A few people were talking on Sunday about Birthright Israel (and, within my family, bickering a little about who went, didn’t go, didn’t find out about it until they were 24; whatever).
One person mentioned that the goal of the program was to encourage aliyah from North America, and I suggested – hee, hee, I’m such a rude guest – that the goal might not be aliyah so much as creating intelligent FIRST-PERSON advocates for Israel, wherever they end up living.
It’s one thing to hear about a country on the news, and entirely a different thing to see it as part of a peer group.
So I just remembered – two days later, out of the deep blue ether of my mind – a story one of my sisters told me about a female friend of hers who went on Birthright and came home happily paired up… with the girl of her dreams. Both my sister and her friend seemed to think there was something coyly subversive about that; subverting the establishment agenda.
Not yielding her budding sexual identity to two weeks (or however-long) of propaganda; I guess that was the point.
But, thinking about it now, I wonder how subversive her coming home with that “nice Jewish girl” actually was.
I think they fell right into the Birthright agenda… if you see that agenda as normalizing Israel. Internalizing Israel, living Israel. Living life in Israel, falling in love in Israel, and maybe, by extension, falling a little bit in love with Israel. Being yourself – in Israel.
The picture of Israel you get from the news is all, “Flotilla! Gaza! Wall! Rockets! Apartheid!” The picture of Israel most teens – most people have – rarely includes such mundane yet extraordinary things as buying a slice of pizza, going to the bathroom, (l’havdil!) falling in love.
Even falling in love with a person of the same sex. Yes, in Israel, that happens. Life happens.
Once you’ve been there, you can never again deny Israel… the way you might if all you’d seen was the news. I sure wish they’d had Birthright when I was that age.