This article does not serve to judge or condone, only to inform.
Every year, almost 40,000 Jewish youngsters get the chance to go on a free trip through Israel. This trip, paid for by the not-for-profit Birthright Israel, serves to help Jewish youth reconnect with Jewish culture and heritage. We got in touch with Molly, a girl from Colorado U.S.A., who’d just come back from her Birthright. Did she feel a sense of belonging in Israel?
Molly: “One of the days, we’d just gone to visit the Holocaust Museum, I got talking to an Israeli girl named Sapir. She just couldn’t understand why there were still Jews living in small communities all over the world. ‘How do you not want to live in Israel!’, she said. ‘Don’t you want to live together with all Jewish people? This state was created for us! Look at me!’ – she was wearing a military uniform – ‘I get to fight for the Jewish people! I get to fight for us!'”
“I didn’t know how to respond. I loved visiting Israel, but I didn’t feel like I had to move there to ‘be with my people.’ I’ve always considered myself both American and Jewish, not one more than the other. Maybe it’s because my father is Irish Catholic, or maybe it’s because I grew up with Jews and non-Jews alike.”
“Still. For Jews all over the world. There is always this pull towards Israel. We even say it in every Passover dinner: ‘and next year in the State of Israel.’ You can belong to any small Jewish pocket on the planet, Israel is the one true Jewish community. So for birthrighters, actually going to Israel is an amazing experience. For the first time I was among people that observe Shabbat! Everything was closed! Back home, the holidays never line up with the faith I celebrate. I have to schedule my own time off for Passover. It can feel quite isolating. But in Israel… it’s like Christmas.”
“It’s understandable that many birthrighters never come back. I guess it’s kind of the point of the trip as well. I’ve met so many people that were planning to stay in Israel. And that often has nothing to do with religion. It’s this sense of community. For me personally, I think Judaism isn’t that much about religion anyway. Many of the Israelis we met weren’t all that religious. Going to visit these holy sites with birthrighters was often the most religious thing they’d done.”
“I myself am ‘reformed’, meaning I go to the temple on holy days. But that’s more than many of my fellow American Jews do. Yet, when I run into a Jewish person, there’s this connection. And that’s not because we both celebrate Hanukkah. It’s because we both belong to this group that has certain quirks and stereotypes.”
Have you been on Birthright? Let us know via firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment below!