I really couldn’t help myself on that post title. There must be a little of the Hollywood Variety headline editor in me. At any rate, Jewish Week reports that Birthright tour impresario Shlomo “Mojo” Lifschitz, whose Oranim Educational Initiatives hosted more trips (50,000 “satisfied” customers) than any other tour provider, has parted company with Birthright.
For some odd reason, a guy who helped coin and market the term “sexual Zionism” has hit a wall. I guess his hard-sell proselytizing for making Jewish babies and aliyah is no longer in favor.
I really couldn’t believe this 2005 Forward profile of Lifschitz till I sat down and read it. It includes this passage:
Zionism always has had a sexualized aspect to it, [Habonim Dror’s Alex] Sharone said, evoking a beefcake image of Israel’s early years. “The strong, bare-chested men working the land. All that talk of ‘blooming’ and ‘bearing fruit’ is so Freudian. And today, all the soldiers protecting the motherland. It’s definitely sexy.”
…A spry 21-year-old [American Jewish woman] who described herself as having been “made in Israel, born in America” — met her sexy soldier boyfriend, Elon, on one of Momo’s Birthright trips. “The whole idea of Sexual Zionism became a main point in my life,” [she] remembered, who prior to the trip had dated only non-Jewish boys. “I came to [Israel], and I felt that my heart was completed.” Cut to [her] now living in Israel, plugging away in the Oranim office, working as a “Momo Propagandist,” preaching the big man’s message of Jewish life, love and fraternity.
Oddly enough, this was never an aspect of Israel or Zionism that appealed to me when I was this age. My idea of being a good Zionist was reading Arthur Hertzberg’s The Zionist Idea. Now I see what I was missing!
In his happier days, he and Birthright actually believed that stoking a 15 year old Jew with tales of Zion, the scent of sex and plying him or her with liquor would sell aliyah and somehow create a proud Jewish identity. He was also known to lecture his charges on the “unsurpassed beauty of Jewish women.”
This is precisely my problem with Birthright. It is a cheap, by the hour, Motel Six version of Jewish identity. There’s a vague tie to the land of Israel but little else. No Jewish history. No Judaism. No Bible. Except as adjuncts of the Israel connection. Birthright will never learn, indeed CAN never learn that Jewish identity without Diaspora and without the deeper cultural, religious and ethical bonds is no identity at all.
For ten years, this former IDF officer has been peddling his lowest common denominator message quite successfully. Yet, in this day of settlement freezes and declining interest in Israel among the Jewish young, Birthright has decided that Shlomo Momo’s Mojo is passe:
He noted that Birthright had prohibited him from using the phrase “raise your children Jewish” or encouraging aliyah to Israel. And he said he could no longer promise his free Israel honeymoon gift to brides and grooms who had met during their Oranim Birthright trips.
With that kind of come-on, it’s a wonder Momo hasn’t single-handedly saved the Jewish people from extinction. But I really think he should’ve gone the whole nine yards and offered a free apartment, car and college education for all those future Jewish babies his alumni “basherts” would’ve produced.
Reading a bit more about Lifschitz, he seems like a petty dictator/Meyer Lansky type:
…There were complaints about Lifshitz from participants who had intermarried parents and from others who said they were made to feel like second-class Jews if they didn’t marry Jews or move to Israel.
The official also suggested that Lifshitz had become difficult to work with — confrontational and self-important.
And, quel surprise, Momo was known for spicing up his dating tips with crass shpiels consisting of right-wing Israeli propaganda:
…Some participants were put off by what they saw as his hard line on Israeli politics.
“The right-wing perspectives presented were rather unsettling, and the indoctrination was unappealing,” said a 23-year-old 2005 Oranim trip participant, who requested to remain anonymous due to his work at an American Jewish organization. “[Momo] spoke to our group, saying, ‘Some people say the Iraq war was good for Israel. Wrong. The Iraq war was great for Israel,’ representing a rather astonishingly narrow viewpoint.”