Sunday, August 27, 2006

Birthright Israel--Love of More Than Just Zionism

Nathaniel Popper of the Forward writes that there is more to Birthright Israel than love of just Zionism:
Birthright Israel, which has taken more than 100,000 young Jews to the Holy Land, is generally thought to be a tool for inculcating Zionism. But when it was organized, Yossi Beilin, then Israel's justice minister and the official at the center of the project, reflected the sentiments of the philanthropists behind it when he said, "I see myself as a Jewish shadchan," using the Hebrew word for matchmaker.
Ths success of Birthright Israel has encouraged all kinds of grants for other projects as well--a federation-sponosred dating game for Russian Jews in San Francisco, a singles initiative in Los Angeles funded by the Newton D. and Rochelle F. Becker Foundation and in New York: Makor, which sponsored a sold-out speed-dating session last week. Then there is Michael Steinhardt--who turned from hedge-funds to impresario turned matchmaker--who has given millions to Birthright Israel, and founded Makor. At the Manhattan Jewish Experience he promises a honeymoon on his Anguila estate to any couple in the room who meets that night and eventually marries. He claims to have paid for 20 honeymoons so far. The Manhattan Jewish Experience itself counts some 60 couples as a result of its work.

Meanwhile, Popper gives a clue why Birthright Israel has succeeded--not only in matchmaking and increasing numbers:
It was the allure not of a Jewish woman but of a free trip that inspired me to go on the Birthright tour.

Maybe, though, that's the key to its success. Critics would be quick to say that matches like mine will only push the problem of assimilation one further generation down the line--without a deep attachment to Judaism, they'd say, there's no substance to my Jewish identity. But my new partner has shown me the wonders of candle lighting, the Yiddish language and the holidays, and the beauty of these Jewish rituals is much more evident through the rose-colored glasses of love.

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