This piece has been republished by The Algemeiner.
Birthright is a 10-day free trip to Israel that is offered to all Jews between the ages of 18 and 26 who have not previously been on a peer trip to Israel. While these 10 days are filled with fun and many participants say that they plan on returning to Israel, according to a study done by Brandeis University, four years after Birthright only 25% of US participants and 36% of Canadian participants actually returned to Israel. If Birthright’s mission is to indoctrinate Jewish children and encourage them to make Aliyah and join the IDF, then they are doing a lousy job.
Birthright is an incredible program that young Jewish adults are fortunate enough to have. Although return rates are low, Birthright instills fond memories in participants and allows them to connect to Israel and Judaism on a personal level. Demonizing something that encourages young people to explore a country and a religion without charging them a dime is wrong. Regardless of what one might perceive to be Birthright’s message, the concept and outcomes of the program are amazing.
According to their website, Taglit-Birthright’s objectives are “to change the course of Jewish history and ensure the continuity of the Jewish people by strengthening Jewish identity, Jewish communities, and solidarity with Israel via an educational trip to Israel for Jewish young adults around the world.” There is nothing in their objectives about students either making Aliyah nor joining the IDF.
In the past, Birthright has not only been questioned for its non-existent indoctrinatory policies, but for its mere existence. “Where is the Palestinian Birthright?” Few Jewish college students make it through their higher education without having to answer this question. The answer should be that there are plenty of trips for students to go to the Palestinian territories, but they are not free of charge.
Since the tragic death of Max Steinberg in Operation Protective Edge, many articles have come out about Birthright and a few accused the program of being the reason that Steinberg joined the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). Some have even accused Birthright of killing Steinberg. Among those articles was one that got a particularly large amount of attention; the article was titled, “‘Solidarity With Israel’: A Birthright trip convinced an American with shaky Hebrew that he was ready to die for another country”, and was written by Allison Benedikt. Benedikt’s article was not only in bad taste, but it held inaccuracies regarding Birthright’s mission.
The only person to blame for Max Steinberg’s death is the Hamas member who killed him. There is no one else who is responsible. Birthright had nothing to do with the tragic death of this hero. The notion that Birthright is the only reason that Max, or any other lone soldier, joins the IDF is preposterous. There are several reasons why people choose to join the IDF, and despite what they face once they join, they do not blame things such as Birthright for their hardships and tragedies. Izzy Ezagui is an American who volunteered for the IDF and lost his arm while fighting for Israel, and he blames neither Israel nor Birthright for his injury. As Ezagui says in the video, he belonged in the army and while Birthright influenced him, it was not the sole reason that he joined.
Anyone who joins an army and moves to a country after a free 10-day trip needs to spend much thought and time to evaluate such a decision. Becoming a lone soldier is not only a very personal decision, but is not one that is made overnight. Whether they talk about it or not, lone soldiers are people who have thoroughly thought through their decision to move to a new country, leave their family, learn a new language and join the army. While there are programs in place through several organizations that are designed to help lone soldiers, it is still a hard thing to be and a hard decision to make.
Contributed by CAMERA Intern Rachel Wolf, a student at American University and a 2014-2015 CAMERA Fellow. Rachel participated in Birthright in 2013 and is currently working from Jerusalem.