Gary Rosenblatt reported that some at the JPPI conference were angry at Prime Minister Netanyahu because his actions were “perceived by the White House as disrespectful.” (“I Love Israel, But Does Israel Love Me?” May 29) Mr. Rosenblatt should make himself aware of the first meeting between President Obama and Netanyahu at the White House in May 2009.
Netanyahu was told to use the side entrance. No photographers were allowed. Netanyahu was immediately presented with 13 demands. During the study of the demands Obama stated he was leaving for dinner and Netanyahu should let him know if he had anything new to offer. No refreshments were served to the Israelis. When Obama returned he refused to allow a joint statement. Netanyahu left by the side door. Israel’s Maariv newspaper reported, “There is no humiliation exercise that the Americans did not try on the prime minister and his entourage.”
I don’t recall Gary Rosenblatt’s unnamed contacts at the JPPI ever complaining about the disrespect shown to the elected leader of Israel from the start.
My curiosity around Birthright Israel started several years ago when friends would return from the trip inspired with a renewed love of Israel and their Jewish identity (“I Love Israel, But Does Israel Love Me?” Editor’s column, May 29).
As a future rabbi, I felt obligated to observe the program with my own eyes to better understand perhaps the biggest Jewish “mega-trend” in the last century. At first I was skeptical, after all how much can one really learn in just 10 days? How could the participants be truly invested in learning when they paid nothing for it? What about after the trip? How do you sustain the post-Birthright enthusiasm?
My cynicism was quickly replaced with optimism, as I saw people connecting to their Jewish roots for the very first time. But will a participant start going to synagogue more after the trip? Not likely. Will a participant start keeping kosher? Doubtful. Will a participant feel more deeply connected to Israel and the Jewish people. Definitely. While many may see the lack of change within religious observance as a failure, they don’t understand that Birthright is about transforming identification from “I’m Jew-ish” into “I’m a Jew.”
Therefore it’s critical that we continue to take advantage of this unique educational opportunity with Birthright and other Israel trips. As Israel continues to be under attack on campus, it’s even more imperative that we provide students with a positive Israel experience.