How Birthright is like crack cocaine:
It plays on and heightens the most base, visceral urges, especially sex. (If you do not believe me, click here or here…) Momo Lifschitz (who either split from Birthright in 2009 or was pushed out… depends whom you ask…), coiner of the term “Sexual Zionism”, urged the many Oranim trip participants under his tutelage to “make Jewish babies”. (How many Jewish babies, one wonders, were conceived on a Birthright trip?) Also, add to this the sleeplessness and alcohol and you have brewed yourself a mighty potent cocktail…
It is expensive. But Birthright is free, no? As David Bryfman argued, it’s free for you. Someone else is paying for it. And that someone else is probably Sheldon Adelson… in conjunction with the (predominantly secular) Israeli taxpayer.
It sucks resources from other places and programs to feed the habit. Many a good Israel program that provides context, concrete learning and community building before and after the trip continues to face decline in participation and funding not as a result of Israel’s volatile political situation – but as a result of Birthright. Many a Jewish parent, already buckling under the burden of day school tuitions and/or camp fees, etc., can say “NO” sans-guilt to requests for Grade 8 or high school trips because there will always be Birthright – and it’s free! Ta da!
There are other similarities that I could emphasize here, but let’s move on to the critical difference:
How Birthright is NOT like crack cocaine:
It does not seem to be habit forming. This is what many researchers (here, here, here) have discovered, and what Emily Comisar, Birthright NEXTer, is calling for (yet again) by shifting the discussion from Birth-right to Birth-responsibility.
Let’s stop working so hard to be event planners and start being relationship builders. Maybe we can build a stronger community if, instead of counting heads, we tap into the entire person, figure out which of their talents and skills are necessary to make things happen, and let them know that they are the only ones who can do it.
This shift (or, shall we say, priority) might have been possible when the concept of Birthright was first pitched to North American Jews at the turn of the millenium, but once you set up the expectation of free, of a 10 day engagement (and that’s it), it will be VERY hard to move the discourse away from feeding the lizard brain to the hard, often unglamorous, unsexy work of building a viable Jewish future.
Perhaps each Birthright trip might begin with Debbie Allen walking out on stage the opening event to deliver the following speech:
You’ve got big dreams. You want Jewish continuity? Well, Jewish continuity costs. And right here is where you start paying — with short-term debauchery and highly-orchestrated touristic experiences fueled by sleeplessness, alcohol and hormones as a gateway drug into long-term engagement with establishment institutions like federations, synagogues and day schools, Jewish in-marriage, having matrilineally-descended Jewish children to exceed replacement levels and a revenue stream for future donations!
This might help.