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Birthright Israel: A Modern Day Miracle

October 21, 2019 at 4:11 am
by David-Seth Kirshner

Every once in awhile I am reminded of the power of miracles in the world. I have yet to witness a miracle as described in lore, like streams changing their currents for example, but every time I am in Israel and see a bus-load of young adults of all backgrounds and Jewish upbringings, wearing the easily recognizable Birthright Israel nametag, in our shared homeland of Israel, I know I am witnessing a modern-day miracle. The moment is rarely lost on me.

From a lofty dream in a living room to finding leaders that can execute and recruiting philanthropists that were willing to dig deep and be cutting edge, all the critical ingredients to changing the reality of the Jewish world today and especially tomorrow were met and exceeded. Like Herzl, we are reminded of a dream and the power to will that dream.

Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner

My favorite scene in the movie, Good Will Hunting is when Robin Williams’ character says to Matt Damon’s character, “I am sure you can tell me everything about Michelangelo, but you do not know what it smells like in the Sistine Chapel.”

The blessing of Birthright Israel is that it has allowed a generation of people, over 700,000, to see, smell, taste, hear, feel and appreciate the Nation State of the Jewish people. Is doing that complicated? You bet! Everything valuable and worthwhile in life can be complicated. Relationships are hard, yet I love my wife more today than yesterday. Raising kids is challenging work, but there is nothing more rewarding. Activating my citizenship is much more challenging than were I to sit on the sidelines, but I cannot affect change from the sidelines. So too, with Israel, now more than ever, we need people who are eager and willing to address the “hard” and the “challenging” just as Jabotinsky, Ben Gurion and Golda did in an earlier generation so that today, we can enjoy the fruits of the seeds they planted.

Today’s Jewish leader will be one who was significantly influenced by Birthright Israel and its manifold contributions to the world. They will know what the Sistine Chapel smells like, if you will, and how valuable the small strip of land is to our history and our future.

Chances are, the future brokers of peace in the region will be products of Birthright Israel. As will leaders on campus, in industry and in government. This shared curriculum ensures dedicated, smart and caring people tasked with a serious challenge who are capable of making our future richer and more meaningful.


David-Seth Kirshner is the senior rabbi of Temple Emanu-El, a Conservative synagogue in Closter, New Jersey. He is the past President of the NY and NJ Board of Rabbis and a Senior Rabbinic Fellow at the Hartman Institute. Rabbi Kirshner was appointed to the New Jersey/Israel commission and is a member of the Chancellor’s Rabbinic Cabinet at the Jewish Theological Seminary.

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