Close to 22 years ago, American benefactors Charles Bronfman and Michael Steinhardt came up with an idea to provide young Jewish adults with a ten day Israel experience. Thus was born Birthright or Taglit (Discovery), as it’s known in Hebrew. For decades now, American Jewish leaders, including rabbis have seen how essential it was to promote what has come to be known as “Vitamin I”. It was felt that “a dose of Israel” would be most beneficial to young diaspora Jews. Hopefully, there would be after effects from this ten day dose of Vitamin I for many years to come. Personally, there have been a number of occasions where I have been contacted to write letters of recommendation for Birthright hopefuls and in some cases to attest to the fact certain applicants were recognized as Jewish.
Last week, certain ill effects connected with vitamin I were discovered. It was reported that less than 50% of Birthright graduates were able to correctly answer a multiple choice test consisting of 15 questions along the lines of: The State of Israel was declared on… (3 dates were given) and with which Arab countries has Israel signed peace treaties (3 countries were provided).
Excuse me? The average Birthright participant couldn’t tell you that Joe Biden is the Vice President of the United States or that Hawaii is the 50th state, let alone that the State of Israel came into being on May14, 1948 or that Israel has signed peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan. While I’ve been known to bore dinner guests with factoids and trivia about Israel, while I’ve been known to provide Israeli tour guides with useful, yet unasked for anecdotes that they weren’t aware of, I’ll be the first to exclaim: Now hold on thar (sic)! The primary focus of Birthright is experience, not knowledge! Young Jewish adults are taken to Israel, so that no different than the Disney movie Lion King, they can answer one question and one question only: Can you feel the love tonight…as well as today? Loving and knowing Israel, unless it is “knowing” in the biblical sense, share no commonality.
Would it be too much to ask of these blathering burchers* of Birthright to formulate questions along the following lines: What top three sites in Israel would you recommend to first time visitors and why? Was there any time during your ten day experience that you experienced “goose bumps”? Can you tell us why? What were the best three aspects of Birthright?
Want to play test knowledge about Israel? 1) Which of the three does not belong? Altalena, Patria, Sturma. 2) The third Prime Minister was: Levi Eshkol, Moshe Sharrett, David Ben Gurion. 3) Who was the protagonist of the novel Exodus by Leon Uris patterned after? Abba Eban, Yigal Allon, Yitzchak Rabin. I doubt very much that you will do as well on my test as Birthright participants did on their test.
And so blathering burchers* of Birthright: Be thankful that there are resources available for Birthright. Be grateful that American Jews are eager to participate on Birthright. Be relieved that you don’t have to take a “Rabbi Zell test” on Israel.
* Burcher is Yiddish for a grumbler.