Phoebe and a hoeMuch of the point of events geared at young American Jews– “young” loosely defined as 14 to menopause— is the production of Jewish babies. Such a goal, however worthy one considers Jewish continuity, can be a bit of a turn-off to those Jews wishing to learn about some aspect of Judaism (the Hebrew language, Jewish history, Israeli politics, etc.) but not, for whatever reasons, looking. Check out a 92nd Street Y or JCC catalog, and you will soon understand that “Jewish events” are “Jewish singles’ events,” not in the sense that people meet one another all over the place, but in a very specific, planned, manner. Jewish talks and classes are often geared towards dating and marriage, or, at the very least, some kind of wallowing in singledom.

Birthright Israel is no exception: as Oranim head honcho Momo Lifshitz makes abundantly clear, “It’s all about the love.” Not the love that spontaneously occurs between two people who just happen to have met on the subway, at a party, or even on Jdate or Birthright; not the forbidden love of someone of the “wrong” sex or ethnicity; but the highly-encouraged, stamped-kosher love of a boy and a girl who, after hearing Momo’s charismatic speech, seeking out some form of pseudoparental approval (many of our actual parents do, in fact, just want us to be happy), and duly hook up. After endless hours of travel, when the newly-arrived Oranim kids sat hungry and exhausted in an auditorium, Momo criticized a group of us for sitting “girl, girl, girl, girl,” rather than “girl, boy, girl, boy.” We were, in other words, instructed not to waste any time. Momo also let us know that any couple who marries after meeting on one of these trips will receive a free honeymoon in Israel. A friend of mine at NYU said she’d been discussing my trip with some people while I was away, and that they’d been joking that we get some kind of material incentives to marry or reproduce. She was surprised to learn that this is the truth.

After Momo’s initial words, what followed were, interspersed with an otherwise exciting (certainly for those of us long-obsessed with Zionism) and educational trip through Israel, various attempts at encouraging American Jewish undergrads to couple off in scenery familiar to them. At club night events in both Tel Aviv and Eilat, the Oranim groups interacted with few Israelis, had little sense of being in Israel as opposed to, say, Naperville, Illinois, wore North Face, striped-button-down-shirts, or stiletto-designer jeans combos seen everywhere in the US, and basically recreated American frat parties, except that whichever babies or STDs resulted would be Jewish babies or STDs, goddamn it!

The problem with Birthright (or at least the version I experienced) as it currently exists is the level of desperation. One can’t help but wonder, if Israel’s such a great country, then why do people have to pay us to go visit it? If Jewish women are so beautiful, as Momo keeps insisting, then why do Jewish men have to be told to notice this? As I see it, Israel’s existence is incredible, much of Israel itself is gorgeous, Jews are no better- or worse-looking than any other group of people on the planet, while Israelis are, arguably, better-looking than others, thanks to some combination of salad-consumption, sun, and time in the IDF. But constant, in-your-face nagging that you’d better like Israel, that you better not fall to the temptation of non-Jews (implication being, non-Jews are more attractive but it’s a sacrifice we must make…), is off-putting enough to make those who previously had no feelings either way run off to become (as did George Costanza, much to his mother’s chagrin) Latvian Orthodox.

So what’s the alternative?

Visiting Israel is an amazing experience if you know the history of the state and something about the Diaspora history preceding the state’s creation. Give the Birthright participants a sense of this history (something our tour guide, Yael, did an incredible job of), and do not specifically prevent hook-ups from occurring along the way, but do not repeat, again and again, that this is your reason for being in Israel. College and graduate school are not specifically about sex and marriage, but plenty of those result from both. So let Birthright be the same.

Either the goal of Jewish life is to allow and encourage those who want to take part to do so–this involves religious and cultural activities as well as defending Israel and the Jewish people–or it is to make more Jews, period. Some would say both. I would say it ought to be the former–I care very much that Jews are able to exist peacefully and freely as such both in Israel and in the Diaspora, and part of freedom is the freedom to decide how much you care if your descendants are Jews. Jews in America are not free if we feel compelled to produce Jewish offspring merely to stick it to the anti-Semites, then and now. And moreover, among the non-observant, the only way to ensure with any degree of certitude that you will have Jewish offspring who will, in turn, do the same, is to leave New Rochelle or Brooklyn or Skokie and–get this–move to Israel. I’ve made this point before, but here goes:

In America, there is no way, short of living in a closed, strictly orthodox community, to guarantee that your children will fall in love with only other Jews. Nor should there be–the beauty of America is that everyone, regardless of ethnicity, can be an American. So if you think it’s beautiful when an American man of Chinese ancestry marries a woman who recently immigrated from Ghana, you should find it equally charming when a man whose ancestors hail from the Pale of Settlement runs off with a Peruvian-American woman (or man, for that matter). If, on the other hand, you think it’s great that America does things this way, but you’d prefer to do things another way, if you believe that the Jewish people as a distinctive people must continue to exist, you have a choice: become ultra-orthodox and pray that your children don’t think to do otherwise, or move to Israel. Those are the options. Once we accept this, we can start having Jewish events that are not singles’ events, we can stop obsessing over why all those Jewish men on the Upper West Side seem so keen on Asian women, we can get rid of the neurotic cultural Judaism of Rhoda Morgenstern (obscure reference? think Woody Allen but female) and we can allow both religious and national forms of Judaism to flourish.

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  • Not much to say about the article but loved this line:

    “One can’t help but wonder, if Israel’s such a great country, then why do people have to pay us to go visit it?”

  • “if Israel’s such a great country, then why do people have to pay us to go visit it?”

    And why are so many Israeli’s trying to, and getting, out? And it ain’t the grass is greener thang, because I don’t see the same thing occuring in Canada.

    “Jews are no better- or worse-looking than any other group of people on the planet,”

    Actually, Jews in muck, specifically the female kind that populate all ads promoting Israel, do seem to arouse, ahem, an “advantage” of sorts over our non-jewish sisters.

    I don’t know why we even bother with the Jerusalem and Haifa pixs. Just focus on the dead sea photos and we’ll ensure a healthy enrollment at Aish for years to cum…I mean come.

  • Oh Phoebe… you had 2 sessions with Momo, both of which lasted less than an hour. You had ten days with Yael and Laya and me and 4 days with 7 really nice Israeli soldiers. We weren’t telling you anything like what you described. We were just sharing our passions with you – Israel and the Jewish people. I think we treated all the participants like adults and allowed you to make up your own minds about Jewish stuff. Israel is a great country and we want people to know about it – we’re just helping the process along by facilitating the giving of a gift – birthright israel – given to you by people who also want to share their passions. As for Momo, well… he’s a selfish, selfish man. He has children and he hopes to have grandchildren and he just wants them all to grow up in a world where Israel remains a viable entity and where Judaism is vibrant, diverse and alive. You don’t have to be ultra-orthodox to assure such continuity, but being in touch with your Jewish identity, contemplating it and having fond feelings for this crazy project called Israel are all good steps in the right direction. You’ll understand this better when you too get the chance to lead your own birthright israel trip.

    Believe me, we didn’t pay you to come to Israel. Your coming to Israel was something that benefited us all – me personally as I got to relive my first experiences in Israel as an adult through you, the state of Israel who will benefit from your more enlightened support, both political and financial, and the Jewish people to whom you are now more enlightened members.

  • Such a rollercoaster of emotions you put me on, Phoebe. I started out feeling quite young, per your definition of 14 through menopause (a demographic I can get behind; so inclusive). Then you shot me down by indicating that Rhoda Morganstern could be considered an obscure reference. Rhoda was just cancelled a couple of years ago, right. OK, a couple of decades ago, but what’s the diff? Yeah, I’m old.

  • First off- This is a true critique and Pheobe isn’t the only one who feels this way. Many people describe some of the major birthright providers to be match making services. There is very little interaction with Israelis besides the tour guide, medic and soliders for a few days.

    CK- Please explain this line where Judaism is vibrant, diverse and alive Are you saying Judaism is vibrant, diverse and alive in Israel? If so I would beg to differ. If not we are cool.

  • I enjoyed many aspects of the trip, and am of course grateful to you, Laya, Yael, and others for making that possible. I think it was clear from my post that I was extremely excited to finally see Israel as an adult.

    Thing is, as for this post in particular, Laya suggested I write a post specifically on Birthright and intermarriage, which explains why the Momo sessions came to mind more than did, say, the visit to Independence Hall or floating in the Dead Sea, both of which were, obviously, quite fabulous. While not every aspect of the trip was centered around intermarriage prevention, the final meeting with Momo, during which he specifically asked participants if they dated non-Jews or if they planned to raise Jewish children, may not have lasted long, but was rather disturbing, as though you’d somehow failed as a participant if you didn’t proudly state exactly what he wanted to hear on subjects that are highly complex and, as one girl he cornered pointed out, personal decisions.

    The point I’m making, partially but not entirely about Birthright, is that I take issue with the emphasis on singles, relationships, babies, and so forth, that has a tendency to overwhelm many Jewish projects and organizations, making it more difficult to even remember why Judaism is something worth keeping around. I’m writing, believe it or not, from a highly pro-Israel viewpoint here–I just think there are some problems with the way American Jewish communities and organizations approach certain issues.

  • In my defense, I only suggested it because I knew phoebe had very strong feelings on the matter, and strong feelings tend to translate into good post and good discussions.

    That having been said, I don’t want anyone to get the idea that the whole trip is one big guilt trip. Far from it. The Momo sessions were 2 hours in 10 days. And Momo is, well, Momo. He’s a character to say the least. I don’t agree with everything he says, but what can you do. I just hope that ck, Yael and myself also had impact.

    I do, however, agree with Phoebe’s reasoning that if you really want reasonable assurance your kids and their kids will marry Jewish, if that is even important to you, the options are get religious or move to the Jewish state. Statistically speaking.

  • Phoebe, I don’t know if you have a Hebrew name. Your name is Greek for “Sun”, a vibrant name, all right. If you don’t, maybe you want to be Zahava, which I think means Golden, which is like the sun.

    That’s a gorgeous picture. Beautiful.

    CK, do I have the Hebrew right?

    I don’t mean to walk around with a new name, just to have it in reserve, as an important part of you, an essence.

    As for babies, well, everybody was a baby once. It’s no crime.

  • This is a disappointing post. It’s a shame that people perceive malice where there is none.

    Why do you think, Phoebe, that they paid for you to come to Israel?

  • Best advice about promoting any ‘ism comes from a Jon-Kabat-Zinn concerning meditation. I’ll paraphrase: The next time you get the urge to talk about the wonders of meditation, do you and everyone else a favor, go meditate some more.

  • I don’t know this Phoebe, but she’s doing something right when she’s got themiddle and ck sounding like UJA staff.

  • Oh hush. I’m pretty sure Phoebe loved her trip and frankly I liked her critiques. It sure beats “Oh my God! The trip was awesome! I Love you all and I miss Israel sooo much! I can’t wait to go back and spend like a month… in Eilat…” It’s frank talk like hers that makes people like Laya and I and all of those involved at birthright work even harder to make the trips even better.

    Balaam’s Donkey: Statistically Skokie’s a blip. Laya’s point remains valid and unchallenged.

    Jewish Mother: Your Hebrew is correct. I don’t know how you think the way you do or how you manage to come up with the ideas you come up with but two points: 1) Don’t stop. 2) whatever it is you’re on, I want some.

    Pissed Off Liberal Jew: Yeah, I stand by what I said. Gimme a call next time you’re in Israel and I’ll show you. But first we’ll drink a whole bunch of Arak with Michael… I’ll show you vibrant and diverse…

    shtreimel: UJA staff? That was you wasn’t it? So I guess you would know. I personally have no idea what UJA staff sound like ever since they put out that restraining order on me forbidding me from getting within 50 feet of either Stanley Plotnick or Westbury Ave. Merde.

  • BTW Phoebe…it was my first trip to Israel where I was told, over and over and over again, about how moving and spiritual the “Wall” will be. It wasn’t. My spiritual epiphany occured in Banff…on CP railway lines surrounded by Elk and snow capped mountains. And when I shared this with my trip leaders, they shook their heads in pity.

    If Israel can’t sell itself, it’s doomed. The less we act like car salesman, the better for everyone.

  • “ever since they put out that restraining order on me forbidding me from getting within 50 feet of either Stanley Plotnick or Westbury Ave. Merde.”

    You being serious?

  • shtreimel, come on back around. While we can’t guarantee you inspiration, we have a pretty good track record for showing folks a damn good time.

  • Laya…I’m too old 😉 Been there done that. I love Mea Shearim, and Jews protecting themselves fills me with awe and pride. Still, I always felt like a stranger during my trips to Israel (been there 3 times).

  • shtreimel: Hell yeah I’m serious. Why do you think I moved to Israel? Barbara Plotnick carries a baseball bat in the trunk of her Mercedes in case she ever comes across me. Yoine Goldstein put a contract out on me. Sylvain Abitbol arranged for a Pulsa Denura against me.

    I’m kidding you retard. None of those people know me from a hole in the wall. Even a wall that’s less inspiring than Banff. Sheesh.

  • Puhleeze, Shtreimel, they “can’t sell” themselves because of the conflict. People hear “Barbados” and they think sun and fun, they hear “Israel” and they think conflict.

  • Too old? You thought I meant for birthright? What? You’d only be willing to come on a free trip?

    And dude, I feel like a stranger in a very strange land here most of the time myself. That’s no crime, I’m a westerner. It will always be foreign to me in many ways, but that’s part of the fun.

    Nonetheless, you spoilsport. The offer stands.

  • Hey, I never said her point wasn’t valid. I’m in complete agreement with phoebe, I just think skokie is a crappy example.

    But none of this should be surprising. You take a program of this magnitude, and you’re going to have a whole host of overlapping and/or conflicting agendas. From what I’ve been told, b-right follow-up in NY has been an example of this.

    While I’m sure many birthright trips don’t lay it on this thick, offering this kind of criticism seems to be like pointing out the obvious. This shit has been happening for years, and will continue to.

    What about the fact that this trip wasn’t developed as a vehicle for stimulating Israel advocacy on campus, but it inevitably can turn into that? I’ve lost count of how many friends had the experience (in addition to the trip I staffed) who are told during their ten days that they are now duty-bound to come home and sound the trumpets on behalf of Israel on their campuses. Couple that with the fact that post-trip studies ave indicated that up to half of birthright participants come home feeling that they are qualified to explain the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Cuz, you know, all you need is a ten day tourist trip and a few awesome seminars with Neil Lazarus to make sure you know it all.

    That’s a separate rant that I didn’t intend to come out, but as an educator, I am astounded by all of the messages, implicit or otherwise, that get communicated to these jet-lagged youngstahs.

    (By the way, while staffing birthright, I actually witnessed the aforementioned Lazarus explain to 500 college students, using visual aids, that Yassir Arafat intentionally wore his kaffiyeh so that it was shaped like the state of Israel. I then watched most of these students eat it up. Am I the only one who thinks that’s crazy?)

  • You’re right Phoebe, that is a hoe! At first I thought you guys were playing some strange Birthright version of floor hockey but then I put on my glasses.

    Shtreimel, I was thinking about your comparison between the Wall and Banff. I’m with you on Banff – some years ago we drove up in winter, hit Banff just after sunset. Fills your heart. Next day drove around Lake Louise. Overcast, just magnificant. Overpowering…

    A couple years ago on a mountaintop in the Pireneos. Bitterly cold, completely silent except for the a few cowbells. Standing eye level with snowcapped mountains… no doubt about it, G-d existed. I couldn’t imagine that people lived where I was standing and got to feel like that every day.

    First time I chanted Torah in front of a congregration. Made me want to do it again and again. Who’da thunk?

    My point is that all these epiphanies happened when I wasn’t expecting it. I’m sure people weren’t pre-ordaining your emotions at Banff the way your Israel trip leaders were attempting to at the Wall. You sound like my kind of rebel – the more you tell me how I’m supposed to feel the more I won’t.

    But I’m guessing your trip leaders were just doing their job. Next time you go to the Wall, put Banff and the expectations others have put on it out of your mind and see what happens. I know when I go I won’t be thinking of the Pireneos or my hebrew school teachers.

  • It seems to me a fair exchange to have to attend a couple of hours of somebody bugging you about marrying Jewish or subsequently hoping that you will feel positive enough about your experience to speak publicly about it FOR A FREE TRIP TO ISRAEL. This discussion is insane!

  • I frankly fail to see how my tendency towards substance abuse and love for the devil anise qualify as vibrant and diverse Judaism. I feel anybody seeking that will fail to find it at the bottom of an arak bottle. I can, however, promise vibrant and diverse cussing, and plenty of giggling.

  • I can vouch for vibrant & diverse cussing & giggling eminating from Michael’s room. :-p

    Yo, Phoebe. Oyster Negiah here. A question for you. Did you want Momo to ask us some cream-puff questions? Whether you agree or not, assimilation is a very real and serious problem for American Jewry. So should he have asked us about our favorite place in Israel, or our favorite food? Momo asked us tough questions, because we were all adults, and we should expect nothing less. If Momo just said, “hope you had fun, boys & girls!” that would be most un-Israeli and patronizing of him.

    I also disagree with a premise of your argument that the only way that you can insure that your children will marry Jewish is to – get this – move to Israel. Yeah, because intermarriage never happens in Israel. Only Jews live in Israel; everybody knows that! And it is never the case that secular Israelis move abroad, and marry a non-Jew. It is more complicated than that, I’m a-feared.

    I mostly agree with laya’s dictum. There are examples of secular Jewish life sustaining itself historically, but only when the other facets of Jewish civilization aside from religion (education, literature, language, culture, neighborhood) are adequately maintained. That is effectively what secular Israel consists of. The Jewish nationhood re-established, sans religiosity.

  • I’m with Shreimel – the best way to eliminate the ickier “Jewish-singles-activity” aspects of Birthright is to open it up to alter kackers like us…

    Phoebeleh: how many of your friends would go on a tour that WASN’T limited by age to the singles crowd?

  • Great post, Phoebe.

    themiddle: Making people sit through a speech they aren’t interested in to get a free vacation is how timeshares are sold. Is that really how you want to sell people on Judaism?

    I could be reading it wrong, but I think the post wasn’t about birthright per se, but about the Jewish community’s tendency to turn every event into a meet market. It can be frustrating to look for meaningful Jewish experiences and find that they’re all secretly a way to get you to perpetuate the Jewish people.

    Intermarriage is the symptom of bigger problems, and turning the community into a singles service treats the symptoms while allowing those bigger issues to fester or get worse.

  • David: The speeches were about more than just trying to get the kids to bump booties with fellow Jews or Jewesses. Momo addressed a number of things, like making it a point to thank the people who paid for the trip – the government and people of Israel, the philanthropists and the Federations. It was also an opportunity to run through the various rules regarding the trip – ie no drinking, no leaving the group etc. The last speech was also taken up by people getting up and saying what they felt about the trip and how it affected them. People were also encouraged to voice criticism too, and some did. PLEASE don’t walk away from this post thinking birthright israel is just about birthright booty. We spent 10 exhausting days touring the country and learning about all its facets. There was a bit of Judaism thrown in too but despite the few parties we went to, it was mostly “Here’s Israel. What do you think?”

  • themiddle:
    “This is a disappointing post. It’s a shame that people perceive malice where there is none. Why do you think, Phoebe, that they paid for you to come to Israel?”

    Sorry you’re disappointed. I do not perceive malice, just misguidedness. I don’t know if you’re asking why I think I was paid, or why you think it was that people paid me, but to reiterate what it was I meant, it’s that, by its very nature, Birthright is a paradox–it’s meant to show how great Israel is, yet it is sending you there for free, which suggests there is something undesirable about the place.

    “It seems to me a fair exchange to have to attend a couple of hours of somebody bugging you about marrying Jewish or subsequently hoping that you will feel positive enough about your experience to speak publicly about it FOR A FREE TRIP TO ISRAEL. This discussion is insane!”

    The discussion is not insane in the least, but is one we need to be having. Judaism as a dating service should be, at the very least, challenged. And the idea that one should be so grateful for the free trip that one does not dare to critique anything about it, or about goals of the American Jewish community more generally, is preposterous.

    oyster:

    “Whether you agree or not, assimilation is a very real and serious problem for American Jewry.”

    How can you tell me it’s a problem, “[w]hether [I] agree or not”? As I make clear, I do not believe that assimilation is the problem, rather an overemphasis on breeding for breeding’s sake (an off-putting thought to anyone with half a brain) rather than reaching out to those interested in religious or national aspects of Judaism and for god’s sake letting people who want to do any number of things with their lives that you would classify simply as “assimilation” be free to do so. I’m not saying Momo should provide fluff, but that his non-fluffy remarks are in fact counterproductive and, well, wrong. Fluffy is better than wrong.

  • “Birthright is a paradox–it’s meant to show how great Israel is, yet it is sending you there for free, which suggests there is something undesirable about the place.”

    It’s so obvious, yet lost on so many. And this isn’t the only example…During my dreary years as Jewish communal professional, I attended a plethora of committee meetings with folks who would never dream of doing the things they were teaching and promoting. Of course, we were funded by wealthy lay folks who provided funding for OTHER people to do what they would never do either. A nice dysfunctional team.

  • Phoebe’s vision of eroticism– as quirky, right-brain, unpredicable, occasionally transgressive, resistant to script, life-affirmingly individual– must be opposed at all costs.

  • Dave and Phoebe, there are plenty of activities in the Jewish community that are not “meet” markets. This program is about trying to have people connect with Israel and reconnect with their heritage. It seems perfectly normal to discuss intermarriage and even to be critical of it in this environment.

    Also, with respect to why they’ve given you this trip, it’s because so many Jews, especially young ones, have become disconnected from their heritage and from Israel. Also, let’s face it, the news about Israel doesn’t often show the many beautiful things you saw. Quite the opposite. Finally, I don’t know your circumstances but when I was in the Birthright age group, I had very limited resources and if I wanted to travel to Israel, it would have been challenging. In this regard you should also consider that if this trip was offered to people in their 30s, I would guess there would be no talk about intermarriage. You folks are at a ripe age…

  • “I take issue with the emphasis on singles, relationships, babies, and so forth, that has a tendency to overwhelm many Jewish projects and organizations, making it more difficult to even remember why Judaism is something worth keeping around.”

    I don’t think this has to be true, that a singles target for an event obscures why it is (or isn’t, depending on who you ask) important to be Jewish. I think that’s something that people decide before they go to a singles event–do they go to speed dating at Aish, or through 8minutedating? Do they go see a movie at the Angelika or at Makor? Sometimes the venue makes the difference, but the person always chooses which venue.

    TM, If birthright were offered to people in their 30s, as long as they were single, I believe that intermarriage would still be an issue of discussion. In fact, as we age and remain single, there are those among us who wonder not why it is important for we ourselves to remain Jewish, because we probably have come to terms or are coming to terms with that personal commitment. But if the choice is going through life alone or marrying out (whether it’s because of all those UWS men marrying Asian women that Phoebe was talking about or just because people fear commitment and change)…well, some people might be inclined to consider all of their options.

    There is much to discuss here. Clearly.

  • To say that Birthright isn’t about intermarriage completely ignores the history of it. Yes, it tries to reconnect Jews to their heritage and to the Jewish people. But Birthright came about because after the 1990 NJPS everybody flipped at the intermarriage numbers, and the data also showed that the best predictor of whether or not someone would intermarry, in terms of activities, was whether they had been to Israel. A wealthy benefactor read that as saying a trip to Israel made someone less likely to intermarry, and decided to buy everyone a trip to Israel. I know people aren’t berated with that message on the trip, but it was the still the original motivation.

    I don’t live in New York, where I imagine that the large concentration of Jews gives you a better long tail of Jewish programming, but in the smaller (by comparison) Jewish communities where I’ve been, Young Adult Programming is a code word for “how can we introduce you to other Jewish singles.” I’ve talked with lay leaders who are very up front about this – they are terrified about intermarriage and are constantly trying to think of ways to prevent it (just not very innovative ones). The problem is that it’s very alienating to people who aren’t interested in it, who want to get something more out of their Jewish experiences.

    To support Phoebe again, making Birthright free changes the dynamic of the trip entirely. If Israel and being Jewish is so wonderful, why won’t people tolerate costs, even small ones, associated with it? One of the reasons trips to Israel were so strongly correlated with intermarriage is because a trip to Israel was one of the costliest signals of a commitment to Judaism. I could go on and on with a list of reasons why making something like that free sends strange signals, but its tangential to this discussion.

    Saying that assimilation or intermarriage is a problem for its own sake is ludicrous. It’s only a problem if you see something about Judaism that makes it worthwhile, and that assimilation or intermarriage will make that go away. And in that case, the problem isn’t intermarriage, it’s the loss of that value, and that’s what needs to be communicated. People will intermarry or resist assimilation when they see the value in doing so, not just to perpetuate the people.

    Per schtreimel’s comment, I know lots of professionals in the Jewish community with the same experience. Communal institutions have very poor governance and oversight about how money is spent and what the returns are for it.

  • implication being, non-Jews are more attractive but…

    I don’t know, maybe that was their implication. On the other hand, I think most non-ultra-zealous religious groups in the US are feeling twinges of desperation or at least dwindling numbers, as so many young adults affilliate with Convenient Consumerism more than anything.

    (side note to Jewish Mother, I did write back to you about cooking and affiliating… always curious about your ideas, and your lentil soup recipe.)

    Myself I haven’t even looked at the 92nd st Y link, as the twinges of jealousy (for all those activities I have no time for until dissertation-baby arrives anyway) might be too much!

  • Dave, you kinda have to go to Israel once before you see the value the next time around, no? The free trip is supposed to develop this relationship which then will be further developed by the attendees of the program. It makes a great deal of sense, particularly in a North American Jewish culture that is predominantly disengaged from direct contact with Israel.

  • Esther, you may recall our conversations about that shomeret negiyah woman and I spoke out that perhaps as one becomes older, this should be considered a viable option.

  • Hi, I am another Dave weighing in here.

    I am so fed up of hearing about trying to reach out to Jewish people and get them interested in Judaism. Look, they are adults or semi-adults. If either 1) we are doing a bad job of “selling” them on Judaism
    or 2) they don’t really want to participate
    the Leave them alone. Screw ’em!
    I can assure you that there are millions of Non-Jews out there who would be interested in becoming Jewish, but we’re not open enough or brave enough to Welcome them.
    Or if we told them what Judaism is really all about.
    Gee, gosh, maybe we’re afraid of getting swamped by them. Guess they might dilute the old Yiddish heimland or something, lol !
    And gosh, gee whiz, most of those are brown, or yellow, or black and live in the 3rd world ! I guess we’re too racist to be able to cope. Some of us unfortunately think that those people just want to move to Israel and get perks. I am sorry that some of us are so cynical.
    We have a great spiritual “product” but we drown it in Yiddish culture/ Sephardic culture/ pop culture, to the point where it is irrecognizable for what it is- a religious faith for crying out loud ! A Universal faith. A world religion. Something that can speak to all humanity. Instead we’re hiding this precious jewel under a barrel !
    And it is a wonderful Spiritual heritage !
    Available to All Mankind ! If we have the courage in believing in Judaism as a faith and Acting in Consequence, we can even “win” the numbers game.

    Sorry, I am sounding so disillusioned. I am hoping to get someone’s attention.

  • OK folks, when’s the last time anyone of you have been to a doctor’s office. Not the clinic (sorry), but a nice city/suburban Jewish doctor’s office. (Are there any other kind)? Now I want you to look at the people around you. Notice them. The sick, the dying, the suffering. Now scan the place. See that bright looking blonde cutie in the corner? Notice her? Looks healthy enough, right? She’s got what? Yes, a suitcase on wheels. Who’s she? She’s the drug rep from one of the Big Pharma companies. She & her company will pay for lunch for the entire office today just to give a 10-15 Min. spiel on her samples she’s leaving behind. All told, several 1000 dollars spent to promote her cause, selling more of her firms drugs. The office will typically get a visit almost every other day from one of these firms.

    This is how I imagine Birthright got set up, using the world’s oldest & most successful motivation device: bribery. Don’t knock it. It’s been working in business & personal relations for untold millennia. Now as Dave notes, the motivation behind this movement may have been a piece of statistical correlation with intermarriage that may indeed Not have been the determinate of the desired action. (I’d have to see the survey, but here again ‘correlation is not causation’ is a by word to consider). This is to say that there are probably a multiple number of reasons why people marry in the faith, traveling to Israel was just an ‘adjunct’ common denominator I suspect. We can agree a fortunate one in most respects too, I’ll add.

    Phoebe makes some excellent points in her post & reply as do Esther & others. If it was all about the babies, they really should pair people up as soon as practically possible and give away free hotel rooms with well stocked wine bars included. We’d almost like to imagine that this would be slightly more successful. But other than promoting general bacchanalia, we’ve got to start somewhere. Bribery is not a bad place. It will work, even if just around the edges of great & complex issues. We just have to find the right incentives & motivations.

    But love & mating are very complex matters in an advanced age. Who IM’s who& when? Is that better than a phone call if it’s done several times a day? A week? And that’s just with the communication Devices, right?

    Phoebe’s point of alienation is one that should be taken seriously. It’s a nagging one of poor communications within the community in general that I dearly hope will be addressed by a new generation of writers. That’s where the art comes in. But they’re broke. We still need to be able to fund programming via some very rich not so Jewish secular Jews. This also speaks to a real need for better, wider more diverse sort of programming for JCC’s etc. Again, it is ever thus.

    Me, I think like a scientist. You want more babies, we need more love. It’s very hard to discriminate in love, and there’s the rub.

    Cheers & Good Luck! ‘VJ’

  • I’m 26 and already married, to a non-Jew. Does that mean I would get rejected from Birthright Israel if I applied (since it’s obviously too late to marry me off to a Jew I meet on the trip)?

  • Not if you can get on one before your 27th birthday! Better hurry…

    Clearly there is some confusion. For the record – the sole purpose of bri is not jewish breeding. It’s about a strong and vibrant Jewish connection via Israel. That often, but not always, leads to marrying a Jew.

  • Laya, I’m afraid it’s too late, the confusion is here and it seems we’ve had a role in bringing it about.

    The post is a fairly aggressive attack on Birthright in a couple of ways. First, it makes it sound as if the entire visit is replete with pressure to couple with other Jews and as if this is a primary emphasis of the tour.

    Second, it twists 180 degrees what is a generous gift of a free trip into some sort of manipulative trick necessary to bring unsuspecting students to a place that they would and should otherwise have little reason to visit.

    I don’t know whether it’s amusing or sad to see Jewlicious, where we have always been supportive of Birthright – and rightfully so – become the source of this type of petulant and dispiriting critique of the program. I think of the exceptional resources this program requires, the generous time and money contributed by those who wish to see it succeed, the impact it has had in bringing to Israel a generation of young Jews and I am simply astounded to read this attack. OH MY GOD, THEY SENT US TO PARTY AT A CLUB WITH OTHER YOUNG JEWS!

  • Well, I am a huge supporter of birthright. I’ve been involved with them in multiple ways since 2002. That doesn’t mean that any and all criticism of them is uncalled for. I’ve done my fair share.

    That having been said, I think the real point of phoebe’s post is not about birthright, per se, about about the American Jewish community’s attitudes towards intermarriage at large.

    The really provocative statement she made that seems to have gotten lost in the shuffle is basically that short of connecting to an orthodox community or living in Israel, you should not expect your kids, or their kids to want to marry Jews, but rather, you should expect them to be a part of the society you raised them in, which is simply the mosiac that is America.

    Phoebe is free to chime in if I have misunderstood.

  • “it twists 180 degrees what is a generous gift of a free trip into some sort of manipulative trick”

    Uh huh. Pretty much sums up my 9 years working for USY, Hillel and CJA. Process goes something like this:

    1) Rich person’s son/dtr marries outside the faith.
    2) Rich person’s guilt is assuaged by donating money to a program that will “stem the tide of intermarriage”.
    3) Bunch of secular Jewish professionals jump for joy- because the new funding allows them to upgrade their computers, which allows them to surf sites such as monster.com with greater efficiency – and do whatever rich person tells them to.

    themiddle…we’d be better off letting things get worse instead of better…let Judaism “rise or fall” based on it’s merit. And if things get really, really bad, we can sleep soundly knowing their are Jews in Boro Park, Outremont, and Mea Shearim who get “it”.

  • Damn.

    You’re a pretty bitter ex-Jewish professional.

    Serves you right, working for USY and Hillel.

  • Trust me BD…there’s offices full of ’em. Problem is…though they’re good people, they don’t have the work experience and/or academic credentials to “get out” so they’re stuck working for “community”. Freud might say they/we can’t leave the “tit”. There’s a shadowy side to Jewish communal work (Norman Finkelstein, albeit repulsive, understands certaing things, say between holocaust and fund raising) that’s rarely discussed. A friend and I kid around about writing a book someday…someday.

  • It’s also worth noting that a trip provider can make the difference in how birthright is perceived. For instance, while I think there’s a fair amount of partying in many birthright trips, I think it’s fair to say that Momo’s the only one who made the “what’s cookin” and “Jewish babies” comments so overtly to groups of participants.

    But Phoebe–and everyone else–should be aware by now that everyone’s going nuts over this population issue. We are of dwindling numbers, and I can’t throw a stone on the UWS (and believe me, I’m tempted to) without hitting someone who thinks it’s my fault for turning down early marriage and procreation opportunities. So it doesn’t surprise me that the “it’s all up to you” approach has shifted target to the birthright age group.

    Sigh. There’s so much to say about these subjects. My brain hurts.

  • My private, obviously insane, opinion is that people’s names matter hugely, and Phoebe’s is Greek. Hey, Zahava!

    Thanks, CK.

    Balaam’s Donkey: That Arafat scarf thing, with the map of Israel in his middle head fold, is absolutely true. You can find documentation of that anywhere if you look around. He spent an hour every morning getting it exactly right.

    We have to watch out for two things, quite separately. One is racial self-hatred. The other is a terror of the limitations of domesticity. A little realism would solve both.

    We have to watch out for spurious associations and the fallacy of the omitted middle (GM, please help with this.)

    1) our forebears were proud Jews and religious.
    2) our forebears lived domestically, married, committed, with very defined marital and social roles.
    3) our forebears got pulverized in the Holocaust
    4) OK. Let’s learn a (spurious) associative lesson: in order not to get pulverized, let’s not make mistakes 1) and 2)!

    FALLACY alert! That’s not why they were pulverized!

    Don’t ask my why they were.

  • Having a sense of duty is very nice. But people should do what works for them. Judaism is umpteen thousand years old. It just can’t be spinach. It must feel good and work.

    I think we have to watch out for the Grouch Marx principle. You know, disliking what is available. Just because it’s available.

    Everybody posting on a site like this would be happy with a fellow Jew, or why would they be posting on a site like this? Know yourselves.

    Anybody who can like the name “Jewlicious” could put up with a spouse and baby, which takes flexibility.

    Anybody who wishes they were married should be, could be and will be. I have noticed that when people truly decide this marrying thing really today’s to-do thing, bingo! it happens.

    The ONE thing that will torpedo marrying is lashon ha ra, loose tongue, gossipy talking.

    That’s why the bride DOES and does not SAY. She walks around the groom seven tiimes, saying nothing. That’s the most important part of the service, imho.

    You are adorable.

  • Jewish Mother: I already have a Hebrew name. It’s Avigail. I don’t know why it is, but it is.

    Tom Morrissey: Eroticism?

  • Avigail means “Joy of Her Father” or something to do with “her father”because Avi is “my father”. I should look it up before saying, but the book is somewhere else. CK would know. A beautiful, grand old name, strong, with a strong reference inside it.

    As for why you have it, ask your family.

    You can change, or add, names to your name. Especially – don’t throw rocks – when you get married. That’s true. Ask a rabbi.

    Names matter, names matter.

  • well, here’s what I have to say. If Phoebe, or anyone else, is made to feel embarassed or thinks its too “personal”, too bad. people are always made to feel a little uncomfortable when their basic premises are challenged. Does that mean one should never try to present someone with an alternative viewpoint? The fact is that there IS an intermarriage crises, and that there NEEDS to be “in-your-face” discussion about it. I would rather have someone think I’m a little heavy-handed or inappropriate than to lose Jewish souls. Maybe Phoebe has the comitment to Jewish continuity that that would never happen, but not everyone does, and it is vital and needs to be emphasized, and if you don’t like it, too bad. To Birthright staff: PLEASE keep doing it. If you inspire one person who would have otherwise married a non-Jew, it is as though you saved the entire world. If it’s too heavy for you, Phoebe, sorry. It would be a lot easier to be everyone’s “friend” and never challenge someone to consider the larger equation in life, but we do have some responsibilities in life, and one would be hard-pressed to think of one more important than the strength and vitality of the Jewish people for generations to come. If this makes you or anyone else uncomfortable, good. It should. Its not about “hooking up”; It’s about mission, purpose, and destiny. Be true to yourself, not what people think, and spread the message. It is essential, it is critcal, and it is urgent. If you don’t like it, then maybe I did something right.

  • shtreimel,

    i realize this was a while ago but you responded to this comment:

    comment = “if Israel’s such a great country, then why do people have to pay us to go visit it?”

    your response = And why are so many Israeli’s trying to, and getting, out? And it ain’t the grass is greener thang, because I don’t see the same thing occuring in Canada.

    umm, i don’t know what you’re talking about. the first point (which was written by someone else) about paying to visit a country makes no sense. however, you’re comment about israelis leaving for other countries is also non accurate. the fact some israelis leave doesn’t mean the country has a defect. people have a variety of reasons for leaving a country. your proof of this not happening was canada. there you are incorrect: http://abcnews.go.com/US/story?id=3433005&page=1
    thousands of canadians leave for the united states. that doesn’t mean that canada is a bad place to leave or the united states is better (the same article talks about americans moving to canada!) it simply shows personal choice.

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