Oh boy. I sort of don’t know where to start with this commercial for Israeli television by Masa, the extended Israel trip coordinator. First of all, it’s a commercial exhorting Israelis to tell their presumably Diaspora cousins to come to Israel. Which is fine on the peer-to-peer side, but in order to save them from intermarriage? Because you know, that’s what Israelis are really good at, long distance relationship advice. Secondly, this is deep mission creep. Masa’s mission is the Birthright Israel follow-up trips of a longer duration, three months or more to be exact. I always thought it was to bolster understanding of Israel and experience with peoplehood. Babymaking seems secondary to that.
Thirdly: I am not lost. Fuck you very much, Masa, excuse my manners. The scary voices of Jewish continuity say that 50% of young Jews have only one Jewish parent. Which is great. It means my generation is twice as international, twice as multicultural, twice as diverse, and twice as blessed with mutt-like intelligence and fearlessness of boundary-straddling.
Lost? I think we’ve found something, something unprecedented in potential and scope in almost all of Jewish history. Our connections to non-Jews and our neighbors are strengthened doubly. The limit of cultural fusions is so distant, Jewish life will find thousands of new niches to survive through. This is a boon to the Jewish community, not a crisis.
Pardon my self-pride and may it not discomfort those whose Jewish blood is pure (at least until you shake the family tree a little, a few goyyim always tumble out). Don’t feel threatened. I and others like me bring something to the community that is otherwise missing. We bring fresh eyes and new ideas, unorthodox fusions that breathe excitment in tradition, and an appreciation of the many different sides of Jewishness that attract different kinds of people.
I think it’s quite the other way around. The Jewish community is lost, but many of us halvies, we know ourselves. I grew up without any summer camp, Birthright, day school, or Hillel. My parents raised Jews that were particularly Jewish and universally human, without all the klaptrap and expense. I know what works, meanwhile I see billions of dollars spent on experiments that barely survive a recession. Your money will not save you. But love and support will. What a shocking idea. Let me teach you how.
And there will be children of Jews who leave Judaism — and let them go! Let my people go. Who knows at what points in their lives Judaism will surface as a source of inspiration and meaning? Does a Jewish “retention” rate matter, so long as our children find loving partners? Or meaningful lives? An ethical outlook? Look at the big picture, people. Jews by choice may be fewer then, but at least being Jewish will actually mean something. Jewish by technicality is a statistical sham to make yourself feel good, so quit fooling yourself. Blaring claxons of doom might also feel good, but our people’s numbers have always waxed and waned over time. Look at the big picture: plan for the long run. Invest in quality, not quantity.
Short of exhorting the unique virtues of being a halvie, I also say to the Jewish community: I don’t need you to raise my kids as Jews. I don’t need a Jewish partner even. And if you want to patronize me, my people, and my offspring, then I’ll take my leave of absense. Esther Kurstanowitz threw in a nice summary: “This isn’t Anatevka, people. If your daughter runs off with a Perchik, or even a Fyedka, don’t cut them out. If people are treated as if they’re lost to Judaism, they will be lost to Judaism.”
Hat tip to Religion and State for pointing out this story on Haaretz.
UPDATED 9/4/09: JPost reports that this campaign cost Masa $800,000 and aims to influence also Israeli decision makers who may increase funding for Masa’s scholarships. The program has peaked at 8,000 participants annually. JPost also notes:
Since one-third of Jews are estimated to have relatives in Israel, Masa, together with Israeli advertising and public relations firms Shlomi Drori and Scherf Communications, believes they can be reached through family networks.
This just shows how little they understand this issue. In my experience, those Jews with family in Israel are phonemenally more connected to Israel than people like myself without family ties. It is the two-thirds of Jews without family ties who will never even visit for a distant cousin’s wedding, bar mitzvah or funeral who should be Masa’s target. (And for the record, I have (had?) far fewer qualms about Masa than Birthright.)