Israel experience trips—and Taglit-Birthright Israel trips in particular— increasingly include a substantial mifgash—an “encounter” between the Diaspora Jewish visitors and Israeli peers. The aim of the present report is to improve understanding of the formal and informal components of the mifgash, as well as the significance of the experience for North American and Israeli participants.
Data for the present study were collected during the summer and fall of 2007. The study consisted of qualitative research on twenty tour groups and post-trip surveys of more than 400 Israeli participants and approximately 6,300 North American participants.
During the course of the mifgash, all trips included several formal activities focused on the interaction between the Israeli and North American participants. Formal activities typically included “ice breakers” and visits to the Mt. Herzl military cemetery and the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial. Other activities included simulations in military basic training and exercises in values clarification. Every trip concluded with a wrap-up session that included discussion of the mifgash in the context of the overall Taglit-Birthright Israel experience. During the course of the tour many intense conversations are carried out between the North American and Israeli participants. The discussions usually include exchanges of information about the lives and experiences of mifgash participants.
Meaning of the Mifgash
In the post-trip survey, the vast majority of Israeli participants indicated that the program made them feel pride— pride in service to the IDF, pride in country, and pride in being Jews. To a significant, but lesser extent, the program also made the Israelis feel connected to the Jewish people worldwide and cultivated a desire to learn more about Judaism.
Among the North Americans, the mifgash was often described as the most important component of the Taglit-Birthright Israel experience. North American participants described their Israeli hosts as effective tour guides. Further, they explained that the presence of the Israelis for a large portion of the trip enabled an authentic encounter with the “real Israel.” Finally, they described their Israeli hosts as welcoming and inspiring.
Although the mifgash is a structured encounter between individuals, it is also a meeting of Jewish worlds. The mifgash challenges the cultural identities of all its participants and enhances their sense of collective belonging to the global Jewish people…. By creating a common framework of identification, participants came to better understand not only their counterparts— but themselves as well.
- Review and modify the orientation sessions so as to better, and more efficiently, prepare Israeli participants.
- Consider how the program could better introduce Israelis to the lives and Jewish practices of the North Americans and, in so doing, serve the educational goals of Taglit-Birthright Israel.
- Extend the mifgashim to the duration of the program, as resources permit, in order to fully support the program’s impact on the Jewish identities and motivations of the Israeli participants.
(From the Executive Summary)