I’d like to commend Rachel Cohen for sharing her insightful thoughts in her Aug. 3 article “I Still Love Israel.” She has proven that Birthright works. I do not work for Birthright or any Jewish organization, but I have lived in Israel and I have staffed a number of teen tours, including four trips with Birthright. Ms. Cohen appeared disgruntled that Birthright did not empower her with answers to tough questions upon returning to campus and sharing her experiences.
Ms. Cohen wrote that the trip ins-pired her to take more Jewish courses in college and seek out groups that could help arm her with knowledge. Birthright has no political agenda and the goal is to get young Jewish adults to Israel and open their eyes; it even says so on their website (birthrightisrael.com): “Taglit-Birthright Israel’s founders created this program to send tens of thousands of young Jewish adults from all over the world to Israel as a gift in order to diminish the growing division between Israel and Jewish communities around the world; to strengthen the sense of solidarity between Israeli youth and Jewish communities throughout the world; and to promote the idea of a trip to Israel for all Diaspora Jews as a critical part of Jewish life outside of Israel.” Their mission is not to foster political discourse, although if that is what it sparks and participants choose to explore that interest, then one could say Birthright has done its job.
In this day and age when all we see is bad Israeli PR, I think it’s OK to highlight the more lighthearted and fun side of Israel. Birthright trips affect each participant uniquely and I’ve seen firsthand the different directions Birthright alumni take from this new connection to Israel. Some do just enjoy the beaches and the party scenes, while others do investigate the more intricate and complex issues that constantly surround Israel and her neighbors.
So, while Ms. Cohen may have returned confused and not sure about what to do, I personally think she did the right thing by going out and looking for answers. Birthright struck a chord, even if it was in an area that it lacked; it got wheels turning and Ms. Cohen chose to move forward and empower herself (where others may have chosen to mumble some incoherent response to others’ probing questions about Israel and slowly back away). On the surface the trip may seem like any teen tour, but those who have participated in it know that it is so much more than that.