Thursday, July 13, 2006

Email survey to Birthright Israel

From Kamfeblog

Here's a young Jewish person's follow-up email survey, following his organised trip to Israel. It's an interesting perspective from someone capable of independent thought.
Age: __21_____ Jewish Background: _________Yes____________

1. What were some of your expectations for the trip?

Oh where to begin...
I expected that my Birthright Trip would be a fun, a little bit goofy and awkward at times, spiritual, democratic, and overall satisfactory.

I expected a highly structured, cultural / religious experience that promoted pluralism, individuality, fundamentals of "what it is to be a responsible, respectful Jew." I expected lessons about Tzedakah and Mitzvot and understanding human responsibility in the Middle East, and perhaps some scholarly disourse over actual religious passages instead of being fed low-brow, reactionary political tripe that I could get from sitting at home watching Fox News. I expected to discuss actual advanced Jewish philosophy, not garbage about how hard it is to be hated by everyone in the big, mean antisemitic world.

I expected active participation in the important tenets of Judaism rather than a whirlwind tour of bigotry, decadence and abstractions on "why we are so special."

I expected a trip that didn't have ridiculously strict liabilities, that actually trusted 19-22 year olds to be adult human beings and not middle school children.

I expected a trip that would leave alarmism, coercion, xenophobia, and political pandering out of the equation. I thought my experience would be unique; that my experiences would not be propaganda-filled.

I expected my fellow tripmates' and my diversions to be our own remarkable experiences, not the same master-planned touristy BS that every kid on Birthright pretends is rebellion - IE discovering the low drinking age to the point of dehydration or hooka dealers or absinthe or how much of an aphrodesiac Israel is for Jewish American men and women.

I did not expect the Israeli soldiers that I met to be briefed on "how best to pick up American girls," nor for the trip to bear any resemblence to the orgiastic, bacchanalian catastrophe that it actually was.

I expected Israel to contain a society concerned with Jewish values, instead of a Westernized, wannabe-Disney-land. I expected a society that upheld its Eastern roots and diversity rather than regarding Mizrachi culture's influence as shameful. I did not expect Israel to have been commondeered by Ashkenaz-supremacy.

I DID NOT EXPECT that I would be taught at Yad Vashem that the "Final Solution" to the "Jewish Question" would be the establishment of the State of Israel. I did not expect innocent Jewish deaths to be exploited to justify hawkish political attitudes.

I DID NOT EXPECT to be told by my guide with complete confidence that "Any international lawyer would agree that pre-emptive strikes are totally justifiable."

I DID NOT EXPECT the major issues of right of return, security, and Palestinian statehood to be COMPLETELY and DELIBERATELY avoided in every discussion.

I'm sure I left plenty out but that's a good spread of what I did and did not expect.

2. Did the trip meet your expectations? Why or why not?

The trip met my expectations in that I could meet a lot of different kinds of Jews, I had the opportunity to make friends with Israeli soldiers, I got to see a glimpse of Israel, and I had an opportunity to view some of the sites within a mildly accurate historical context. I am happy that the trip met my expectations that it would be inexpensive and a comprehensive adventure in strictly the touristic sense of the word.

The trip certainly missed the mark on my expectations of pluralism - issues as controversial as Zionism were presented as being the biggest no-brainers ever, when in fact they were and should be quite divisive within international and Jewish communities. In practically every "discussion" or sit-down or lecture I was confronted with a highly-militant and haphazard mis-understanding of Jewish philosophy, faulty logic, and a one-sided misrepresentation of foreign attitudes and cultures.

Of course, as a sort of sick panacea, I was told on a few occasions that "everything is up to your own interpretation on this trip." If only I could believe that now.

3. What did being Jewish mean to you before the trip?

It meant keeping a Jewish (although not necc. kosher) house, going to synagogue every Saturday, celebrating the holidays with food and visits with family, reading and interpreting the Tanakh, debating interesting/absurd Jewish conventions, socializing with different types of Jews, learning Judaica and modern Jewish history, studying and politics surrounding Zionism critically, and keeping abreast of current events. It meant cultivated, cerebral, humanistic, Jewish values.

It also meant the stereotypical things - being doted on by family, having high expectations, experiencing moderate antisemitism, learning about how wonderful Zionism is and defending it without knowing why, it also meant clique-ish behavior and closemindedness, and a healthy amount of family guilt.

4. Did the trip influence your Jewish identity? How so?

Yes. I used to think that I could be Jewish and disagree with the majority of Jews. I used to think that I could do all of the above paragraph within the framework of my religion and still be considered an authentic Jew, and not be written off as a bleeding-heart or a nut or a turncoat or a terrorist.

Now, having been to Israel, I have gained the understanding that Zionists and Israeli Jews are frequently an unthinking, hateful, bigoted group of misguided souls whose goal seems to be a continuation of the exclusivity of the Jewish State at the expense of its unfortunate neighbors. My Jewish identity has been influenced to the point where I want nothing to do with people who think Zionistic activism is a replacement for a cosmopolitan moral compass or actual participation in a spiritually Jewish lifestyle.

Having been on this trip, I want to completely dissociate myself with Judaism because of the twisted course people have taken it on by making the religion and right-wing politics inseparable.

5. What was the most (spiritual and/or Jewish) memorable moment in Israel for you?

My most memorable experience was visiting the Druze village, and conversing with our speaker about otherness. I was impressed by the food and ambience, and by the multiculturalism of the Druze as a people, and I enjoyed the lecture and ensuing conversation very much as both were enlightening.

Another memorable moment was when I pulled a fellow participant aside at the Hurtzl grave monument who was visibly moved, and I asked him what he thought of "J'accuse." He responded that he had no idea what it was. At that moment I realized that many people (including our ostensible guides) who were also "touched" by the Hurtzl monument had no earthly idea who the guy was or what he did. All they knew was they needed to revere him because that's what you're expected to do as a Jew.

6. What about the trip surprised you?

I was surprised to learn that many Israeli soldiers dislike the Israeli police. I could not wrap my head around how compulsory army service could be preferrable to issuing parking tickets and maintaining public order.

7. What was your low-point of the trip?

Every time we had a "discussion" was a particularly miserable experience for me because I knew that if I spoke up, either I would be shut down by the "moderator" or universally ignored by everyone else for being too "abberant." There were many such confrontations with conformity on the trip. I was forced to keep most opinions to myself, except in confidence with a select few others and the few times I should have known better than to open my mouth in public.

8. Do you think you will apply things you learned on birthright israel to your life outside of Israel and on campus? If so, how?

Only in publishing my newly illuminated understanding of Zionism's tremendous dark side.

9. What interests can Hillel help you develop?

From this trip, not a whole lot.

10. What other thoughts or suggestions do you have for improving Jewish life on campus?

Don't pander to the lowest possible denominator. Leave politics out entirely. Don't make it about Israel, Judaism and the State of Israel are two quite separable concepts. Teach stuff about similarities with other peoples' religions, history, and culture. Teach little-known facts about Judaism, those are always fun. Jewish social stuff is fine at current levels. More interfaith activities would be appropriate.

11. What do you think is the best way to involve or interest students with Jewish life on campus?

Don't be afraid to have deep, philosophical discussions about ancient texts or other stimuli. Don't let students forget that Judaism, at its best, has many outlooks and interpretations.

You don't have to accomodate everybody, so perhaps more ritual is acceptable granted it is done in an explanatory manner. Rituals like Shabbat or davening are ultimately inclusive, even though there might be a learning curve involved for many Hillel members.

Also, for a next time, I would recommend that the non-orthodox Shabbat services on the trip be a little bit more coordinated and officiated by a real rabbi. [name removed] did his best but it was still pretty disasterous. Again, more moderate or less-traditional Jews lost out on this experience too.
Source blogpost


At 8:29 AM, Blogger Osaid Rasheed said...

Waw !
what interesting findings !

I think you will be rated as a 'terrorist' for saying such things about Israel !!

Nice day.

At 11:57 AM, Blogger Gert said...


Do you think I should be rated a "terrorist" for reprinting someone's opinion? If so, that really would say a lot about your own perspective!

At 2:12 PM, Blogger Emmanuel said...

I think he meant Israel will label you a terrorist, not that he does.

At 3:16 PM, Blogger Gert said...


Well, I'm really charmed now.

Let's see: young American Jew goes on an organised trip to Israel but isn't satisfied and voices some criticisms. Next, a Gentile blogger reads his post and reprints it.

Result (according to you): Israel will brand the Gentile a terrorist.

Question 1: do you think this will happen?

Question 2: do you think that is right?

At 3:43 PM, Blogger Emmanuel said...

Your reading comprehension isn't at its best today:

Osaid, (a Palestinian, by the way, not an Israeli) said he thinks Israel will rate you a terrorist. You misunderstood him as saying you're a terrorist, or that he thinks you should be called one (which is in no way what he said).

Then I told you that wasn't what he means. Then you thought I was calling you a terrorist (which is in no way what I said).

In other words, nobody was calling you a terrorist, neither I (for certain) nor Osaid (I assume) think you should be called a terrorist.

At 3:53 PM, Blogger Gert said...

Oh, well, I'm glad we've cleared that up...

At 7:14 PM, Blogger Richard said...

Fascinating. And at the same time, very enlightening.

FWIW, I read the other thingee as meaning the Iraeli 'establishment/government' would label you a terrorist, Gert.

Oh, and George W, too. Maybe even Tony's main man at the Met. None of them are the sort to miss ANY opportunity to talk "terror".

At 12:12 AM, Blogger Behemoth101 said...

I appreciate the mention. Be well.


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