EV had the idea, and I somewhat like it. (Admittely, I love travelling and Jewish European history, so I’d be, ehmm, terribly qualified to staff an enterprise like this.)
What if there weren’t only a “Birthright Israel” for Jewish young adults from the Diaspora but also a chance for young Israeli adults to get more hands-on knowledge of Diaspora Jewry than school and media education could ever provide? What if there were exchanges for young people from and between Jewish Diaspora communities? With some thorough preparation and guidance throughout the trips, such exchanges could further mutual understanding and acceptance.
Here are a few lines from EV’s original post:
Birthright Diaspora will make Jews proud again.
It’s a strange thing to say, isn’t it? For one thing, despite the insistent proclamations of Jewish fund-raising letters and Israeli political and cultural leaders, most Jews in the Diaspora are not living on the brink of physical, spiritual or cultural devastation. In fact, by and large they’re pretty proud of who they are already. Secondly, to associate Diaspora experiences with â€œprideâ€ is to break one of the major taboos of modern Jewish education. Israel is the pinnacle of pride; Diaspora the domain of destruction. That’s why education about the Diaspora designed for fifteen-year olds has meant role-playing â€œdiscrimination, persecution, forced conversion, outmarriage, assimilation, [and] (im)migrationâ€ so that â€œthe message of a diminishing Jewish world and Israel as the only country with a growing Jewish population should be apparent.â€
Yay, let’s role-play some more! [Read the complete post here.]
To explain why I’m particularly fond of EV’s idea, here’s some personal experience with, well, Israelis that could have needed more intercultural education: when I was in Israel, I went on a school exchange to a city in the Negev. Out of the entire group of German students, I was the only one staying with a family of Russian background. My exchange student wouldn’t mingle with the Sefardi exchange students of my friends. There wasn’t any apparent hostility between those youths from Russia and the Sefardi majority, but neither group cared to socialise with the other one. (When asked, neither side deemed the other side eligible to be in Israel.) To highlight the mutual indifference, I’d like to share one incident: one of the girls of Moroccan background asked me why my exchange student spoke such good Ivrit – she’d mistaken her for a member of our group from Germany even though they were classmates at school.
During the Israeli return visit, many host parents complained about the often lack of manners, lack of consideration (even though all host parents went out on a limb to accomodate their guests’ wishes) and plain lack of understanding that things work differently in different countries, e.g. minors don’t get admitted to clubs or bars past 10pm, there’s no overabundance of security forces out on the streets at any given time during the night that will ensure your safe return home if you’ve gone out clubbing dressed as if you wanted to be a background dancer in a late 1990s’ hiphop video etc. It was a nerve-wrecking experience as the host families had no idea what difficulties to expect and the guest group largely had problems grappling with the idea that the freedom we enjoy in Germany did not coincide with their idea of liberality. The result was that neither side really enjoyed the stay as much as it could have been enjoyable, better preparation provided.
So I’m supportive of EV’s idea. Set this up professionally. Hire staff that know what they’re doing (and not just people that are friends with somebody “on the inside”). Make it a part work / part travel-experience, so both the participants as well as the host communities will benefit from the trips. It’ll be a win-win situation.