Keeping Israel After Birthright
By Molly Livingstone
A group of Jews walk into a room. It’s not a joke, but we are definitely going to laugh. There are dozens of them, young with piercings and tattoos sprawled across their bodies. Did I mention we are in Jerusalem? They are a mix of hipsters and boho hippies.
They’re a group of Birthright participants on a special niche trip, “New Media.” Obviously I immediately ask them, “What makes you guys new media?” And the response, “We are voting for Bernie Sanders, and have piercings and tattoos.” And of course they don’t want to be defined, so forget what I just told you.
For me they are a group of people that brought joy to my world, because I am surprised to see them in Israel. How did they make it off campuses all over America, where BDS seems to be thriving, and make it here?
When I started talking with them, it was clear they seemed to really like Israel. They visited artists and alternative medicine professionals. They were cooler than me. But open, too. I was excited to get a chance to hang out with them, especially now. They were about to play improvisation games--the Birthrighters and the Israelis on their trip.
That’s why I am here. A form of entertainment. I shared my life story with them: how I went from Jewi-ish living in LA to Zionist living in Israel, using humor as a form of survival in Israel, through bureaucracy, and terrorism. We laughed. We joked. Like most of what they encountered on their trip, I am different from what they expected to encounter in Israel. It’s definitely not what they have seen in the news about Israel. Learning about Israeli humor and the entertainment industry (which is very successful by the way), and hopefully connecting to this country and the people in a way that will make their trip relevant for more than 10 days.
But what happens after Birthright? Do they go back to their college campuses and just post on Facebook or create a photo album that will be archived on their Instagram page? Or will these 10 days have a lasting impact? How do they stay connected, if they finally want to re-attach their Jewish umbilical cord to the Motherland?
Maybe some of them will fall in love with the country, or a particular person, and come running back?
When they are back in America, doing their thing, finding their place in this world, will they hopefully, at least a bit, be more interested in Israel? Will the positive experiences they have had here shield them from the onslaught of bias being presented to them?
I think it is essential that we - any of us who have this great opportunity to inspire the Birthrighters and others who come on trips here - not only try to encourage them to stay informed about Israel through the news, but also to suggest ways for them to stay in touch, to keep their excitement alive, to feel good about Israel, and to even to take action.
That’s where The Israel Forever Foundation comes in--showing Jews around the world how to make Israel personal. How to bring a little bit of Israel home with them.
When I first encountered Israel Forever, I was surprised to see the wide range of content and initiatives that they were creating and sharing. There is just so much Israel love there! But as I kept looking further, what I found reminded me of my own Birthright experience - stories and photos, impressions, and reflections that truly brought Israel to life.
As most of us know, in our exploration of Israeli society, we can all find ways to learn more. Navigating through the news just doesn’t cut it entirely. I love that I can now encourage Birthright participants and alumni to refresh their excitement and interest every day in a different way for whatever floats their boat - music, reading, cooking, history, photos, and all the inspiration a Jew needs.
So while I continue to craft comedy and keep people everywhere laughing with Israel, I know that there are Birthrighters out there who have their own perspectives, reflections, and memories to share - a true testament to the Birthright experience.
Having a place online that encourages connection and engagement is what we all need a dose of, once a day, or too many times a day. Find your way back, even if you are not in the country. You can still be with Israel, forever.
Molly Livingstone is a freelance reporter and comedian, not to mention a mother of two, living in Jerusalem. While playing all those roles, the script remains the same, showing the world the Israel that she sees everyday, from the people and places, to the culture and definitely the food.