Taglit-Birthright: Discovery Continued
Taglit in Hebrew means “Discovery”
This week Aviv and Tomer, two Israeli soldiers, stayed with us in SoCal. I know Aviv from a CA Birthright trip I led in January; and Tomer was a participant on a recent Chicago Birthright trip. The best part of their visit was reconnecting Aviv with the local participants from our January trip.
Recently Taglit made budget cuts and some of the perks like the free professional group photo and the hard-cover color Taglit photo journal, that everyone used to get, were cut. Discretionary cash provided to the the tour guide, for the group’s benefit, was also greatly reduced, as were visits to Israeli national parks.
I’ve led a couple Birthright trips with Israel Experience (IE), one of about 20 certified Taglit-Birthright trip providers. To Israel Experience’s credit they did not cut what I think makes them stand out among Taglit providers. With each IE tour, Israeli soldiers join the trip from the airport in Tel Aviv and stay with the group the entire ten days on the ground. The benefits of having soldiers with a group far outweigh the material perks.
From day 1 Israelis and Americans are fully integrated and trans-Atlantic friendships are made. They eat, sleep and travel together while teaching each other American and Hebrew slang, exchanging American t-shirts and baseball caps for shirts in Hebrew and IDF souvenirs. Topics like Jewish identity in America and what being drafted into the Israeli army is like, are inevitable conversation topics. It doesn’t get much better than that for tachlis discussions.
The all-expense paid trips provide young Jews from the diaspora (not just the U.S.) ten intense, introspective and inspiring days on the ground in Israel, discovering the country, the people, the cultural and religious diversity. Post-trip, Birthright NEXT programs exist in 12 major U.S. cities, to maintain connection to Israel and local community involvement?
How can participants maintain their own connection directly to Israel and their new Israeli friends? Facebook for sure! Aviv and Tomer kept in touch with their new friends entirely online and for the past three months have been doing Birthright in reverse by visiting north America and nearly all of the 80 American Taglit participants from their two trips. They have been discovering American (and Mexican) Jewry firsthand.
It was great to see Aviv, who is an awesome guy, and so is Tomer. In their few short years, they have seen and done more than we can imagine to defend Israel and make it safer to live and visit there. The IDF sends only their best soldiers to Taglit, as a reward for strong performance in the army. It was an honor to have them at my house and have my kids get to know them. Aviv also shared secrets for downloading Israeli tv shows for free;)
But seriously, when Americans have friends in Israel they’re going to care more about what is going on in the Middle East. If one of your friends is in the army, and possibly going to war, you are going to make it your business to pay attention and hopefully become a vocal advocate when support is needed. The cross-country visit from my Israeli friends is just one positive byproduct of the uber-successful Birthright program. And it didn’t cost philanthropists a cent!
Click here for more on Birthright’s impact.
Please credit Jackie Menter and Tachlis if linking to this blog.