Gil Troy: JTA Letter to the Editor “On respecting Birthright participants”


By Gil Troy, JTA, 4-18-12

On respecting Birthright participants

To the Editor:

Birthright Israel has succeeded by allowing more than 300,000 young Jews to experience Israel’s magic directly, not through the distorting lens of conflict-obsessed reporters. But Birthright’s success also reflects its humanistic, person-centered educational philosophy.

This approach bears repeating to counter the false impression of the JTA article reporting on a debate between Peter Beinart and Barry Shrage, the president of Boston’s Combined Jewish Philanthropies. Describing the popular mifgash meeting program with Israeli soldiers, Shrage added that for Birthrighters, “Their next major decision may be what fraternity they’re going to join; the Israeli’s decision is whether they’re going to live or die in a special unit.” One student, Emily Unger responded,  “If that’s the attitude of people running Birthright, that the most important thing I’m thinking about is what fraternity to join, that explains why it wasn’t a program run as if I could think like an intelligent person.”

I understand Unger’s anger. No one wants to be dismissed as a mindless party animal. So let me be clear: We at Birthright respect all our participants and understand the serious dilemmas they face. The program invites 18- to 26-year-olds because we understand that it is the age of great decision-making, requiring clear values — and time to think.

Birthright Israel’s core educational principles provide a quilted theory — an integrated platform – combining an experiential approach, a culture of values, a culture of ideas, person-centered education, social interactionism and fun. We respect each participant’s intelligence, independence and integrity, only asking them to participate constructively and then draw their own conclusions.

Barry Shrage knows this. He has been one of the pioneers in the identity-building revolution sweeping the Jewish world. He was humbly acknowledging the life-and-death choices Israelis make – and American students’ good fortune in not having to make that choice.

Gil Troy
Professor, McGill University
Chairman, International Education Committee, Birthright Israel

Leave a comment


  1. The choice that young Israelis have to make today is one of Birhtright and life for themselves and refusal of Birthright and thus death for Palestinian patriots.
    And the Birthright Israel? It’s – you’re right – mindless party animals. Their only decision to take is to temporarily give up their own minds and will as the virtual price for being bought to become willing and passive part of a well supervised travel herd.
    The success of the authoritarian project? Just mind control though propaganda and forbidden individual freedoms, like e.g. contacts to Israelis.
    Thanks God, Birthrighters still prefer after such a trip to leave Israel behind and live their lives at home, in the lands of their birth …

  2. It’s helpful to give statements a perspective: Young Israelis have to take decisions about life or death? Their risk to die defending as IDF soldiers the interests of their state is much less that the one of – let’s say – young European Union and American soldiers fighting international terror…


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