The Conspiracy

Confession of a Birthright Veteran

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? Iā€™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.

5 Older Responses to “Confession of a Birthright Veteran”

  1. howiej
    March 2, 2011 at 2:07 pm #

    I’m not too impressed with the author or her opinion of her brother. What is her definition of, “the most authentic version of Israel.”? The trip is not, “the most fun or educational look at Israel.”? Too bad he does not have the intellectual capacities to read a varied selection of background material to get an idea of what is happening in the area. Perhaps she would prefer for him to wait for a free J-Street trip to learn the truth

  2. David Zarmi
    March 2, 2011 at 2:36 pm #

    I agree with Howie. Also not sure if the author’s slandering the Polish people or shoe polish at the end. And the cutesy “I could tell my brother…” is annoying and disingenuous. It’s also pretentious writing – so she may want to work on it for that reason alone. Maybe her brother can’t stand her because she’s been brainwashed by her college experience to hate Israel. So here’s the scoop: you get all the anti-Israel here. Birthright is to make the country a real place in someone’s mind so you don’t just think – well why can’t the Jews just leave, but see they have a real country and real people who were born there, are culturally foreign to Americans, and who, primarily, at least, speak Hebrew.

    The Birthright trip I went on had me meet plenty of Arabs. They’re probably not real Arabs because they didn’t hate Jews. I’m sure that was inauthentic. An Arab who doesn’t hate Jews – is that like an Uncle Tom to campus radicals? We actually spent two different nights with various Arabs, in addition to at least four meals (no, they weren’t kosher – I’m Orthodox but chose to see a different side of Israel).

    Most of all, after paying for your flight, they let you stay as long as you want. They encourage it. So go find some program that allows you to meet Arab who hate Jews. No, there are not always two sides to the coin. Some coins have them, some don’t. There is no second side when an Israeli soldier has been forced to kill in combat because civilians with guns attacked him and killed his friends. This isn’t gang violence in Compton. It’s a country that has been under siege since its inception and before and somehow still manages to remain the freest in the region, even for those citizens from ethnic and religious groups that most constitute a threat to the country’s existence. The Israeli story is complicated and Birthright only starts telling it. Unlike the author, most Jews are able to use their own faculties to determine right and wrong and truth and what they think about things rather than being swayed by whatever trip or college campus they’re on.

  3. Larry
    March 2, 2011 at 3:23 pm #

    So many American Jews have no clue about their Judaism, their history, their deep connection to this land, or anything else about Israel. I live in Israel. I can tell you, this place is more liberal than the US, and certainly more liberal than those despotic regimes around us, including the Palestinian authority.

    Just walk into any hospital here in Israel and you’ll find Jews, Arabs, blacks, whites,and all other colors working together as doctors, nurses, patients, etc. Israel makes NY seem homogeneous.

    I can tell you very clearly: The moment that a Palestinian leader will actually have the guts to get in front of his people and say “you know what, the Jews really do have an ancient history here. They have rights to parts of this land as well. We should share it”. WoW!, the moment they say that, you’ll have peace in a microsecond. Israeli leaders will bend over backwards to assure a successful and stable and free Palestinian state. The problem here is that they deny our rights here…

    So, come here. Discover the truth, not what you’ve been brainwashed to believe on American campuses.

  4. Omri
    March 2, 2011 at 9:55 pm #

    I think all of you just missed the point and went straight into the “we are right they are wrong” and everything is either black or white. You all assume that the author is an Israel hater. If only you knew how wrong you are. The opposite is the truth. The author loves Israel so much and you get that through the entire piece. Its ok to say that Israel is NOT perfect !! I am an Israeli and I think the author’s criticism for a birthright trip (which is exactly that – a free 10 day Israel on steroids trip) is totally legitimate and the fact that someone criticizes Israel (or anything relating it) does not mean he/she is anti-Israel.
    Israel is NOT perfect !! Just like any country in the world !! The more people like you talk in B&W the more ignorant you sound. People arent stupid, YOU are the pretentious ones, making it sound like Israelis are better than everyone else. Maybe if you accept your own imperfections you will make Israel an even better place to live in.

  5. Elise
    March 3, 2011 at 2:27 am #

    I agree with Omri! David and Larry seem to think that the author has been brainwashed to hate Israel by her college experience. Very bad assumption. David also seems to assume that the author’s brother “can’t stand her”. Also, a very bad assumption (seriously, that statement takes chutzpah). If you want to criticize the writing, so be it (though I would even be careful on that, since David’s writing wasn’t the best either…”had me meet plenty of Arabs”?). Look, I am a Jew who loves Israel. And you won’t find anyone more “hawkish” than I am when it comes to protecting Israel. But that is not the point of the blog. From what I have heard a birthright trip is an awesome experience for a young adult who has never been to Israel, and may never go there again. But I am sure it is a somewhat truncated or sheltered view of Israel. For me it would be like if some relatives came to visit me in California. I wouldn’t take them to Compton in downtown LA, or to the Tenderloin in SF. I would take them to see Disneyland or the beach or take them on a trolley ride to Fisherman’s Wharf. It really wouldn’t be an “authentic” view of California, and I am sure many people become infatuated with this place without realizing that living here is quite different. Israel is an amazing place with amazing people. This Birthright Veteran understands that. But is it wrong for her to want her brother to know the depth of experience that a person who lived in the country would know, and not to be consumed with “the experience”? I think not.

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