Of Balaam And Birthright: When A Curse Is A Blessing
Tue, 07/12/2011
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Officials of Birthright Israel are said to be worried about the impact of an in-depth, highly critical piece, written by a recent participant and published in the July 4-11 issue of The Nation.

They needn’t be.

In fact, like the biblical Balaam, the Moabite prophet who, when hired by King Balak to curse the Jews, ends up blessing them against his will (as we read in synagogue last Shabbat), Kiera Feldman, 26, who wrote The Nation piece, has unintentionally underscored the success of the project, asserting that it turns “blank slate” young Jews into pro-Israel advocates.

Feldman herself did not qualify as a “blank slate” when she signed up for the free 10-day trip last year. Self-described as “a baptized child of intermarriage” on assignment and funded in part by The Investigative Fund, loosely affiliated with the liberal Nation magazine, she makes clear that she is sympathetic to the Palestinian cause and opposed to Israel’s treatment of and attitudes toward Arabs.

“With the relentless siege of Gaza, the interminable occupation, the ever-expanding settlements, the onslaught of anti-Arab Knesset legislation,” she writes, “Israel has earned its new status as an international pariah.”

She headed for the Holy Land in search of proof that young American Jews are, in effect, being brainwashed to support Israel’s political point of view.

The breathless blurb summarizing her article (entitled “The Romance Of Birthright Israel”) on The Nation’s website reads: “By providing all-expenses paid trips to Israel for Jewish young adults, U.S. funders and Israeli politicians are creating the next generations of American Zionists.”

And this is a bad thing?

Apparently it is, according to Feldman, who writes that Birthright, now beginning its second decade and having sent more than 260,000 young people (18-26) to Israel, “no longer is … simply a project to shore up Jewish identity; Birthright has joined the fight for the political loyalties of young Jews.”

Organizers and funders tell her that is not the case, maintaining that the trip is designed to give participants an educational experience, a chance to explore their Jewish identity, an emotional connection to their people’s ancient homeland and a fun time with peers from around the world.

Feldman provides a thorough and accurate depiction of how Birthright was created, and credits it with “maintain[ing] rigorous quality control” in offering up a highly moving experience.

But she feels it does too good a job. She employs a mocking tone toward her fellow travelers, observing how, in her eyes, they swallow the Zionist Kool-Aid in becoming emotionally attached to the land and people of Israel. She describes the tears that are shed at the Western Wall, at Yad Vashem and at Mount Herzl’s military cemetery. “The moment almost always comes,” she writes, when participants come away “armed with a new ‘pro-Israel’ outlook.”

That particular reference was to a Reform 26-year-old woman from New York who returned from a Birthright trip during the Gaza war in 2008 and announced: “Israel really changed me. I truly felt when I came back that I was a different person.”

Writes Feldman: “It was mission accomplished for Birthright Israel …”

The subtext: there goes another liberal Jew lost to the cause of the Palestinians and to criticism of Israeli policy.

She takes umbrage at the fact that “welcome home” is a key message of the Birthright trip, asserting that “it serves as a pointed riposte to the right of return claimed under international law by the 700,000 Palestinians expelled in 1948 upon the creation of the Jewish state, and their descendants.”

Even Feldman admits, though, that “despite my best efforts to maintain a reportorial stance,” she experienced “a return to the intensity of feeling of childhood,” which she attributed to lack of sleep, the “mind-numbing itinerary” and the planners’ effort to provide a deeply emotional experience.

She writes that a key element of the trip “is the promotion — by turns winking and overt — of flings among participants,” and acknowledges that she, too, found romance with a bus mate “when the lights went down in the fake Bedouin tent.”

Feldman’s most stinging critique is in offering up examples of alleged biased remarks against Arabs by Birthright tour guides and the crime of omission when it comes in dealing with the occupation. And she is deeply upset that participants are encouraged to buy Ahava products at the factory’s Dead Sea gift shop, claiming the company profits “by illegally exploiting Palestinian Dead Sea resources,” a charge denied in the article by the company’s board chairman.

One of the great ironies of the Balaam story in the Bible is that in his attempt to curse the Jewish people, the prophet, looking down on the Israelite camp from a mountain, makes a statement so sublime that it has become part of our daily liturgy: “How goodly are your tents, O Jacob, your dwellings, O Israel.”

Kiera Feldman is not as eloquent as Balaam, but she, too, leaves us with the impression that despite her best efforts to demean Birthright Israel, the organization is far-reaching, effective and successful.

“A new era is dawning for Birthright,” she writes. “What began as an identity booster has become an ideology machine, pumping out not only Jewish baby-makers but defenders of Israel. Or that’s the hope.”

It certainly is mine.



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Ultimately this is a story about someone who confirmed her own pre-suppositions and is pretty pissed off that not enough people are willing to agree with her about them--and also that other people are like "Who are you? I already forgot. Never mind, it's not important" before going about their business.
Oh, and I appreciate any whining about Israeli Arabs that tries to wish away the mountain of real-world evidence about why Israeli Jews are not going to kiss their ass (short list: loyalties to terrorist groups, scumbags for representatives, refusal to do any national service outside of citizen outliers like the Druze, decades of screaming at the state to subsidize huge families of people who don't work--the last one, BTW, they share in common with the ultra-Orthodox, who need to get slapped down in the face of their delusional demands for minority control as badly as the Israeli Arabs do). Everyone wants fairness, it would be great if idiots like Anonymous above would stop lying in the quest for it.

Good for her. Glad she went. I hope she does NOT lose her sympathies for an independent Palestine, justice for Israel's Arabs who are second-class citizens and revulsion to the Orthodox tyrants of the religious establishment. Israel is so imperfect, filled with injustice that creating Jews with the right values in the tradition of our prophets, is to be welcomed!

Let's get something straight; Kiera Feldman is not Jewish! She was born to a gentile mother and Jewish father which makes her a gentile. In addition Kiera was baptized which also makes her a Christian. The only reason that Birthright accepted Kiera is because of the pro-intermarriage groups who demand that all children born to non-Jewish mothers and Jewish fathers be recognized as Jews even though they aren't.
Kiera is nothing but an anti-semitic idiot who has absolutely no knowledge of the history of Israel and the Middle East. To call her a Jew is an insult to all Jews everywhere!

I hope Birthright will insist that Feldman pay for her free trip. She went in under false pretenses, and used the free trip to complain that Birthright is giving free trips.

It sounds as though Feldman and people like her equate the establishment of Israel with Europeans taking land from the Indians. Israel was legally established by the UN and have nothing to apologize for. The Palestinians were also given a nation, but chose destruction of Israeli over creation of a Palestinian state. And they still won't sit down and negotiate a peace treaty.

300 million Arabs, 74 million Persians, 8 million Palestinians and currently 75 million Turks ganged up on 7 million Israelis, 5 million of whom are Jewish, and people like Feldman see Israel as the aggressor. Arabs and Israelis are both Semites, but the Feldmans of the world persist in seeing Jews as the rich, white guys and Arabs as their little brown brothers. When Hamas dedicates itself to Israel's destruction, they don't hear it.

They don't see reality, just ideology, and 20 years from now a McCarthy type will have them before a HUAC type committee accusing them of trying to destroy America.

That won't be true. They just can't see that their “little brown brothers” are rich, powerful, competitive and and that many of them are destructive toward the West. They think the bad guys are the Israelis---the rich, white guys.

Great piece, except for the reference to a "right of return claimed under international law by the 700,000 Palestinians expelled in 1948". Too bad Gary didn't refute this. It's two big lies in one single sentence, part and parcel of the Palestinian drivel also known as their "narrative". There is nothing in international law that gives the Palestinians (or anyone else for that matter) anything that comes close to the imaginary concept of a "right of return". And of course the canard that 700,000 Palestinians were expelled in 1948 must be countered at every turn. For one thing, it was at most 650,000 (compared to the 800,000 Jews from Arab countries expelled afterwards), and the number of Palestinians actually expelled was 50,000 at most, removed from their villages for strategic reasons, in particular to protect the vital road between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem besieged by the Jordanian Arab Legion.

Is there any way that the birthright people can get the money back that they spent on this spoiled brat. Not only did she cost money but she took the place of a jewish kid who you know, doesn't hate other jews.

It is my hope, too! We have a lot of baby-making to do and a lot of lost time and bad press to make up for.

Get busy!


So right! Check out Philip Getz's response to Kiera Feldman http://www.jewishideasdaily.com/content/module/2011/7/6/main-feature/1/getting-birthright-wrong

I understand that much of the Eastern Jewish establishment may not agree with me, but as a midwestern Jew of some years' life experience I have to tell you I share some of Ms. Feldman's concerns. My daughter, a rabbi who traveled to the West Bank with Rabbis for Human Rights, saw (and wrote about) practices that are corrupting the soul of Israel. Yes, I support Israel, but I'm not blind to the fact that there are ways in which it could be far more true to Torah without compromising itself--and maybe be a better neighbor to the Palestinians, too, which I believe would make friends, not enemies as at present. I would certainly feel less resentful of the amount of American money that goes to Israel. Meanwhile I support J-Street because so far nobody says what I like better.

My only regret is that I am too old for birthright; but ever so thankful my 3 girls will one day participate. When I converted (and not for purposes of marriage either) , my Rabbi said to me, "you have told me so much about what Judaism and being a Jew means to you, what it brings to you; what will you give"? I thought about it and said, the only thing I have to give is my children (I have 3 girls), my love, and my loyalty to G-d, Torah, and Israel". My 3 girls were converted with me and there was nothing so special as being united in the mikve with them, and I look forward to their going home.

Like Bilaam Kiera Feldman came to curse the Birthright Zionists (for that was exactly what the Jews in the desert were as they returned to Eretz Yisroel to secure and rebuild their family homeland), but ends up blessing them through describing what she saw. Defenders of Israel and "baby-makers" increasing the size of G-d's chosen people sound exactly like how I would love to be able to describe the Jewish young adults of America. Kein Yirbu (May they increase.)

Please tell Kiera Feldman toget a better education. She never really prepared herself for the trip to Israel.

Kiera Feldman simply doesn't understand the relationship of Israel to us. The Arabs living in Israel didn't have it as well since Israel became a state. they have used Hadassah Hos[ital freely. Their Trachoma problem has been eradicated due to cleaning the streets and the water. If I hadn't seen it I might have said okay- problem was eradicated by 1960. We have done so much for the ARabs and they can't do for themselves. I've travelled in this area for the past 20 years and no one, no one has done as much for its people as Israel. This includes, Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, and Iran.

I could never imagine that anything could diminish the pain I experienced after learning of the death of the Boro Park boy, yet Mr. Rosenblatt's report on the inadvertent confirmation of Birthright's effectiveness by the vile The Nation gave me a boost. For a moment.

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