}

Lishtot

goldstarThere’s a bit of confusion in the comments to Michael’s post over what, if anything, is wrong with Birthright. Many commentors suggest that there’s some kind of rift between those who want to drink and have fun and those more geeky types who want a spiritual, educational, guidance-counselor-approved experience. As I see it, that’s not it at all. I’ve been some geeky places, and from Stuyvesant High School to the University of Chicago to doctoral programs, barring religious objection, people drink. Not Momo’s “drink, don’t get drunk,” but, you know, to get drunk. That’s life. Certainly among those 18 and over, the divide between “good” kids and “party” kids hardly exists. College has a way of making sure even the most nerdy kids get a bit debauched. And that’s generally for the best. I, for one, was relieved that Birthright permitted discussion of Theodor Herzl as well as some opportunities to enjoy the beer, but not just beer, but brands of beer that only exist because of his vision. Would there be Goldstar or Maccabee without Herzl? Not a chance.

The problem with many Birthright participants’ behavior is frattish idiocy, which sometimes includes seeing the trip as primarily about drinking (as in, being in Israel only because you can drink under 21 and in public), but also plenty of behavior that has nothing to do with alcohol, such as dressing boringly and identically and burping aggressively, even when sober. To quote the estimable Cher Horowitz, “It is one thing to spark up a doobie and get laced at parties, but it is quite another to be fried all day.” The message is as follows: despite what Woody Allen and Allen Bloom would have you believe, Jews are not, by and large, more intelligent or intellectual than everyone else. Without ghetto insularity enhanced by anti-Semitism, we’re a normal nation (in Israel) or a bunch of loud, obnoxious frat types (ahem, in America). That, and Asians are the new Jews. Really, we’re nothing special these days. It’s for the best, it means we’ve made it.

The problem with the Birthright form of debauchery, then, is that, due to the oh-so-safe, keep everyone from meeting anyone outside the bus attitude of the trips, the club nights end up being frat parties transferred to Israel. Again, this is not an issue of those who party versus those who’d rather drink Sprite and discuss Star Trek. I’m sure many Birthright participants would find it both fun and educational to, say, go to an actual bar where some of the other people were actual Israelis with no affiliation with Birthright whatsoever.

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13 Comments

  1. Laya

    2/19/2007 at 4:40 am

    “I’m sure many Birthright participants would find it both fun and educational to, say, go to an actual bar where some of the other people were actual Israelis with no affiliation with Birthright whatsoever.”

    I’m hoping that by would find you meant DID find, or have you forgotten that we took you guys out on the town to a quite alleyway with half a dozen chill, hip bars to choose from, all filled with actual Israelis.

    My, how quickly they forget!

    What has not been mentioned also is the fact that for about 12+ hours each day we are moving, hiking, traveling, talking, touring, learning etc., and at all times during the day drinking is not allowed.

    The fact that after that, participants still have the energy to stay up and drink is something I will never understand.

    It may be interesting to note that originally birthright had an all out no-drinking rule (probably in part to prevent people from walking away with impressions like these), but soon realized that it is unreasonable to tell adults that they can’t end the day with a beer.

    Truthfully though, the problem is not with birthright but with the state of American college culture.

  2. Joel

    2/19/2007 at 11:28 am

    Yasher koach to you on this post. When I returned to Israel last June, the El Al flight was filled with the frat dick Birthright kids. I almost got into a fist fight with one asshole when he wouldn’t sit down during landing. He was drunk on duty free vodka.

    I hope to send my son on Birthright next summer. I also hope I can get him on a trip where he will interact with Israeli kids and not with American scumbags.

  3. John

    2/19/2007 at 11:36 am

    Some people on Birthright might be in recovery. Booze-centered trips aren’t for everyone. It’s the land of MILK and honey. Here’s some resources for those folks that might want to check out an AA meeting while on Birthright – lots of English speaking meetings. http://www.aa-israel.org

  4. phoebe

    2/19/2007 at 12:02 pm

    Laya: I missed one bar night, which is probably what you’re referring to. Apologies–I suppose I was in fact too tired from all the hiking.

    Joel: With feelings like those about American versus Israeli kids, it might be worth moving to Israel. At least, this was my feeling when there.

  5. themiddle

    2/19/2007 at 12:28 pm

    American college culture also contains plenty of thoughtful, sober students. There are schmucks everywhere and based on my experience in other parts of the world, there are places where people easily drink most Americans under the table.

    Phoebe, I’m not sure what you expect from Birthright. If you want to meet Israelis, the point of this trip is to introduce you and people who might be far less familiar than you to Israel as a state and a country in a very tight time frame. It’s supposed to be an introduction to a place with the explicit and stated goal that many who attend will subsequently seek to develop the relationship with Israel further. If you want to meet more Israelis, you go back and travel on your own and meet them.

    Even if this program had more instances of interaction with Israelis, you would probably then tell us that these are contrived since after all, the situations will have pre-planned and the participants chosen by someone else or else belonging to a self-selecting group who want to hang out with frat-like Americans. Ooops, you’re not all frat-like Americans, I forgot.

    If I were running this program, I would revert to the no-alcohol-allowed rules, but I have to be honest and say that blaming alcohol or the tight schedule for eliminating the opportunity to do what actually would take you weeks and months of living in Israel – to meet the native Israelis in their own environment and in their natural state – is simply unrealistic.

  6. Grand Muffti

    2/19/2007 at 12:48 pm

    Amen to the middle. This post was funny the first time when Michael put it up with what Muffti assumes were ironic intentions. As a serious discussion, however, it seems simply inane. You offer whoever wants it a free trip to Israel and you schedule stuff for them, but then you get mad when they behave in ways that are familiar in a non-familiar place?

    Look, the age group you are targetting are college kids who, appologies to the exceptions, want to get wasted and laid. Obviously there are other opportunities for advancement but as middle points out, it is the extraordianry person who is going to be able to see why meeting israelis and the like on a trip that ends in a few days is more worthwile than, well, getting drunk and laid in perhaps one of the more easy forums yo will encounter. ‘Specailly, if the stories muffti hears are true, with Momo giving you advice regarding how to take off jewish girl’s bras.

  7. ramon marcos

    2/19/2007 at 9:43 pm

    “Specailly, if the stories muffti hears are true, with Momo giving you advice regarding how to take off jewish girl’s bras.”

    Damn… I thought there was that extra hidden clasp on jewish bras.

    I also remember them not burning as easily as gentile bras.

  8. VJ

    2/20/2007 at 6:20 am

    What no U of Chicago drinking tales, Phoebe?! But this all gets back to the same basic marketing proposition. How do you make the trip memorable for the chosen audience? Drinking and sex would seem to be the natural answers here. Associate the trip with good youthful feelings. This need not always have to do with drink & debauchery, but just enough around the edges has always proved useful in selling the final product. It’s a time honored tradition. One even the usually dour ‘Chicago boys’ would understand. Cheers & Good Luck! ‘VJ’

  9. JSinger

    2/20/2007 at 4:56 pm

    Ehhh, I addressed this last year. Michael’s response was a bit prescient.

  10. Stuart D.

    2/21/2007 at 12:21 am

    If sex and drinking are the natural answers to why anyone wants to go on Birthright, there’s a difference between letting it happen in some hotel hospitality suite at the end of the day and selling it as part of a Hebrew Cancun from word of mouth. I don’t think anyone’s selling that way intentionally on your end, but you’ve got to watch that this isn’t the buzz you’re getting from the khaki clones. You’ve also got to factor in sleep deprivation: little sleep on a flight, 12+ hours of shlepping, and successive nights of 4-5 hours sleep’s going to produce either zombies or hyper-wired folks.

    For what it’s worth, I went on a JUF Mission in the 90’s and our first day, we had a party at a Tel Aviv area condo complex with some Israeli singles. I have fond memories of dancing to techno with a woman, and her trying to ask me in English if I was leaving with my group or not but not quite following what she was saying. If I’d known as much Hebrew (such as it is) then that I’d known now, life might be very different. Of course, I was 29, not 21. And we know there’s a world of diffrence between 29 and 21.

    Although I would LOVE to see the culture shock of throwing some of those khaki creatures into a hardcore Israeli club like Plaka in Tel Aviv. The reaction of the Mizrahi guys would be priceless. Not that many of the arsim Amerikaim would enjoy the experience.

  11. Jewish Mother

    2/21/2007 at 4:24 pm

    PHoebe, NOBODY has addressed the fascinating philosophic issues you raise.

    We ARE permanently different, even though we have made it, and have Israel, and college, and beer and etc.

    The whole point of birthright, as far as I can tell, is to stop being cringe-y about being Jewish.

    It seems to work for a lot of people. Middle is SO right.

    The college culture you describe is SO tyrannical. What if you want to be reasonable about alcohol, and all that? I guess not everyone has the guts to resist the pressures. But there is no call to be stupid, just because you are in college, or in prison, or in the supermarket, or whatever. It is better to have no friends than no self-respect, right? None of that stuff is consequence-less.

    It is all a marriage-killer.

    Phoebe, do you resent the wholesomeness? What is wrong with wholesomeness? It can always be reclaimed, with effort. Then we get dignity, happiness and a future. Why not insist on all three as a natural … birthright?

    We have a RIGHT to a future, and kids, and a nice spouse, who can be trusted, and doesn’t act dumb or bad. Birthright may help with all that. Just saying.

  12. Jewish Mother

    2/21/2007 at 6:18 pm

    What I meant was, being unconventional is now so conventional, that it takes real guts to be what used to be called conventional. It is this conventional unconventionality that is making Michael so sick, or that is my impression. I am not sure what Tzofia would say, but I think she would agree.

    Phoebe doesn’t sound crazy about it either, but she seems to think it is hopeless to oppose such fierce forces, if I understand her correctly.

    I say baloney. Rage against the machine.

  13. VJ

    2/22/2007 at 3:51 am

    JM, This has not much directly to do with Birthright, but I note this in passing:

    ‘We have a RIGHT to a future, and kids, and a nice spouse, who can be trusted, and doesn’t act dumb or bad.’ As Don Adams would say, ‘Would you settle for any 3 of the 6?’ But hey, I’m an optimist! Cheers & Good Luck! ‘VJ’

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