by Rabbi Idit Solomon
According to Birthright Israel’s website, the average number of young adults they send to Israel annually is 40,000. The cost per person is $3,000 and over 350,000 young adults have taken the trip. One of their highlighted achievements is that “Most participants say that the trip was a “life-changing experience” that made them feel closer to Israel and to their Jewish heritage.” Expressing that closeness to Israel may be through a return trip, Israel advocacy, donation to Israeli charities and the like. Jewish heritage might be expressed as spending time with Jewish friends, involvement in the formal Jewish community, and religious practice.
Feeling closer to their Jewish heritage as it relates specifically to Birthright may also mean a future Jewish spouse and children. There is no doubt that many supporters of the program hope that the trips lead to in-marriage and Jewish children. That desire and actual effect may have lead to the myth of a free honeymoon for Birthright merges. This myth is so pervasive that there is a frequently asked question on the Birthright website (spoiler alert) to deny it.
Information gleaned from the ongoing study of the impact of Birthright shows that participants were 45% more likely than those who had not been on Birthright to be married to someone Jewish. Without parsing that number too deeply, we can safely say that Birthright has some effect on helping Jews marry other Jews. And why do we want Jews to marry other Jews? To have Jewish babies. Wash, rinse, and repeat.
Birthright’s name implies that a trip to Israel is a privilege or right that is due to all Jews simply because they were born. The founders of Birthright believe that Jewish young adults are entitled to a trip to Israel. We also hope those young adults feel entitled to get married and have a baby. Many couples, however, meet on Birthright (or otherwise), get involved, get married and then find out they are not able to conceive a child without $25,000 or $40,000. The average out of pocket expenses involved with fertility treatment is beyond what most Jewish young adults have on hand or have coming to them soon, if ever, without extraordinary sacrifices. Birthright, meet birthrate.
If Jews are entitled to a trip to Israel then all the more so do Jews have the right to give birth to another Jewish generation. Through Birthright many young adults are enlightened to the richness of Jewish life and build an enduring relationship with Israel. They feel connected and it becomes manifest in their love relationships and their desire for a family. They are given a free trip to Israel, but now some of them need financial support to have baby. The Jewish community must share the responsibility to assist those in need to fulfill that birthright.
Infertility is painful and especially isolating in the family oriented Jewish world. And it can be absurdly expensive. The Jewish community has made countless efforts to enrich Jewish identities, build relationships and strengthen ties. Couples who want to be Jewish parents deserve at least as much effort to support their hope and our hopes for a next generation. Conversations about raising and educating Jewish children and of course sending them to Israel are plentiful. We also need conversations that build awareness of infertility in the Jewish community and that lead to help for couples in need. The cost of silence and not acting is nothing short of our birthrate.
And without a birthrate, there is no need for a Birthright.
Rabbi Idit Solomon is the founder and CEO of the Hasidah Foundation. Previously she served as the Vice President of Jewish Education and Identity at the Jewish Federation of Columbus.