A Guided Tour of Jewish Birthright Tours

The Jerusalem Post reviewed Shaul Kelner’s Tours That Bind: Diaspora, Pilgrimage, and Israeli Birthright Tourism

Imaginings of the homeland used to be the preoccupation of poets and philosophers. Now, they have landed in the portfolio of the tourism minister,” writes Vanderbilt University sociologist Shaul Kelner in his academic analysis of Taglit-Birthright Israel.

When Birthright was launched in 1999, more than a few skeptics wondered how a 10-day trip could supply young American Jews – particularly the targeted participants “on the margins of Jewish life” – with the massive dose of “diasporic identity” that the program’s founders aimed to provide.

A decade later, criticism has all but vanished as this multimillion-dollar program has facilitated free trips to Israel for more than 230,000 18- to 26-year-olds from 52 countries. The vast majority of participants report that the trip made a significant impact, many describing the experience as “life-changing.”

As Kelner points out, Birthright may be the most ambitious and far-reaching, but was not the first organized attempt at forging bonds between Israel/Israelis and Diaspora Jews. Nor are Jews the only ethnic group taking international “tours that bind.”

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