The Unintended Consequences of the Success of Birthright

Published: 
October 31, 2014

Source: eJewish Philanthropy

 

In response to an article by Robbie Gringras, Andi Meiseles, North American representative for international academic affairs at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, shares his thoughts on something that has been troubling him professionally and personally for several years: the unintended consequences of the success of Birthright.

 

"… Birthright has done a wonderful job of engaging young Jews who might never have visited Israel or shown any interest in their Jewish heritage. There are serious educators and professionals involved in the endeavor, many of whom I know personally and respect deeply. It is a great first experience and has spurred many participants to return to Israel or to become more involved in Jewish life. However, a 10-day trip should not be the accepted standard in our community for engagement with Israel….

 

As my staff and I sit at study abroad fairs at universities and colleges, we experience the same scenario time and time again: An excited and enthusiastic student will approach us and the following dialogue will ensue: Student: “I LOVE Israel! I just did Birthright. ” University Rep: “Wonderful! I’m so glad you had such a great time. How about coming back and spending more time, really getting to know the country?” Student: “Been there, done that.” Literally. In those words. They can check Israel off on their list and are now off to Spain, or Kenya or Laos or any number of other exotic study abroad destinations. They have “done” Israel.

 

I worried about this phenomenon before this summer in Gaza, and I worry more now. With limited exposure to Israel, without the time to really understand the layers and complications that you have so beautifully articulated, and which take time to sort out (actually, it is impossible to sort them all out; it takes time just to identify and wrestle with these layers) students and, as you more importantly point out, dedicated Jewish communal professionals do not have the vocabulary, the personal experience, or the knowledge to grapple with all of this at a time when their voices are desperately needed on campuses.

 

Do we want our next generation to have a “been there, done that” relationship with Israel? Can we afford for them to have a relationship that is a mile wide but an inch deep? I think not.

 

I look to our community for thoughts, collaborations, solutions and suggestions.

Read the entire article at eJewish Philanthropy.

Updated: Nov. 05, 2014
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