Photo: Dan Balilti
Youth taking part in Taglit project (archives)
Photo: Dan Balilti

Birthright or Taglit?

Meaning of program that brings young Jews to Israel needs clarification

Every Friday as I wander through Machane Yehuda, Jerusalem's large outdoor market known locally as the "shuk", I am always delighted to see amongst the packed crowds dozens of young English-speaking tourists from various Birthright groups. For someone who remembers the quiet times in the shuk nearly 10 years ago when ongoing terrorists attacks kept most tourists away, I'm very happy to see the shuk hopping again and for the added business that the presence of these groups provide to the local shopkeepers. However, I'm even happier for the Birthright participants themselves who are firsthand getting a real taste of Jerusalem. I have no doubt that the shuk experience makes quite an impression on them.


I've also been fortunate to occasionally have Birthright participants as guests for a Shabbat meal. While their personal stories are usually intriguing, it’s the fact that they are thoroughly enjoying their brief stay in Israel that provides me with the greatest satisfaction. For this reason, I tip my hat off to the Birthright organization since it’s obvious that something good is being done here.


Following a recent Shabbat when we had two guests, one a female Birthright participant from a college in Pennsylvania and the other a young female Israeli soldier working at Army Radio as part of her military service and currently accompanying the Birthright group, a question began creeping into my head. For the first time I started to ask the obvious question, namely what is the meaning of the two words that are interchangeably used for the program, “birthright” and “taglit,” since one is not merely a translation of the other.


Regarding the latter, taglit, it is Hebrew for “discovery.” Moreover, according to Natan Roi, an Israeli writer who was commissioned in 1995 to write the original project after the nascent idea of Yossi Beilin was brought to light, the term taglit, which Roi chose for the project, originally meant that through the discovery of the Land of Israel a Jew could come to discover his real self. With this idea in mind Roi invested eight months carefully crafting an assortment of programs in order to cater to the diversified nature of various target groups in the Diaspora. Thus the term taglit, at least according to the original intended meaning of Roi, is clearly understandable as a way to fight against assimilation.


Israeli version of Taglit sorely needed

Regarding the term ”birthright”, however, a term that was given by the North Americans who eventually bought the Taglit program, the meaning is not so clear. In other words, what exactly is the birthright of every young Diaspora Jew? Does this term refer to the Jewish tradition and the right of every Jew to explore it? Or is it the right of every Jew to settle in the Land of Israel? Or is it the right of every Jew to feel Jewish and to have a connection to the Jewish people? Or is it simply the right of every young Jew to visit, at least once in his life, the Land of Israel? This is certainly not a criticism of the Birthright organization since as I mentioned above I've witnessed a lot of good firsthand. It's just my own small call for clarity since I’d like to know what is the intention of the word birthright and how, if at all, is it connected to the stated goals of the organization. If someone has the answer to this question, I'd be happy to know.


One final note. When I think back to the female soldier who joined us for Shabbat and to how much she enjoyed accompanying the Birthright group as they traveled around the country, it seems clear to me that an Israeli version of Taglit, according to the original meaning of the word as envisioned by Roi, is sorely needed in this country. Such a program, adopted by the Ministry of Education and implemented via inspirational and knowledgeable tour guides, would be a fabulous way to attach many young Israelis to their country and eventually to themselves.


פרסום ראשון: 01.26.10, 11:36
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