Birthright for Christians
Have you ever heard of Birthright Israel? It’s an international organization whose objectives are as follows:
Taglit-Birthright Israel seeks to ensure the future of the Jewish people by strengthening Jewish identity, Jewish communities and connection with Israel via an educational trip to Israel for the majority of Jewish young adults from around the world.
We aim to foster participants’ understanding and identification with Israel, and through the “mifgash” program, strengthen the solidarity of Israeli young adults with their Jewish peers abroad and develop the Jewish identity of individuals in both groups.
Our hope is that our trips motivate young people to continue to explore their Jewish identity, support for Israel, and to maintain long-lasting connections with Israelis after their trip has ended. We encourage our alumni to take active roles in Jewish organizations and to participate in follow-up activities worldwide.
Since 1999, the year that the program began, over 400,000 young Jewish adults from around the world have accepted a free ten-day trip to Israel, to explore the roots of Judaism and Jewish culture in Israel. I have been to Israel myself, as a journalist and as an informal Christian pilgrim, and it affected me profoundly. I can easily imagine how much more it would mean to a diaspora Jew to have a ten-day experience in Israel.
A reader of this blog suggested in yesterday’s comments that Christians ought to come up with a similar program for our own youth. I think that’s a marvelous idea, though of course it would produce certain challenges, given the nature of Christianity, and, to be more specific, the nature of Christianities. I’d like us to spend this comments thread talking about them. I also invite Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and readers from other traditions to offer their ideas about what a Birthright trip for young adults from their faiths would involve.
Note well: I will not publish comments complaining about Birthright Israel, Zionism, Israeli geopolitics, etc. Those are legitimate issues to discuss, but we are not going to have that conversation here, because it will derail the purpose of the thread, which is to discuss creatively how the Birthright Israel experience could be adapted by people in other faiths.
For Christians, one big challenge is to determine where such an experience should take place. For Jews, there really is only one place to go: the Land of Israel. Obviously this would be a good place for American Christians to go too, for obvious reasons. It would do us all some good to meet and get to know the remaining indigenous Christians of the Holy Land. Besides, there’s really no substitute for praying on the Mount of Olives, for walking the Via Dolorosa, for standing on the shores of Lake Galilee, for making a pilgrimage to Bethlehem, and so forth.