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 “pride” 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 “discrimination, persecution, forced conversion, outmarriage, assimilation, [and] (im)migration” so that “the message of a diminishing Jewish world and Israel as the only country with a growing Jewish population should be apparent.”

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.

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froylein

24 Comments

  • EV stated: “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.”

    Pride means nothing. Who isn’t proud of who they are? But when I ask typical kids on a birthright trip what exactly about their Jewish identity they are proud of, they are usually mute or they respond with things that aren’t uniquely Jewish: “We’re big on family!” So are Italians. “We’re big on education!” So are Asians. “We are wise in business!” Tell it to Madoff.

    Sure, there is a rich Jewish cultural and religious life in certain pockets of the Diaspora, like in NY, or LA etc. but even there there are people who can’t identify anything about themselves that is uniquely Jewish. And basic Jewish literacy? How about the Jewish Radio Show host in New York who thought that everyone in Israel lives on a kibbutz. Or my birthright kid from Brooklyn who asked me “Who is this Hashem guy everyone keeps talking about?” or my other Birthright kid from Miami who, as we were climbing up Massada, asked “Why did God have to give Moses the 10 Commandments here?” These are not isolated incidents. A big chunk of the American youth I have interacted with have no idea what teffilin are. Many have never had a sabbath dinner. They do not know the fundamentals of Judaism, not the religion and not the history. So what exactly is it they are proud of?

    And this isn’t a religious rant. They don’t know Spinoza from Seinfeld, Emancipation from Entemans, Emma Goldman from Amy Winehouse and the Jewish Workers Circle from the Harlem Globetrotters.

    If you send Israelis on a Birthright trip to America to get to know their Diaspora peers, they will in all likelihood laugh. Hard. Or do what I do, which is cry.

    • … or learn that not everybody is like them and that therefore understanding of one’s needs and hopes should never be taken for granted. 🙂

      That’s why I said those trips need to be staffed with people who know their stuff, not people with political or religious motivations or people whose knowledge of history got tainted by “wishful thinking”. They would need to be staffed with people that know the Jewish history of their places, which, indeed, can be rich and vibrant.

  • I like the idea though I doubt it will find much support in Israel. Diaspora only serves as a pool of donors/political supporters and of potential immigrants they need to keep up with Arab population growth. That’s the ideological background of Birthright trips, and that’s why they are designed as cheesy propaganda shows – they’re not really about understanding Israel or Israelis (or Jewish religion) but about creating enthusiasm for Israel and the Zionist ideology. The idea of presenting Diaspora as anything else but as the place of assimilation, discrimination, persecution, and murder is pointless from this perspective, and even dangerous (Gee, Israeli youths might get the impression that Israel isn’t the navel of the world and Jews aren’t terrorized by anti-semites all the time everywhere outside of Israel).

  • Further to EV/froylein’s proposal, for those who’d like a taste of authentic gentile life, I’d like to put myself forward. Part of diaspora life is understanding how we manage to do what we do, and while I’m in truth not much for pork or shellfish, I’ll dutifully introduce you to these and other aspects of life among the goyim (blondes, Confederate battle flags, lousy beer, Sony Playstation 3, etc.).

    froylein herself has signed up for the tour in June, so make plans to join her and we’ll see you then! (You too, Middle.)

  • “If you send Israelis on a Birthright trip to America to get to know their Diaspora peers, they will in all likelihood laugh. Hard. Or do what I do, which is cry.”

    I know enough secular Israelis who are not really much better informed about Jewish religion or history.

    “They don’t know Spinoza from Seinfeld, Emancipation from Entemans, Emma Goldman from Amy Winehouse and the Jewish Workers Circle from the Harlem Globetrotters.”

    And most Israelis, and particularly Haredim, will have no clue either.

    I think well-guided Birtright Diaspora trips might actually help them to get a better Jewish education!

  • Just as an apropos, Judaism as it is today was largely shaped in the Diaspora; Germany’s got the fastest-growing Jewish community worldwide, which also tries to connect and re-liven the heritage. It would be fatal to not acknowledge such trends for the sake of validating one’s particular feelings about what Jewish life should be like. The world’s Jewish community is better-off without an (or yet another?) encouraged ideological divide.

  • What is it about this EV character that you find so interesting that you have to post about him every few weeks?

  • Tori, I’m not quite sure why you ask a contributor to justify their choice of topic (while the relevance of the topic to Jewlicious, without a doubt, is apparent), but suffice it to say that it was EV’s idea, I read his post, I liked the idea, I wanted to blog about it on Jewlicious, and it would have been intellectual theft not to provide the reference.

    Apart from that, I’ve met EV, and he was as courteous and considerate as it gets, which is more than can be said about certain other people.

    Feel free to substantially contribute to this thread if you disagree with those that also like EV’s idea.

  • Froylein,

    I ask because I don’t find him relevant or interesting enough to warrant so many posts. Are you (Jewlicious) trying to give him the relevancy he is dying for with his “look at me, I’m controversial” antics?

    There are probably more posts about him on this site than say, Netanyahu. But definitely not more than Amy Winehouse.

    And, wow, he was “courteous and considerate” when you met him? So was Arafat, I’ve heard. Again, I don’t see the relevancy or why you even mentioned this.

    I just feel you guys @ Jewlicious just have a thing for highlighting inane rabble rousers. I had no idea you would get all huffy about a little constructive criticism.

    Tori

    • Tori, I wasn’t aware I’d ever met Arafat.

      Jewlicious isn’t a monolithic entity; theoretically, every contributor blogs what they feel like. You may have noticed that it’s only Grandmuffti who more or less (rather less) regularly blogs about EV or rather about a comic by EV. This happens less frequently than once per month. On top of that, the comics as well as the post referenced are concerned with some aspect of Judaism / Jewish life or another. There’s certainly more relevance in those posts on a blog called Jewlicious than, let’s say, posts about US politics or wrongdoings – ones with no connection to Judaism whatsoever – by Catholics or Muslims. If you care to read EV’s comics, you might see that they aren’t only controversial but full of knowledge and insights required to actually touch weak spots – to warrant controversy. Disagree with EV all you like, but prove him wrong on what he points out. If you don’t find him interesting, nobody forces you to read his comics, my posts or Jewlicious for that matter. Maybe you’d prefer if Jewlicious contributors were forced into line, but that would not be a blog I’d care to contribute to. I do hope that Jewlicious can be more than a mouthpiece of one set worldview.

      Also, I mentioned EV’s courteousness to put him in contrast to others that do not possess his set of manners and apparently deem it proper ettiquette to get insulting rather than to disagree in a civil manner.

      “Constructive criticism” means to suggest how things could be done, not to bicker over people / sentiments you disagree with or to demand that certain topics should not be posted about anymore.

  • Froylein,

    Let me respond to you point by point and be done with this nonsense.

    “Also, I mentioned EV’s courteousness to put him in contrast to others that do not possess his set of manners and apparently deem it proper ettiquette to get insulting rather than to disagree in a civil manner.’

    This is a very poor argument. Forget about EV’s comics, he has been extremely rude on this blog! Your attempt to compare and contrast him with me, by talking about how he was when you met him, is absurd, because you have never met me in person. That is not to say anything about his behaviour on this blog or his attempt at controversy in his comics.

    The fact is that he is not a controversial figure in the Jewish community. Is it your attempt to raise him, as he would probably like, to the height of a Finkelstein or like minded imbecile?

    “If you care to read EV’s comics”

    I don’t care to.

    ” Maybe you’d prefer if Jewlicious contributors were forced into line.”
    ” I do hope that Jewlicious can be more than a mouthpiece of one set worldview.”

    Another poor argument. Most of the bloggers here are of the left-wing variety, much as the site organizer denies it, but I am a right-wing moderate and I still visit the site occasionally. I was not suggesting you posted with any such worldview. Try to follow the argument: I was questioning why this blog focuses on 1 person so much. I was not commenting on EV’s politics -at all- in my post to you. I have also, in the past ,questioned why Amy Winehouse gets so much focus on this blog and I am unaware of her political views.

    “Constructive criticism” means to suggest how things could be done, not to bicker over people / sentiments you disagree with or to demand that certain topics should not be posted about anymore.”

    I was suggesting how things could be done. I suggested you post less about irrelevant people, not less about people I disagree with. I made no demands whatsoever.

    Anyway, this back and forth is getting tiresome and I suspect you don’t even understand the point I was making in the first place. I assure you I will never comment in one of your posts again and skip them entirely as I always do.

    Tori

  • I understand the point you are trying to make: if it isn’t done your way, we shouldn’t do it at all.

    EV has never behaved in a way that you have; I don’t see in how far the medium matters.
    I asked you to criticise him on content, but you refuse to consider the content, which, by and large, has been Grandmuffti’s as well as my motivation to refer to EV’s work.

    From a European point-of-view, most of the contributors here are not left-wing as little as you are a moderate red-wing politically, but that is a matter of perspective.
    Comments by you in the past questioned why certain views (which would qualify as liberal / left-wing) were allowed to be published on here on top of your complaints about the (rather infrequent) posts about Amy Winehouse. In doing so, you made demands in a way that could be described as passive-aggressive, not constructive.

    Feel free to always skip my posts. I certainly wouldn’t have minded had you skipped this one. I write for people that dare to entertain thoughts even if they disagree with them.

  • ck,

    You are only partially right, which makes you partially wrong too. When I moved to the States after my first ten years of life on a secular kibbutz, I didn’t know what kashroot was, how to pronounce Hashem’s name from a prayerbook,, and many other religious traditions. On the other hand, I did know a lot of things about secular kibbutz life in Israel. My parents told me that they were athiests back when we lived in Israel. Now, my dad works at a Reform synagogue and my mom is in the choir.

    I learned Judaism in the United States. I’m still proud of Israel and my secular Jewish identity. Thank goodness for my life in Israel and the secularism it taught me. Thank goodness I didn’t grow up in Meashearim.

  • Michael W., I’m glad it all worked out for you but you’re the exception that proves the rule. Most young American Jews I know who are ostensibly affiliated with Reform Judaism are well on their way to non-affiliation because they lack even the most basic Jewish literacy. I take no pleasure in that either. I wish it was different on a societal level.

  • I like this idea, but I posit that you shouldn’t visit countries as much as certain enclaves for a specific Jewish experience. Orthodox Jews in Israel and the United States will have a similar understanding of Judaism, just as Russians (i.e. my family) in both Israel and the United States have a completely different understanding of Judaism and Jewish culture. Example: My Russian family in the US has no clue about Eretz Nehederet. When I was in Israel this summer, I was really excited to watch it on TV instead of YouTube and my relatives looked at me like they’d never seen the show before, because they hadn’t, even though they’ve lived in Israel for 10+years.

    I think that, as much as it depends on whether you were brought up in Israel or the United States, it also depends to a larger extent on the subculture you are conducting the Birthright into, which will give you a different level of knowledge of Judaism each time.

  • Re Tori’s question why there is so much emphasis on Amy Winehouse (all of her, not just her fake boobs): before she came along, there were absolutely no Jewish musicians of merit to speak of in any genre. Just none. No wonder she’s gotten this much attention.

  • “why there is so much emphasis on Amy Winehouse (all of her, not just her fake boobs): before she came along, there were absolutely no Jewish musicians of merit to speak of in any genre. Just none.”

    Complete bullcrap, there are dozens of successful popular Jewish musicians. The only reason why Amy Winehouse’s Jewishness is that much talked about by the non-Jewish public is her rather dark complexion and those massive facial features that make her the Nazi caricaturist’s delight, and Jewish publications of course like her because she’s the by far most fucked up Jewish celebrity of all.

    “I’d post about Amy Winehouse myself if I could bring myself to enjoy her annoying voice and lack of timbre.”

    Her voice is the one thing about her that is definitely not annoying.

    • Felix, maybe my ears are just allergic to that consistent nasal tone that only gets louder instead of changing key and can be emulated by anybody using a few tricks in sound production. 😉 (Maybe it’s my profession that makes me think no habitual substance user should be elevated to role model by any media regardless of how much people enjoy their performance.)

  • CK, differently put, US public (American public as opposed to British public schools, which are private) school students are force fed ignorance as anybody who knows a little bit about history will concede that you cannot understand history, society and even today’s politics without having a sound understanding of religion. Religious education over here is a subject like any other subject, teachers are educated on the same high academic level teachers of other subjects are (which is two steps up from American teachers’ education BTW). It is not religious instruction (catechesis in Christian circles); that still belongs into the respective congregations / families.
    But nobody in the US can really claim a true separation of Church and State as long as individual states can outrule the teaching of evolution theory at their public schools altogether and if the perspective in history lessons and textbooks still vastly is a Puritan point-of-view. On top of that, kids can get homeschooled for religious reasons in the US, no matter how much or little qualified their parents are to instruct and how much homeschooling impacts social skills and how little homeschooling is supervised by the appropriate boards. – There’s a reason why recently German religious extremists (Reformed denominations) have moved to the US because they rejected the values taught at schools here (democracy, freedom of speech / creed etc., gender equality, and so on).

    Don’t know whether Canadians are smarter, but my Canadian customers in Britain generally were more polite than their US peers. They also were hairier.

  • Indeed there is ignorance to go around. Israelis are clueless about the outside world and American Jews–particularly the young ones–don’t know very much about Israel. Let’s do this thing!

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