Come to Israel, learn how to shoot an assault rifle and strengthen your Jewish identity – that’s the package Shlomo “Momo” Lifshitz, formerly one of Israel’s biggest operators of Birthright tours, is offering to young residents of the Diaspora.
Lifshitz, whose tour company Oranim brought over 50,000 young Jews to Israel before he parted with the program in 2009 and sold it to Egged three years ago, is a controversial figure.
His popular tour packages were panned by Birthright officials due to the garrulous 57-yearold former reserve lieutenant-colonel’s emphasis on exogamy, aliya, and “making Jewish babies,” which violated the rules of conduct set for tour operators affiliated with the program.
“There were certain things I was simply not allowed to talk about,” he complained in a letter explaining his motives to former Oranim participants after the split.
It “made a lot of people crazy among the donors,” he told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday.
However, after several years of inactivity, Lifshitz seems to have grown restless.
“A little over a year ago I decided I want to go back because I am too energetic, [I have] too many dreams [that] I need to fulfill and I need to create something big,” he told the Post. “I don’t need the money.”
Magen Zion – the program in which Lifshitz intends to instruct Diaspora teenagers in the arts of marksmanship and Krav Maga – is intended to give young Jews a sense of confidence, he explained.
“I decided that I’m going to create something that is going to teach people to defend themselves.
For high school kids, what we are doing is a new concept of how to bring kids to Israel.
By learning how to defend yourself you get a lot of self confidence.”
Asked about the similarities to camps run by Beitar and the Revisionist Zionist movement of Ze’ev Jabotinsky, the ideological forerunner of the Likud, Lifshitz was taken aback.
“I don’t want to go there,” he replied.
Magen Zion is only one of several programs he is running however, he told the Post, citing experiences tailored for teenagers, college students and even older participants being run under his new Lirom Global Education brand. Among these programs are a Startup MBA program run in collaboration with the Technion and academic training with Israel’s top “fashionistas.”
While all of his new programs are open to Jews and non-Jews, and several participants in the first group of his Startup MBA program are non-Jews, Lifshitz is aiming directly at the same target demographic as Birthright.
His programs are “open not only for Jewish people [but] naturally most will be Jewish,” he said. “[My] ideology is to bring young people to study in Israel.”