More than 300,000 diaspora Jewish young adults and tens of thousands of their Israeli peers have participated in structured, cross-cultural encounters-mifgashim-in the context of an experiential education program known as Taglit-Birthright Israel. Drawing on field observations, interviews, and surveys, the formal and informal components of the encounters are described, and the meanings participants attach to the experience are analyzed. For North Americans, the encounters enable a personal and seemingly authentic experience of "the real" Israel, and make them feel welcome in the Jewish homeland. For Israelis, the encounters foster national pride, as well as identification with the transnational Jewish collective. Although program sponsors hoped the encounters would also create a forum for learning by Israeli participants about life in the Jewish diaspora, this latter goal was not typically achieved. This article explores the mechanisms by which the encounters generate identification with the homeland and the transnational Jewish collective, as well as the limitations of the encounters as a vehicle for reciprocal learning about diaspora culture and society.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
The “Israel experience” youth tour first emerged in the 1950s and, in the intervening 60 years, has matured into a plethora of programs and organizations that connect diaspora and homeland youth and young adults (Cohen, 2008; Mittelberg, 1999, 2007; Shapiro, 2006). Although substantial numbers of diaspora youth participated in Israel educational programs during the 1970s and 1980s, the scale of these efforts dramatically increased in late 1999, with the launch of Taglit-Birthright Israel. The program, sponsored by American Jewish philanthropists, with additional support from the government of Israel and Jewish communal funds, provides free 10-day trips to diaspora Jewish young adults (see Saxe & Chazan, 2008). Each diaspora tour group of about 40 visitors is accompanied by five to eight Israeli young adult counterparts who join the trip as participants, rather than as members of the staff. More than 300,000 diaspora tourists (3/4 from North America) and 40,000 Israeli young adults have participated in trips during Taglit’s first decade (Saxe et al., 2009).
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cultural Studies