Don’t Abuse Your Birthright!

Sposored by Midreshet Devora in Honor of the Upcoming Marriage of Adina Potter Yoe to Daniel Abramson

In Parshat Shalch, God tells Moshe (Bamidbar 13:2): “Send for yourself, men, and have them tour (viyatouru) the Land of C’naan which I am giving to B’nai Yisrael; of every tribe of their fathers shall you send a man, every one a ruler among them.”


Shadal interprets “Vayatouro” to mean that they should tour the land. In other words, the twelve men should go on a free vacation to see how nice the land is.


If you look in Parshat Shlach very carefully you will find that these men are called tourists, they are not called meraglim (spies).


Sadly, ten out of the twelve men did not show appreciation for their free vacation. Instead of looking at all of the positives that Israel has to offer, they chose to dwell on the negative.


The story of these tourists reminds me of the Birthright Israel trips (free ten day trips to Israel for Jewish students between the ages of 18-26). Many students who participate on Birthright are looking for a strong connection to Israel and the Jewish people. These students make the most of their 10 day trip or even extend it for a few more days, weeks or months. When they return to their communities they speak out on behalf of Israel and explain why the media is often distorted and encourage their friends to visit as well. Some of the Birthright participants end up returning to study for a semester or a year. A select few even make Aliya. I would include these students in the category of Yehoshua and Calev who made the most of their trip and came back saying that it was a good land.


Some Birthright students take the free trip to Israel and bring along a negative attitude. They may be looking to take the Arab side in the Arab- Israeli conflict without having all of the facts or they may be on a mission to bash religious Jews. Sometimes this bad attitude changes over the course of the trip as it does in the very well written graphic novel How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less by Sarah Glidden. A lot of the change in attitude has to do with the providers of the trip and the staff that runs it.


Unfortunately, there are some students that for whatever reason have a bad experience on the trip and they will end up giving Israel a bad name when they get home.


How can we make a difference? If you live in Israel you can offer to host birthright students for Shabbat meals or join them for a Shabbaton at their hotel. When you see the participants on the street, be friendly to them. If you have a store or restaurant, don’t overcharge them because you know that they came with plenty of spending money.


 If we make an effort to give the Birthright students a good experience then they will give a good report when they get back home. This can ultimately help bring more students to Israel on a short term program, a long term experience or it may even help them decide to make Aliya as Yehoshua and Calev did.