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Israel Wants You! Introducing "Birthright II"

By Tzvi Fishman
7/17/2011, 1:59 PM

Once again this week, we were asked to host some Birthright visitors for a Shabbat meal. This time I passed. We had some of my wife’s family coming from out of town, and when I have to speak English to the American kids, it draws attention away from the family reunion.

I think the Birthright program is a positive thing on the American Jewish agenda, but, as I have said in the past, it’s not the real McCoy. You do a disservice to Israel when you turn it into a ten-day Disneyworld tour. Even when the visit comes to strengthen Jewish identity, the Land of Israel is much much more than a fix of Jewish adrenaline.  The Land of Israel is much more than a cool place to visit to feel proud to be a Jew. Rabbi Kook writes: “this orientation to the Land of Israel is not worthy of lasting fruition, for the foundation of this concept is rickety in light of the towering, unshakable holiness of Eretz Yisrael” (Orot, 1:1).   

Let’s face it. Most of the Birthright kids return to America, and after a short time back in their gentile universities and colleges, getting stoned out of their minds and shacking up with all of the easy Miss American co-eds, any Jewish pride that they gained in Israel vanishes in Suzy and Sally and Cindy’s embrace.

For a Jew, the Land of Israel isn’t a place to visit. It is THE place for a Jew to live. Turning it into a Jewish Disneyland is a travesty. It’s a distortion of all the Torah. It’s turning everything upside down. This has to be clear. If you don’t tell the Birthright kids that they really belong in Israel, and that America is nowheres-ville for a Jew, you’re dooming them to live out their lives in delusion.

A far better Birthright program is contained in the Torah portion we read on Shabbat, and in the portion we will be reading this week, concerning the tribes of Reuven and Gad, and the half tribe of Menashe.  The Torah states: “Take the sum of all of the congregation of the Children of Israel, from twenty years old and upward, by their father’s houses, everyone who is able to go to the army in Israel” (Bamidbar, 26:2).

First of all, notice that we are called the Children of Israel. As we have explained elsewhere, the term “Jew” is an invention of the Diaspora, referring to the Israelites from the tribe of Yehuda who were exiled from Eretz Yisrael. We are Israelites. All of us. No matter where we live. We are the Children of Israel. We belong to the Nation of Israel. Not to America, England, Germany, or Canada.

Secondly, the Torah calls upon every male to enter the Israeli army upon reaching the age of twenty. Now, I ask you – why should my sons be required to enlist in Tzahal, while the sons of American Jews are Scott free to get stoned every day, advance their careers, and play tennis with Suzy, Sally, Cindy, and Samantha? As Children of Israel, they belong in the Israeli army too!

Therefore, the Government of Israel, along with the Bronfmans, Steinhardts, and many other fine Jews, should inaugurate a new program, “Birthright II,” whereby every Diaspora Jew, upon reaching 20, will have to donate three years of army service to Israel, just like my kids. In my opinion, everyone should start when they are 18, like my kids, before they start college and contact venereal disease from Sally and Cindy, and wipe out half of their brain cells with all kinds of spiked and “colossal” drugs. The boys will join the Israeli army, in special units geared for English speakers. Knowing in advance that a 3 year obligation will cause American Jews to rise up in arms, we will make a special dispensation and require only 2 years of army service instead. The weak of heart, who don’t want to be combat soldiers, will be able to fill out their service by working in army kitchens, cleaning the lavatories, painting warehouses, and the like. Girls will also be required to serve at least one year, as part of the “Sherut Leumi National Israel Service Program,” just like my daughter is doing. They will work in non-army positions, all around the country, in hospitals, day-care centers, kindergartens and the like.

This way, instead of being just a fun and soon forgotten Disneyland visit to Israel, the new “Birthright II” will be, first of all, an obligation, letting every Diaspora youth know that he is a 100% official Israeli. Secondly, by the end of their 1 to 3 year program, they will speak Hebrew, think like real Israelis, and be Sabras through and through, instead of being JAPS. In addition, most of them will want to stay in Israel at the end of their service, saving them from wasting the rest of their lives in America and marrying out of the faith.

As for America’s “Ultra-Orthodox” Jews, there will be special Haredi programs combining army service and Torah study, with all of the glatt-kosher gefilta fish you can eat.

Having been the first director of “Volunteers For Israel” (Sarel) in America, and one of the organization’s founders, I am certain the program could work. (In fact, for a salary of $400,000 per year, I might consider accepting the CEO position of “Birthright II.”)

I would like to hear your feedback and suggestions about this bold and revolutionary new project. Outside of immediate aliyah, it’s the only thing I can think of to save the endangered kids of the Diaspora from turning into an extinct species, G-d forbid. Of course, it will require a great amount of funding, but the money is there (if America’s economy doesn’t crash next week as some heavyweight Israeli Kabbalists have been predicting as the next stage of Mashiach.) And, of course, parents, rabbis, educators, and the Diaspora Jewish establishment will have to start singing a new tune, putting the emphasis on “A New Future in Israel,” rather than expanding the local shul, making money in America, and lounging with the Sisterhood girls around the Federation pool.

Later in the week, we will continue this great call and challenge with a discussion of Reuven, Gad, and the half tribe of Menashe.

In the meantime, Shavuah tov!