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January 17, 2017 / 19 Tevet, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘Birthright’

It’s My Birthright

Sunday, September 25th, 2016

This summer in Israel I completed what is considered a rite of passage for eighteen-year-old Jews. No, I didn’t join the army. I went on Birthright, a free trip instituted to strengthen the connection between Israel and the Jewish people. Or in the words of the Birthright Israel pamphlet – “A journey in Jewish making.”

The preparation was intense, but three trips to the Israeli Consulate later, I was all ready to board the plane with my suitcase in tow and my nails emblazoned with mini Israeli flags. As the pilot told us to fasten our seatbelts in Hebrew, I knew I was home. It didn’t matter that we hadn’t left the terminal yet or that I’d only been to Israel once before as an infant. I was home.

And that was the predominant message that was reinforced with every city, monument, and holy site that we visited. It is ours. It has always been ours. We can always return because it is a right that we have possessed since birth. Or to put it all more succinctly – it is our birthright.

The trip was filled with blasting Israeli music, ice breakers, shawarma, water bottles that were taller than me, many visits to Aroma, and about a million cats. The ground we were able to cover in ten days was astonishing. You name it, we went there.

Now, since I possess zero athletic prowess, the long hikes and water activities were fun and all, but they were not what defined my experience or what cemented my connection to the Holy Land. It was the following three encounters:


The Kotel

We went to the Kotel exactly twice on this trip, Friday morning and Shabbos night. The difference for me was literally and figuratively night and day. In the morning we faced long security lines and sweltering heat. I found myself trying to find a space to take the obligatory “kiss the Kotel” picture, and then being dragged away to the next activity.

Shabbos night was an entirely new story. Dressed in our best, we lit candles together and proceeded to the wall. The Kotel was a stunning sight. The wall was bathed in light, with men and women praying solemnly next to it. How do I put what happened next? Birthright took over. Wordlessly, we created a circle and began to dance and sing as fervently as we could with the song “Am Yisroel Chai” echoing in the wind. The song was aptly chosen, because it reminded me that they may have destroyed our Temple, but they have not destroyed the Jewish spirit that lives in all of us. We would continue to sing, dance, and pray next to the Wall we had left until the Beis HaMikdash would be rebuilt.


Misgav Am

The Kotel was where I was able to whet my spiritual appetite, but Misgav Am was where I received some much-needed lessons in ideology. Misgav Am is a kibbutz located near the border of Lebanon in northern Israel. We were treated to a panoramic view of Israel, Lebanon, Syria, and the Mediterranean. The middle of the Middle East, if you will. Our speaker was Aryeh Ben Yaakov, a retired member of the kibbutz and a veteran of four wars. For thirty-four days in 2006 the kibbutz was targeted by Hezbollah. Did anybody leave? No.

Why? Because as Aryeh simply stated: “Nobody gets us off the mountain.”

The tone of the speech was unapologetic with sentences like: “Don’t mess with Israel, we are going to defend ourselves.”


“We got it, we developed it, we fight for it.”

“It’s the last time Jews are going to be victims and scapegoats.”

To me, this rhetoric was so different from anything I’d previously encountered. Everyday I would hear about another way Israel had been excoriated by the media and the rest of the world for preventing peace by refusing to “give back” land.

Aryeh’s reply? “You want peace, I’ll give you peace. What does land have to do with it?”

I believe this is the attitude that as Jews we should all embody. We have to stop apologizing and bending over backward for the rest of the world.

The Mifgash

So far I’ve covered the religious and ideological aspects of the trip. The final facet I’d like to write about is the social side. Each birthright group has forty participants and together, as “foreigners” we got to experience all that Israel had to offer. But the organizers knew that the only way we could get a true feel for the country would be if we were accompanied by Israeli peers. So they created the mifgash, encounter, where eight Israelis would join our trip.tzippy-092316-view

From the moment we picked them up from the bus station, it felt like they’d been with us the entire time. Most of them were either current soldiers, or ones that had completed their service. I was very inquisitive, but as most of them served in the Intelligence Unit, they were not permitted to give me much information. That didn’t stop me from asking, though.

I practiced my Hebrew on them, and they practiced their English on me. It’s safe to say they have a superior grasp on our language than we do on theirs. They really were just like us, except more mature, experienced, and accomplished.

It was when we went to Mount Herzl that I truly began to comprehend their responsibilities and sacrifice. As we walked through Israel’s national cemetery, our Israeli soldiers donned their full uniforms to walk with us. They shared heartbreaking stories of soldiers they knew who bravely died protecting our country, while we stood next to the decorated graves. Let’s just say it was the wrong day to put on mascara.

tzippy-092316-nailsBefore they departed, they gifted us with authentic military dog tags and a piece of their uniform. It was a sad day when they left.

Tzipora Baitch

Steinberg Family, Birthright-Israel Turned Personal Tragedy into Eternity

Tuesday, July 21st, 2015

Dozens of dignitaries, friends and family members gathered last week (July 16) to remember falled IDF soldier Max Steinberg in a memorial dedication ceremony at the ancient Arbel Synagogue in northern Israel.

Members of Birthright Israel and Birthright Israel Foundation (BRIF) joined the gathering to honor Steinberg, who participated in a Birthright Israel trip in 2012.

Moved by his experience, Steinberg made Aliyah and joined the IDF’s prestigious Golani Brigade where he served as a sharpshooter. He fell in battle in July 2014 while serving with the IDF during Operation Protective Edge.

“Max was a hero, he is my hero because he followed his dreams and he lived his life to its fullest, said Gidi Mark, International CEO of Birthright Israel. “I’m sure that this place and the thousands of Birthright Israel participants who will experience it will keep Max’s name and legacy alive for many years to come.”

In addition to the launch of the Max Steinberg Memorial Fund, the dedication service marked the start of a restoration project of the Arbel ancient synagogue, to be led by Birthright Israel and the Foundation.

Upon completion of the site’s restoration, Birthright Israel groups will be able to gather at Mount Arbel for celebratory occasions including b’nai mitzvah and Hebrew naming ceremonies, and learn about his legacy. The Max Steinberg Memorial Fund will be designated to encourage and support participation of Lone Soldiers on Birthright Israel’s Mifgash.

“Max’s legacy is really an inspiration to us all. Through Birthright Israel, he fell in love with our homeland and became an active citizen of the State of Israel. We are grateful for not only his service, but his dedication and the legacy he leaves behind for all of us,” said Birthright Israel Foundation President, David Fisher.

Hana Levi Julian

Where are the American Zionists?

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014

Where are the American Zionists?

It really struck me watching the parade in NYC, why are American Jews not coming in droves to Israel for the summer! Are they scared because of the war? That is understandable but so are their brothers and sisters who live here. But we get beyond being scared, we get proud, we get tough, we grow, we bond, we identify with our past and we know what is our future. What parent wouldn’t want their children to have these values? Instead they teach them to hide when your only Jewish country in the world is under attack?

Why not teach them to volunteer, to come and give strength and spirit to those of us who are here all year long? To help the economy, to go on a kibbutz, to fill in for a soldier who is really risking his life by covering his job – whatever it should be. Come pack lunches, calm the elderly or the Holocaust survivors who take it the hardest.

What is more important, swimming in the lake, horseback riding at camp, getting stoned in the day and drunk at night? I would be much more worried about my children if these were the values I was teaching them.

I left America on my own when I was 19 on the 4th of July 1974. This year marked forty years in Israel. Many kids between 17 – 21 come here on BirthRight and that’s great. (Or at least better than not coming). But there is also Sarel (bet you never even heard of it – http://www.sar-el.org/). These guys are way beyond “Birth Right” they are about “Life Privilege.”

They have plenty of programs, they can handle the numbers. The only thing I can tell you is that the Americans that come here now and spend their summer on a program like this will have a very hard time relating to the frightened kids who hid in the States. Those kids will just be older children while the ones that came to Israel will be men and women.

If you are a parent – you gave your child life. Now it might time to also give them meaning for that li

Volunteers preparing food packages.

Volunteers preparing food packages.


Gedaliah Gurfein

Diaspora Leaders Score $100 Million from Israel

Thursday, June 5th, 2014

Its leaders call it a “historic development,” a “paradigm shift” and a “change in the relationship” between Israel and Diaspora Jewry.

But when it comes to the details of the Joint Initiative of the Government of Israel and World Jewry, key questions have yet to be answered — including what it will do and who will fund it.

Conceived last year as a partnership between the Israeli government, the Jewish Agency for Israel and major Diaspora Jewish bodies, the initiative aims to strengthen Diaspora Jewish identity and connections between Israel and Jews worldwide.

On Sunday, Israel’s Cabinet voted to invest upward of $50 million on the initiative through 2017. The government intends to increase the sum to $100 million annually by 2022.

The government wants Diaspora sources — federations, philanthropic foundations and individual donors — to contribute double those sums for two-thirds of the initiative’s total budget.

The funding will go both toward expanding existing programs for young adults and creating new ones.

“It’s a historic development that the Israeli government has decided to take more responsibility for strengthening the identity of Jewish communities,” the Jewish Agency’s chairman, Natan Sharansky, told JTA. “We’re talking about Jewish identity built on a connection to Israel.”

Given the success of Birthright Israel, a free, 10-day trip to Israel for Jewish young adults, the initiative will focus on immersive experiences in Israel, college campus programs, Jewish summer camps and experiential learning, Sharansky said.

But though the Israeli government has set aside money for the initiative, it has neither lined up the matching grants from Diaspora foundations nor has it outlined the specific programs that would receive the funding.

A planning meeting for the initiative in November 2013 drew a virtual who’s who of major Jewish organizations and foundations. But Sharansky mentioned only Jewish Federations of North America as a potential initial source of funding from the United States, saying he didn’t want to single others out before a plan had been set.

“There are many unanswered questions at this point,” the Jewish Federations’ CEO, Jerry Silverman, told JTA. “Six months from now many of those questions will be answered. We’re not at the finish line. We’re at the 30-yard line. We feel confident we’ll get to the finish line together on this.”

Silverman said that the Jewish Federations had yet to decide on an initial sum to contribute to the initiative and that his network was not involved in setting the budget passed by the Israeli Cabinet on Sunday.

Sharansky set a timetable of one to two months for program proposals to be drawn up. Following the initiative’s lengthy planning process thus far, which has included conferences and an online forum for young Jews worldwide to suggest programs, Sharansky said that “coming to practical decisions comes very quickly.”

Dvir Kahana, the director-general of Israel’s Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs Ministry, said the initiative still requires strategic planning in addition to practical steps.

The Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs Ministry, as well as the Finance Ministry, will provide Israeli government funding for the initiative. It will be run by a body including representatives from the Israeli government, the Jewish Agency and Diaspora funders.

“We’re going to have a strategic plan for the next 25 years,” he said. “Not what we know to do now but what we should and should not do. From that strategic perspective, with key people, we’ll make decisions both regarding existing programs and programs we need to create. We’re not set on any specific program.”

According to the text of the resolution passed by Israel’s Cabinet, a key portion of the initiative is strengthening the relationship between Israel and Diaspora Jewry. The first stage of the initiative will focus both on bringing young Diaspora Jews to Israel and on Israel education in Diaspora communities. There has not been a decision whether the project’s initial stage will also educate Israeli Jews about world Jewry, Sharansky said.

The Jewish Agency, historically focused on promoting immigration to Israel, has in recent years taken up a new mission of strengthening Jewish identity in the Diaspora and peoplehood. It now offers Diaspora Jews long-term experiences in Israel without a commitment to immigrate.

Sharansky said that while Orthodox Jews can count on ritual observance to keep them engaged in the Jewish community, Israel is the only proven anchor to ensure Jewish identity for non-Orthodox Jews.

“In the non-Orthodox world nothing stops assimilation except connection to Israel,” he said. “In Orthodox communities, awareness of Jewish identity is very high. They live through their faith and Jewish tradition. When you move to others you find out that this deep feeling of your belonging to this Jewish story and your desire to stay inside of it is becoming thinner and thinner.”


Taglit-Birthright to Allow Visits to Parts of Judea and Samaria

Friday, May 2nd, 2014

Taglit-Birthright will, for the first time, allow participants to freely visit more parts of the historical heartland of the Jewish People, according to a report in Makor Rishon.

Taglit-Birthright takes Jewish youths to Israel for free, so they can connect to their historical roots, see what Israel is today, and meet other Jews, and hopefully marry Jewish.

Until now, Taglit-Birthright has not allowed visits to many areas in Judea and Samaria as part of their program, purportedly to avoid the (internal) political conflicts that those trips might raise, and in part because of the exorbitant cost of the armored buses they feel they need.

But during the past month, Taglit-Birthright has begun allowing groups to visit Gush Etzion, south of Jerusalem, without requiring special permissions in advance.

Among those places that can now be visited are Kfar Etion, the ancient aqueduct to Jerusalem underneath Efrat (Emet HaBiyar), and Machon Tzomet.

We can only hope that at some point Taglit-Birthright will also include trips to Hebron, and the Tomb of the Patriarchs.

Jewish Press News Briefs

Come Home, Ms. Shapiro, It’s All Good

Saturday, January 25th, 2014

Lynne Shapiro commented on my article Am I Jewish Enough? Depends which Government Ministry You’re Asking, which in turn was my comment on an article by Judy Maltz, in both Haaretz and the Forward, Jewish Enough for Birthright — But Not for Israel: Kafkaesque Dilemmas Bedevil Would-Be Immigrants.

“OK Mr.,” Shapiro opened with an admirable vigor, “I am Jewish through a Reform Converted mother and a born to a Jewish mother father and have been more so living a Jewish life since he died and I became his Kaddish in my uncle’s Conservative Egalitarian synagogue (at his insistence). So if I’m not Jewish enough for you to return to Israel, why would I want to give any funds to any group that gives money to Israel as I have done over the years?”

And she added, in a separate comment:

“Also my Reform Convert mother was a total and complete Zionist and made me one! This ‘who is Jew’ is like what the Nazis did to determine who went to the camps IMHO (in my humble opinion)!”

Dear Ms. Shapiro,

First, whatever money you’ve donated to Israel through any group, most of it stays in America, to support the group’s works there, and to pay for the fundraising overhead. Israel’s economy at this point is a lot stronger and more boisterous than that of the U.S., and you should keep your money over there, we don’t need it.

Especially if you’re going to wave it in our faces every time we do something you dislike. Hold on to the money, buy yourself something nice, let’s not base our friendship on your ever diminishing U.S. dollar.

Next, as I understand the current Law of Return, your credentials are good enough to be accepted here as a citizen as soon as your arrive. In fact, they’ll probably make you a citizen even earlier, at the nearest Israeli consulate. They did that with my wife, Nancy, back in NYC, in the fall of 2011.

But why do you care about that? You ain’t planning to come here – you’re just working out a sweat over the fact that if ever you had decided to come over and make aliyah, then Israel would reject you. The problem is not with Israel in this case, but with you.

If you and the rest of America’s Jews knew what’s good for them, they’d be cramming the airports, looking to get out and make it to a safe haven in the Jewish State. IMHO, if you’re so familiar with what the Nazis did—use that acquired wisdom and get out of there while the getouting is good. We will embrace you and accept you and love you, no matter how your Mom converted. You can check it with your local Jewish Agency or Nefesh B’Nesfesh. Locate your nearest office of either and give them a call.

I wish all of us have learned a lesson from the Nazis. The late Lubavitcher Rebbe of righteous memory (who departed almost 20 years ago), used to say that we should learn from the Gestapo: how dedicated they were in seeking out every last Jew, no matter how far and how well hidden. We, too, must seek the hidden, faraway Jews, with the same dedication and self sacrifice as those Nazis, may God obliterate their memory.

So now you have it, holy sister – come home, call me up, I’ll take you to the Netanya beach, buy you a drink, point at the baby blue sky and the blue-green Mediterranean and say, Welcome home.

Yori Yanover

Am I Jewish Enough? Depends which Government Ministry You’re Asking

Friday, January 24th, 2014

Things always go nuts when state meets church, or synagogue, in the case of the Jewish State. It would have been a lot simpler had the State of Israel adopted the Torah and the Shulchan Aruch as its constitution. If you ask me, Israel would have developed a lot more like the United States than like the Soviet Union—but that’s a different debate.

For many cultural and historical but mostly for political reasons, the founding fathers and mothers of the fledgling state for all the Jews came up for their own mix of legal systems, not so much a constitution as an open-ended melange of precedence and foreign systems and smidgens of “Hebrew Law.”

Judy Maltz, writing in the Forward this week, sums it aptly with the headline: Jewish Enough for Birthright — But Not for Israel: Kafkaesque Dilemmas Bedevil Would-Be Immigrants.

I suppose Kafkaesque states make for Kafkaesque dilemmas.

The original Law of Return 5710-1950 declares the right of Jews to come to Israel: “Every Jew has the right to come to this country as an oleh.” There was some follow-up legislation in the Nationality Law of 1952, and some reupholstering in 1970, extending the right of return to non-Jews with a Jewish grandparent, and their spouses.

So that the current definition of the law of “who is a Jew” includes, in writing, non-Jews.

I know it probably had to be done at the time, in anticipation of the much needed arrival of Polish and Russian Jews. But it stretched the gap between the Shulchan Aruch and the state’s definitions so wide, it stopped making sense.

Kafkaesque stories rise when the law stops making sense.

The law since 1970 applies to:

People born Jews, having a Jewish mother or maternal grandmother.

People with Jewish ancestry, having a Jewish father or grandfather.

People who converted to Judaism within the Orthodox, Reform, or Conservative denominations. Except the Reform and Conservative conversions are only recognized if they were done outside Israel.

So, to reiterate, a Jew is a non-Jew, or one converted in a non-Jewish conversion.

Kafkaesque? Maybe. I’m leaning towards Jospeh Heller.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to advocate against Reform rabbis or against gentiles, only to point out that once you created a Jewish State that’s not based on Jewish Law you’re bound to mess up and victimize a lot of innocent civilians.

There are three essential authorities dealing with the status of Jews immigrating to Israel: the Ministry of Absorption, the Ministry of the Interior, and the Ministry of Religious Services via the Chief Rabbinate.

Anyone with an IQ in the two-digits and up will tell you there’s no way in the world these three authorities, staffed by officials from three-dimensionally opposed political and philosophical points of view, could ever cooperate on anything. The fact that they’re doing as well as they are is nothing short of a proof of the existence of a benign and loving God.

The Maltz article describes young people who make spontaneous decisions to come live in Israel, and soon run into trouble with the various authorities. What about those who plan their immigration well in advance, taking months, if not years, lining up all their ducks in order, only to discover they are short a couple of ducks, and where’s the chicken? You were supposed to bring a chicken.

I’d like to propose a solution.

First, regarding people who come to Israel, fall in love and wish to stay, only to discover Grandma Miriam was a goy—they should be granted a visitor’s status good for three years, something akin to the American green card. It will entitle them to work in Israel, and in the end of three years they can apply for citizenship. In reality, the only setback they would have to endure is a little bit of hurt pride, and they won’t get the aid package, which comes to only a few thousand dollars these days.

Yori Yanover

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/am-i-jewish-enough-depends-which-government-ministry-youre-asking/2014/01/24/

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