I was totally caught off guard by the fact that it’s Birthright Israel registration season. I mean between feeling sad about the 12th anniversary of 9/11 and recovering from a Rosh Hashana-based food induced coma, sorry! It slipped my mind! But then again, I’m not a young Jew between the ages of 18-26 who has never been to Israel before on a peer based trip. What the hell – I live in Israel! And I’ve lead like what, a dozen Birthright Israel trips? But maybe you or someone you know qualifies for this free trip of a lifetime. So… you know. Get on it. Get off your butt and visit BirthrightIsrael.com and get the process started.
Speaking of getting off your butt… Lena Dunham, creator of Girls and one of the top 5 most newsworthy Jews in 2012 according to the Forward 50 visited Israel for the first time last year as a guest of the Jerusalem Film Festival. In her upcoming book, Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She’s Learned, a collection of biographical essays for which Random House paid her $3.5 million, Dunham talks about her trip and why she had never been before:
Israel was a place I didn’t even want to go in the first place. All my associations were with birthright trips and bad sweatpants and teens carrying their own pillows on the plane. I quit Hebrew school after I wasn’t given the role of Esther in the class play, and that was pretty much the extent of my desire to explore my Jewish heritage. But when the Jerusalem film festival offered me an all-expenses paid journey to the homeland, my childhood best friend Isabel (one eighth Jewish and eight eighths adventuresome) would not allow me to turn it down.
Had she gone on Birthright prior to her JFF trip, she would have known that it doesn’t have to be all about “bad sweatpants and teens carrying their own pillows on the plane.” Maybe she would have even had the gumption to actually walk into Yad Vashem and not just stand outside because “I hate stuff like that.” Trust me, we ALL hate stuff like that. Genocide. Yuck. At least she managed to appreciate somethings about Israel: “Isabel (Dunham’s travel companion) described the best of the nation’s hummus as effervescent. She said that was really the only word for it. And she was right. All their hummus makes ours taste like insulation on crackers.”
But yeah. Shoulda gone on Birthright Lena. And if sweatpants and pillows aren’t your thing, might I suggest a really active trip? One that has all the usual Birthright elements – Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, yes Yad Vashem too etc. etc. – but also really get to know the land thanks to a series of very active trip components including snorkeling, hiking, rappelling – just reading Hi-Gear’s itinerary makes me sweat. When I spoke to a Yael Adventures rep she assured me this would be like a physical and intellectual Boot Camp. Sounds like a perfect antidote to all that enforced Winter indoor-ish-ness. Is that even a word? The point is one day you could be sitting at home eating Doritos and stalking your exes on Facebook while it freezes outside, and the next day you could be walking up the side of a mountain, following in the ancient footsteps of your ancestors, red clay in between your toes and fingernails, the hot morning sun beating on your head (Wear a hat!! Drink water!!). And yes, you can recover afterward – we do have Doritos here in Israel. And Facebook.
But there’s more! Register with Yael Adventures for your Taglit-Birthright trip this winter and update your status to “I’ve just registered for a winter trip with Taglit-Birthright Israel: Yael Adventures and you can too! Register here http://bit.ly/Qx8fiA and don’t forget to choose Yael Adventures!” Then Email a screen shot of your post to email@example.com when you’ve done it and you’ll be automatically entered to win 250 genuine US dollars.
Seriously. Get outta town. Time to go to Israel yo! And don’t forget to read our always relevant Unofficial 13 Dos and Donts of Birthright Israel – with links to our VERY unofficial Birthright guide to Sex and Drugs.
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Why Birthright Registration is going down 20-40% every season in the last three years
It is very sad to know that the demand to go to Israel for free on a unique trip – one which I consider as an option to rebuild a Jewish family and to support Israel – is going down constantly and significantly.
There will be people who will say that the reason is the situation in Syria, but that cannot explain the situation that happened in the summer or the winter before or during the last three years.
So it would seems that there are bigger things impacting birthright. I remember when I used to be a part of Birthright Israel as the president of Oranim that I had for every available seat at least ten people who paid deposits and wanted to participate. Now it is only 1.5 people for the same seat. I think that it is about time that we open a serious discussion about this in order to make sure that this program will continue to be around.
I am looking forward to seeing other comments.
Interesting question. I have no data, so I’ll offer some guesses.
The first reason might be decline of funding in the Jewish world translating for fewer opportunities to encounter and publicize this trip during programs in North America for Jewish youths.
A second reason might be that there is a smaller number of Jewish young men and women, or at least those who identify as Jewish, than in the past and probably that number is continually shrinking.
A third reason might be that it’s becoming harder to identify and advertise to these young Jews precisely because they are fewer in number, are disengaged from Jewish life and may therefore not be identifiable as prospects for Birthright.
Fourth, it might be interesting to see whether some of the key players in the Birthright organizations have changed. Do these changes correlate with declining numbers?
Fifth, perhaps the leaders are not as effective as they need to be in their jobs. This often happens in better established organizations that no longer feel the “hunger” to succeed because the key players are comfortable with their income and job security. Or perhaps after a few years they have lose the fire to press for successful recruiting.
Sixth, the pressure on campuses to attack Israel is intense and makes it very hard for Jewish kids to be open about their backgrounds.
Seventh, on these campuses there is so much venomous anti-Israel propaganda that it’s very possible the students believe what they hear. Without a very sophisticated education, it’s hard to know when the anti-Israel advocates are lying, and many students don’t have a clue and assume the professors who are part of setting up and bringing out these programs are presenting facts and quality speakers/lectures.
Unfortunately, without hard data, the only way to proceed is to guess about the reasons. One can only hope that the people funding this amazing are seeing the same decline you’re describing and doing something about it.
The answer to Momo’s question is provided in Peter Beinart’s book The Crisis of Zionism
Aharoni is right, but not in the way he means. He thinks that book describes the problem, but in reality the book and people like its author are the problem.
Beinart presents a false thesis, driven in large measure by his anger at parts of the Jewish community that pushed back at him after his original article, and misreads the meaning of the history and the landscape of the past decades in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Looking at the embodiment of his book’s ideas on the website he edits, what we can see is that misconstruing the situation in such a way that everything is blamed on Israel and the Jewish community not only assists Israel’s enemies (and people who want to harm or weaken Jews), and especially how the constant criticism of Israel, much of it unjustified or way out of proportion, has made it impossible for students and young Jews to maintain a connection to Israel without finding themselves vilified or presented as immoral. What Beinart does is provide a fig-leaf for people who do this to the Jewish students intentionally and with mal-intent, by giving them a prominent Jewish voice as another hammer with which to hit them.
Spend a day reading the ugly and often misleading articles on his website or some of the hideous, often antisemitic comments on there which his website apparently encourages, and you will see clearly that his thesis is wrong, but that anybody who doesn’t know the material cold, will simply be unable to stop the tide. One day, in a decade or two, Beinart will wake up and apologize for what he has wrought.
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