As reactions unfold to the recent birthright study celebrating the supposed success of the trip because people who went on between 2001-2004 married other Jews at a higher rate than those who didn't go on the trip (even writing that sentence makes me feel gross) a couple of interesting posts today in the blogosphere are worth a look.
First, there is Failed Messiah's post from the Jewish Week about birthright next and the Jewish Enrichment Center's decision to invite Robertson ben Pat, Gordon Robertson, to speak to birthright alumni about Evangelical Christians who call themselves Messianic Jews and their relationship to Israel. This debate about how much support Israel should take from Evangelical Christians is an old one in American Jewish politics, so nothing new here, except that it's being so openly embraced by a supposedly "agenda-less" or "bottom-up" movement like birthright. As the Jewish Week points out, this wacky Jewish-Evangelical confab at JEC takes place on the heels of Elie Wiesel's speech to 6000 faithful at the Reverend John Hagee's Christians United for Israel conference. Since birthright's founder Michael Steinhardt likes to say in public that Jewish academics' accomplishments amount to "gornisht," I am not sure who's supposed to explain to him that the continued melding of Jewish and Christian messianic movements rarely turns out well for the Jews. Using one another in an unholy alliance to support Israel at all costs can only encourage or strengthen fanaticism. History has proven that that's not a good thing.
A quick look at Hagee's site reveals some of his more bizarre and right wing views, and in addition, a link to support Elie Wiesel's Foundation, eviscerated by his dealings with the jailed Bernie Madoff. You can't make this stuff up.
Second, Paul Golin of JOI writes about the study in this week's Forward, decrying the birthright study's over-emphasis on ethnic in-marriage as the root purpose of birthright while appropriately arguing that "The real cure for 21st-century Judaism is to move beyond ethnic definitions and open our tradition, culture and learning to all who would find meaning and value in joining us."
He's on the mark.
What remains most disturbing about the program--a raging success for those ten days--is the insularity of purpose and mission that is expressed back here in New York. If JEC and birthright next had the foresight and intellectual honesty to do it, they could partner with organizations across the spectrum with proven track records of reaching Jews in a meaningful way.
Another missed opportunity.