Its Birthright Season!!!

Ben Packer,

לבן ריק
לבן ריק
צילום: ערוץ 7
Ben Packer
Originally from Petersburg, Virginia, Ben Packer moved to Israel in 1999, where he served in the IDF's Givati Brigade in the Gaza Strip. Ben served as a Rabbi on campus at Univ. of North Carolina and at Duke Univ. Ben now serves as Director of the Jerusalem Heritage House (www.heritagehouse.org.il) and Co-Director of Young Jewish Conservatives (www.youngjewishconservatives.org). He lives in the Old City of Jerusalem with his wife and 6 children....

As virtually everyone in Israel has probably noticed by now - Its Taglit-Birthright Israel Season!!!! Tour buses sporting Birthright banners are constantly being seen everywhere (well, not everywhwere) on the roads and at hotels throughout the country. Birthright will be bringing thousands of young Jews to Israel this summer. Therefore I think its vital that more of us in Israel understand Birthright and the incredible potential.

Most people are probably aware of the basics of the program, but just to review: each bus has 40 participants (no small percentage are not halachically Jewish, of course), 2 staff members, a guard/medic and a tour guide. The trip lasts 10 days and is open to people identifying as Jewish between the ages of 18-26. Oh, and its free. 

The general goal of these trips is to instill in the participants a strong sense of personal Jewish indentity and solidarity with Israel and the Jewish People. Different trip organizers recruit eligible participants and formulate itineraries that fulfill Birthright Israel requirements and guidelines, like visiting the Western Wall, Yad Vashem, Independence Hall and a bedouin tent. Every trip is joined by approximately 8 Israeli soldiers/students for some of the 10 days. 

With the notable exceptions of Israel Free Spirit (Orthodox Union) and Mayanot (Chabad), the vast majority of the trip organizers make incredibly meager attempts to infuse the trips with any kind of religious content whatsoever. Moreover, the Israeli soldiers, foreign staff, and Israeli tour guides often see the incessant mocking and endless disparagement of traditional Judaism as their primary role. One need only listen-in to what is told to participants at the Western Wall about the Haredim there - it would be enough to even outrage the likes of Dov Lipman. 

Compounding the generally anti-religious atmosphere is the overall leftist nature of most trips. Since the bulk of the tour guides are secular, as are the Israeli soldiers (most Birthright soldiers are not combat soldiers and most religious soldiers choose to avoid the often very immodest situations that inevitably occur on every trip), coupled with the deliberate avoidance of significant historical sites like Hevron and Shiloh, views faithful to the entire Land of Israel are tough to come by. 

All the more so why I strongly believe it is imcumbent upon all of us to actively welcome all Birthright Israel participants that we come across. 

Examples:

"Welcome to Israel"! "How's the trip going"?! "Stay longer"! "Where you from"? "Come back again after the trip"! "Bring your parents"! 

Of course, depending on how "religious" you look, they might be a little intimidated. Keep in mind, they probably haven't been told the nicest things about you and your kind. But you have an opportunity to completely reverse that by just being friendly! Who knows what the result could be! This person could marry a Jewish spouse, raise a Jewish family, learn in yeshiva, make aliyah, serve in the Israeli army (I one time met a guy at a Givati tekkes and he told me that he joined the army because of something I told him at the Western Wall!!! Wish I knew what it was!). Additionally, all participants have the option of extending their stay in Israel (up to 90 days) and this could make all the difference in the world!!! (Of course, if they extend, they are welcome to come stay for free at the Jerusalem Heritage House - www.heritagehouse.org.il

Thousands of our young Jewish brothers and sisters are coming to visit their homeland through the Birthright Israel program - we should be extending to them the kind of hospitality reserved for family - that's what they are! 

Ben Packer

Old City of Jerusalem 

www.heritagehouse.org.il