Tis the Season

by Mordecai Holtz

As mid terms in college towns across North America wind down, Birthright season is just picking up. Buses with thousands of college aged students and young professionals, from all over the world, began to receive the gift of a life time – an all expense paid trip to see and experience Israel, the Jewish homeland, for the first time.

For 10 years, Birthright has invested vast sums of resources into the next generation of Jews to ensure that these future leaders remain enthusiastic and connected to the land, people and textually rich heritage of the Jewish people. The program deserves the accolades it receives for its success in leaving such an indelible impact on an entire generation that has been labeled as disinterested in Israel and disengaged by the ‘autonomous, boring and coercive’ nature of the Jewish heritage.

Interestingly, almost all of the trip providers, which range across the Jewish spectrum, use the trip as a springboard for engagement following the participants return to their campus or hometown. But the question remains why wait? Getting the attention of a generation thirsty for new methods of stimulation for 10-full days is the opportunity of a lifetime! Rather than expose these future leaders to our Homeland from the seat of a bus, why not incorporate a bit more ‘tachlis’ Israel-based and Jewish educational programming during the 10-day trip?

The current model could easily be enhanced by collaborating with the best and brightest of Jewish communal programmatic world. With only a bit of tweaking, Birthright could engage the hearts, minds and souls of its participants and inspire Diaspora Jewry by infusing its participants with the tools necessary to serve as ambassadors of the Jewish people and the State of Israel.

So what would it take? Begin with adding a theme to each day which would be developed throughout the day. The generation labeled as disinterested in anything Jewish, is ironically hungry for ways to be transformed. Enter Limmud. Since its inception, Limmud has “pioneered and evolved a unique cross-communal Jewish learning model by tapping into and ensuring that every participant takes one step further on his or her Jewish journey and that there is always something for everyone, no matter what their level of Jewish knowledge or commitment to Jewish life may be”. Taking a theme like volunteering, altruism, social action and/or tikkun olam, for example, and beginning with a morning chavura session on what do Jewish sources have to say about the issue, could easily invigorate the afternoon’s volunteering experience.

Shabbat in Israel is a special experience. Friday should be an opportunity to prepare and connect the next generation with the single most inspirational Jewish event since the beginning of time! Shabbat is one of the few cross-denominational events offering everyone a chance to experience a real Wow moment! So, in addition to spending Friday morning at the shuk, take some time to have the participants bake their own challah and, maybe even, sell it for charity. The Challah for Hunger project has received international acclaim for its simple and fun method of raising money and awareness for hunger – and disaster-relief. Even Bill Clinton is in on this one.

The hands-on experience combined with a small class on understanding the spiritual significance behind the day of rest and an analysis of the classic and modern Shabbat liturgy, before going to the Western Wall, will certainly leave a lasting impact and desire to participate in Birthright Next Shabbat programs back home.

In short, respect these students’ interests and demand more from them. Remember you are the sponsor which means you can set the bar! Make sure that the providers and staff should imbue passion and enthusiasm and express a meaningful Jewish life. If they have never have never experienced Shabbat or spent some time engaging with Jewish texts, then they may not be the best representatives of what our heritage has to offer. Respect the textually centered Jewish people and culturally rich State of Israel and offer much more of both. We are the people of the book, take this as the ultimate opportunity to expose the next generation to the many rich texts that are our trademark.

Birthright is only 10 days long, the passion and enthusiasm about Israel, Jew and Judaism will create and secure the participants appetite for Jewish life and a brighter future.

To all the Birthright Israel participants welcome to Israel enjoy the experience and take advantage of every opportunity to be in your homeland!!!

Mordecai Holtz is the Administrative Director of Pathways Israel – a leading short-term Israel experience for Jewish college students and young professionals interested learning about and deepening their connection to Israel, Jews and Judaism. Email mordecai.holtz [at] gmail dot com; follow his new blog organizingourchaos; Facebook: Mordecai holtz Twitter: @mordecaiholtz