My 20 year old brother has finally started asking me about how to apply for Birthright. He’s not alone. Birthright has just received a record-breaking number of applicants.
What can an older sister say to her pre-birthright brother?
I only want what’s best for him.
I don’t think that Birthright is the most authentic version of Israel. I wouldn’t even say that it’s the most fun or educational look at Israel. On the other hand, it’s free. It’s short and quite a rush. A quick acid trip of the identity spectrum. And introspection can lead to maturity and a richer selfhood. Do I give my brother the tools with which to hang himself or build a ladder and not offer him any advice on how to use them?
But I don’t know how to offer him advice. I know that if someone had given me a firm talking to before my trip, almost three years ago, I wouldn’t have had the imagination to take them seriously. How can anyone prepare you for such an experience? So far from home and yet somehow sipping at the source of your roots. It’s intoxicating. The greatest threat to a tourist on Birthright in Israel isn’t the terrorists, it’s the possibility of infatuation.
Not everyone comes away from birthright ready to strap on an IDF uniform or learn more Hebrew. Some people only had a lovely vacation, an exhilarating fling with a soldier, gained only a little red bracelet from the Wailing Wall. Zip. Bang. Boom. End of story. I was not able to take Israel so lightly. And of course, how could I not want for my brother the richness of experience that travel can be? That Israel can be.
I could tell him that whatever price they offer him for souvenirs, offer them many shekels less. I could teach him “sababa” and tell him where are the best places to eat in Jerusalem. Make him swear to get hummus from Akko, no matter how. But I could not speak to him of the holy land without stumbling into the subject of its darker side. I would tell him to remember not only who he hears but who he does not. In Birthright you don’t kick it with the Arabs that you see living side by side with Jews. They don’t get to tell you if they feel that their co-existence is equal. A soldier talking of his fallen brethren never mentions how many he has killed. The coin always has two sides. I don’t want my brother to gain biased political views and a distorted perception of Israel, warped by affection, because then he would miss out on the flawed and beautiful humanity of a Jewish homeland. On Birthright he would have the opportunity to hear stories from many great people of sincere integrity. But I would have to urge him not to forget the other characters in their stories.
I guess I could just tell him the website and let the chips fall where they may. But what can I say? I’m so polish about it. I worry. I worry.
In related Birthright news:
This is a little old, but Birthright was recently in a a scuffle with J street. (J street got totally denied but then bounced back all “screw you Birthright, we’ll make our own trip, ne-ner-ne-ner-ne-ner.”)
Aw, Jewish solidarity at its best.