Seeing Israel Through the Eyes of a First Timer

Birthright Israel has provided thousands of Jewish young adults with a powerful, if not exhausting first experience in Israel. Many of the participants board their El Al flight to Israel with some inkling of what they can expect over the 10 day trip: time at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, a dip in the Dead Sea, an early morning trek up Masada, and a “nudge,” or push, by trip organizers and leaders to find that special, Jewish someone.

Matt Lyons, an adult child of intermarriage, recently returned from his birthright Israel trip. In a piece that he wrote for Interfaith, he describes not only his personal connection with Israel, but explains why he agrees only in part with the trip organizer’s in-marriage “nudge.” Yes, Matt whole-heartedly sees the importance in someday raising Jewish children to not only support Israel but also to support Judaism, its people and history. However, he doesn’t necessarily agree that the only way to do this is to marry someone Jewish.

“…the obligation to pass along my Judaism does not require me to marry someone Jewish. I am surely evidence of that, as were the other young Jews on my trip from interfaith families. The Taglit-Birthright trip, at the same time, strengthened both my desire to raise my children Jewish and my belief that a loving, honest and open-minded interfaith marriage can help me accomplish it.”

Matt’s statement, which we couldn’t have said any better ourselves, is an important reminder to the community that intermarriage is not necessarily a problem or an ending, but it can be used as an opportunity for engagement. Here at JOI, we work with and offer support for many interfaith families who share in Matt’s views on interfaith marriage and raising Jewish children. To do so, we have developed programs like The Mothers Circle and The Grandparents Circle which are designed to help engage families and strengthen the Jewish community. We hope through programs like these and through adult children of intermarriage like Matt, the community will open its eyes to the interfaith families who make Jewish choices.

1 Comment

  1. i went on Birthright last year and pretty much had the same inklings listed in this article. my group did the early morning hike to Masada, dipped in the Dead Sea (and the springs of Ein Gedi), stood at the Western Wall, and on some occasions received “nudges” to find nice Jewish boys and girls. like Matt, i certainly recognize the importance of raising Jewish children and connecting to Israel. but i don’t think that the only way to do so is through in-marriage. this doesn’t mean i am automatically ruling out Jewish men. if i end up with one, it would certainly be good. but i don’t think it’s the only way to connect to Judaism and Israel. there are many paths to being Jewish, not just one.

    what’s interesting about Birthright is that while it does encourage in-marriage, the organization was created by well-known Atheist Michael Steinhardt. Steinhardt may not subscribe to organized religion, but he cares a lot about Jews and people in general. he’s less concerned about who people marry or whether they belong to synagogues and more concerned with transmitting positive Jewish values and experiences not only to Jews, but to everyone. and that’s very encouraging.

    Comment by h. — July 10, 2008 @ 1:28 pm

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