Judaism, with the exception of Habad, generally frowns on active proselytizing. But apparently the Israeli government hasn’t heard the news, as they’ve launched a new campaign designed to insult the Diaspora by claiming that any Jew who doesn’t go on a Birthright-type trip will be lost of the nation of Israel forever. It’s one of those typically feeble, shallow hasbara campaigns offered by Masa, the agency designed to promote Israel youth trips. [Correction: Joel Katz of Religion and State in Israel clarifies a few mistakes that crept into my post: “MASA basically is an umbrella organization for all the 6-month – year programs. Its aimed at 18-30 yr olds — so its looked at as a POST-BIRTHRIGHT experience.” Joel also notes that an astonishing $800,000 has been wasted (my term, not his) on this project.] It’s basically a government-sponsored promotion of Birthright (or possibly a Birthright competitor, this isn’t clear), which should be ashamed of the naked manipulation of the video. The latter provides vague, misleading “statistics” which amount to a claim that any Jew who isn’t an ardent lover of Zion will assimilate and disappear from Jewish history. Here is how Haaretz describes the project:
“More than 50 percent of young Jews assimilate,” the filmed commercial informs viewers through the voice of Ayala Hasson, a top reporter for Channel 1. “We are losing them,” she adds, as soft, melancholy flute music plays in the background.
The ad then asks anyone who “knows a young Jew living abroad” to call MASA. “Together, we will strengthen his or her bond to Israel, so that we don’t lose them,” the announcer concludes.
The 50% statistic consists of a specious supposition that every Jew who marries “out” is totally lost to Judaism. We know that this is completely wrong since some who intermarry either remain Jewish, persuade a spouse to convert, or raise their children Jewish. Haaretz freelancer Roi Ben Yehuda is a perfect example of this, and parodies the video quite well at his blog in an imagined phone call between Masa and his grandmother.
A few other comments on the video. The Hebrew notes that the subject has halach l’ibood, which can mean “committed suicide.” [Correction: Joel Katz also notes that halach l’ibood means simply “lost.” I confused the phrase with l’hitabed and ibade l’daat both of which do mean “committing suicide.”] So in effect, Masa is making an even more draconian claim–that unless your child goes on an Israel trip they are committing Jewish suicide. Further, the last image in the video displays the shameless slogan: “A year in Israel, life-long love.” It’s not clear whether Masa is promising the trip participant a life-time of good Jewish sex, or a life-long love of Israel (or both).
Finally, this campaign makes an additional grievous error by equating Zionism with Judaism: if your child becomes a Zionist he will remain a Jew. If he doesn’t, nothing can save him or her (not even Judaism). Zionists are known for having a dismissive attitude (known as shlilat ha-galut) toward both the Diaspora and Judaism. Interestingly, this video essentially does away with Judaism and replaces it with Zionism. I wonder what the rabbis, Jewish educators and Jewish communal leaders who labor so assiduously here in the Diaspora to strengthen Jewish identity feel about having their efforts dissed so decisively by such know-nothing Israeli Zionists.
Even Haaretz, not known for such editorializing, calls the campaign a “scare-tactic.”