The Zionist Conspiracy
Thursday, August 07, 2008
I've heard it said about both Joe DiMaggio and Michael Jordan that they played every game with the awareness that some of the fans in the stands would see them play in person only that one time.
I thought about this while at the Western Wall my first Friday night in Israel.
On that night, the Kotel was packed with participants in some of Birthright Israel's programs.
Many of these people were college students, whom, at least by appearance and observation, were pretty far from traditional religious observance.
It occurred to me that for many of them, this would be their only real exposure to shabbos and traditional Judaism.
During kabbalas shabbos, various Shlomo Carlebach niggunim were sung, and as they became more comfortable, more and more of those on Birthright joined in the singing and dancing as the davening went along. After kabbalas shabbos, a large group of Birthrighters began singing "Am Yisroel Chai" to Carlebach's tune again and again. It seemed that they did not want kabbalas shabbos to end and for the unfamiliar (to them) maariv service to start.
For some, Birthright becomes a transformative experience, leading to aliyah, or becoming more observant, or involvement in Jewish communal activities or pro-Israel advocacy.
Most go home and their lives are pretty much the same. But it is probably not unreasonable to believe that their feelings toward Israel and toward traditional Judaism are impacted at least a little in a positive way.