(photo credit: Mendy Boteach)
Maverick US Rabbi and author Shmuley Boteach is in Israel leading a Taglit-
The tour, which is being conducted in coordination with
the capital’s Mayanot Institute of Jewish Studies, draws to a close on Tuesday.
It was declared by Boteach to be “incredibly intensive, very challenging and
This is the second Birthright trip Boteach has led;
he said the program is the most extensive and far reaching educational
initiative in modern Jewish experience. Birthright sponsors free 10-day heritage
trips to Israel for Diaspora Jews 18 to 26 who have neither traveled to Israel
before on a peer educational trip or study program nor have lived in Israel past
the age of 12.
“I’m not a believer in life altering experiences, they
come and go,” he said. “But I don’t think it’s possible to go through this
10-day period and not have something fundamental change, although that change
will be different for every individual.”
The Mayanot group has
experienced a number of highlights during the 10-day tour, including a meeting
on Monday with Ron Dermer, one of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s senior
advisers; crawling through a 2,000-year-old tunnel just south of the Old City of
Jerusalem that was used by Jews fleeing the Romans during the Great Revolt and
referenced by ancient historian Josephus; and an address by Deputy Foreign
Minister Danny Ayalon.
Participants who had never received Hebrew names
took the opportunity to do so. On Sunday, those who so wished chose for
themselves a Hebrew name and had a bar or bat mitzva ceremony in front of the
Western Wall where each individual “was raised up on a chair and the dancing
continued until everyone was drenched with sweat.”
Jewish American youths believe that their Jewish identity is stultifying,
un-inspirational and basically boring. Often times they will also get pressure
from their parents to marry someone Jewish, but this request is totally without
context,” Boteach said.
“That’s why this experience is one of the
highlights of my life. When you see 40 young Jews changing before your eyes,
embracing a strong Jewish identity and creating a connection and a closeness
with Israel, it is very inspiring and shows what can be
Boteach said, though, that there is much more to do for North
American Jewish youth.
“Nowhere near enough is being done, we’re merely
scratching the surface and we’re thinking too small,” he said.
groundbreaking aspect of Birthright, he said, is the ambitious scope of the
program dreamed up by its founder Michael Steinhardt of the US, along with
fellow philanthropist Charles Bronfman of Canada.
“The best way now to
rejuvenate the American Jewish community is to make Judaism mainstream; we need
more TV, films, plays and books which contain and include Jewish values,” he
To this end, Boteach recently helped to establish G-I-V-E, or the
Global Institute for Values Education. Launched together with US House of
Representatives, Boteach said that G-I-V-E is “designed to bring the values of
Judaism to unaffiliated Jews instead of waiting for them to come to
The institute aims to train a small group of Jewish students in “the
art of presenting and propagating universal Jewish and biblical values,” through
writing, broadcasting and entrepreneurship, and will start in New York city this
“We want to create a number of top exponents of Jewish values,
people who are schooled in teaching the universality of Jewish ideals, and
creating a network of people who are able to help transform American culture
through the enrichment of Jewish values.”
Of the Birthright trip that
concludes on Tuesday, Boteach said that he, like many others, was until recently
only aware of the program from what he’d heard. “I wanted to see for myself the
kind of impact it’s having on secular, non-affiliated Jews, and it’s clear that
the effect on every single person who participates on the trips is deeply
profound,” he said.