The following is an abridged version of my article to appear in the Autumn 2007 issue of ISRAEL HORIZONS:
BIRTHRIGHT AND POST BIRTHRIGHT by Amy K
From May 31st through June 14th of this year, I had the opportunity to take part in two unique and important programs in Israel. The first, co-sponsored by the Union of Progressive Zionists (UPZ), was funded under the auspices of Taglit-Birthright Israel. “Birthright” (as it is generally known) is the free tour of Israel underwritten by Jewish donors for young American Jews, 18 to 26. My 10-day trip with 38 other Jews my age was called “Discover Israel: Peace, Pluralism, and Social Justice.”
I coordinated the second trip, the Meretz USA Youth Symposium, with Ido Gidon, who works for Israel’s Meretz party. For four days, my group of about 20 young American Jews explored various parts of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Showing that you can love Israel but hate the occupation, these tours sharply differed from the usual Jewish-organized youth trips in the region.
The Peace, Pluralism, and Social Justice trip – PP&J, as we called it – had things in common with “typical” Birthright trips: we climbed Masada, visited the Golan Heights and Tsfat, and explored the Old City of Jerusalem. But other experiences were different: We went on a socio-economic tour of Haifa and learned about some of the problems facing the city, and, on our third day, we stopped off to learn about the “urban kibbutz movement” with a Habonim kvutza [Zionist youth living communally] in the town of Hadera.
Furthermore, all of our activities had a uniquely progressive cast. We discussed what Zionism means to us, how many of us feel that the mainstream Jewish organizations in American do not represent us, and what the peace movements are doing in both Israel and the United States. We met those hurt by the conflict on both sides, encountered activists from organizations like Givat Haviva, and had enlightening and sometimes difficult conversations with the Israeli soldiers who joined us for five days. Rather than turning us off to Israel, the complex picture painted made us feel more engaged and more connected.
This is the third year that UPZ has co-sponsored a PP&J Birthright tour. These reach out to a constituency of young American Jews who feel at odds with the “mainstream” Jewish community. A different Birthright trip might have turned them off to Israel, but the PP&J trip surprised them. I had discussions time and time again with participants who were incredibly pleased with the trip and felt that it had truly made them fall in love with Israel, flaws and all.
To be continued.