participants’ sense of Jewish identity.

“In ten short years, Taglit-Birthright Israel has inspired a generation of young Jews to reconnect with Israel and the Jewish community,” said Gidi Mark, CEO of Taglit-Birthright Israel. “With tens of thousands on our waiting list, we are well on our way to establishing an educational trip to Israel as a rite of passage in the Jewish life cycle. That’s going to be the story of our second decade.”

Read the report on the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Study