June 04, 2008

More Christians join Birthright

I find this story to be more than a little troubling. Is anyone paying attention to the background of the candidates, or are they just letting the barn door swing wide open.

"As Birthright Israel has grown drastically since starting operations in 2000 - it has brought over 180,000 young adults to Israel - the question of eligibility for the free trips has become more controversial.

According to reports, an increasing number of non-Jewish participants, including devout Christians, have managed to get through the screening process of the program, which is meant for Diaspora Jews between 18 and 26 who have never participated in an organized visit here.

"There were two Christians on my trip, and they didn't hide it at all," 2006 Birthright participant Elissa Glick told The Jerusalem Post on Monday. "They carried New Testaments and protested when we didn't visit the Holy Sepulchre. They were totally segregated from the group."

According to Birthright Israel's Web site, participants are eligible if they are recognized as Jewish "by the Jewish community or by one of the recognized denominations of Judaism, or if either parent is Jewish and the applicant does not actively practice another religion."

But it is evident that this criteria is not always used when selecting participants.

"I think a lot of the times it was just a matter of trying to get as many people as you can, and I think there are a lot of people who slip through the cracks," said an anonymous former night shift interview manager for a Birthright program from March to November 2007.

"One of the questions we had to ask was 'what is your favorite holiday memory?' And people are telling us: Christmas with my family... But we are still saying 'okay, you can come on the trip," the manager said.

According to Tim, a 24-year-old New Jersey native who just completed a Mayanot Birthright trip, his mother's family is Jewish, but he was raised as a Christian Scientist.

"My mother's family is Jewish, but they converted in the 1920s. Our whole family gets together to celebrate Christmas... I am definitely a member of a Christian family," he said.

When asked why he went on the trip, Tim explained: "It was more of a cultural heritage trip for me... I am not a supporter of organized religion, I really don't like it."

Gidi Mark, director of marketing for Taglit-Birthright Israel, admitted that mistakes had been made in the selection process.

"We send about five [participants] home every season out of 40,000... We catch about 100 every year before they come... We have improved the registration process a lot over the last two years," he said.

He added that Birthright had "a very sophisticated screening and interviewing process that has proven itself very well... There are some key questions that put you in a category that may require the interviewer to ask you some more questions."

Edwards explained, "When we were doing interviews there was a lot of fine very lines... We would have to say... all of these other answers were correct, but really just this one little thing was flagged... so we would flag them to be re-interviewed... but who ever knows if they were, or if they were just put on a plane."

8 comments:

leeby bamizrach said...

On the flipside...
Birthright looks more for zionistic people than religious and I know that a my very religious friends made up answers so that they would be accepted on the trip.
and yes, very disturbing...

benning said...

A lot of Christians want to see Israel, and want to support Israel. This is something that organization needs to address, but aside from a few overly zealous Christians making pains of themselves, I don't think this is a huge problem.

But then, I'm not Jewish. My perspective is faulty.

chaviva said...

I think people would be shocked to learn how much of the money that pays for the Birthright trips comes from Christian Zionist organizations ... but I'm not saying that means Christians should go on the trips :D

Don't they have their own versions of these trips now, though?

Jack said...

Leeby,

It is an imperfect system.

A lot of Christians want to see Israel, and want to support Israel.

Benning,

I hear you and want to support that, but this trip is specifically designed for Jewish kids.

Look at this:
Taglit-Birthright Israel provides the gift of first time, peer group, educational trips to Israel for Jewish young adults ages 18 to 26. Taglit-Birthright Israel's founders created this program to send thousands of young Jewish adults from all over the world to Israel as a gift in order to diminish the growing division between Israel and Jewish communities around the world; to strengthen the sense of solidarity among world Jewry; and to strengthen participants' personal Jewish identity and connection to the Jewish people.

I don't have a problem with Christians supporting Israel, but there are trips that are more appropriate for them.

Chaviva,

I am sure that money comes from all sorts of places, but that doesn't change the mission of this trip.

Ben-Yehudah said...

B"H The barn door has been left open at least a jar. Now I'm starting to know why evil people like Yossi Beilin support Birthright.

Christians are welcome to support us,...FROM AFAR.

If they come here to missionize, let's just say that all bets are off.

Batya said...

I know someone who has worked as a tour guide for them and, needing to say kaddish, had trouble finding a minyan of Jewish males.

Jack said...

BY,

Reminds me of the Rav's blessing for the Czar in Fiddler. ;)

Batya,

That is a bit troubling.

Ben-Yehudah said...

B"h

As a matter of fact, I DID recently mimic this prayer:

The Other Burning Bush

Batya,

I wonder if it was because they weren't born Jewish or that they are pasul due to their beliefs. I wonder if everyone should submit these anecdotes to Birthright, and see if the statistics they quoted Jack about "mistakes" are accurate.