The Birthright organization—which provides young American Jews with free trips to Israel—partners with various Jewish groups in arranging its tours; recently, it announced that it is dropping the Union for Reform Judaism as a “certified trip provider.” Reporting the news, an article in an Israeli newspaper attributed the decision to the Orthodox infiltration of Birthright, blamed the “Orthodox, settler-aligned” Jewish Home party for abetting this infiltration, and described the decision as a split between American Reform Judaism and a major Jewish institution. But nothing could be farther from the truth, writes Gil Troy, who is the voluntary lay chair of Birthright’s education committee:
The Reform movement will indeed no longer host Birthright participants. But that’s because Birthright participants have consistently failed to choose the Reform movement’s offerings. . . . [T]he decision stems from the simple fact that the Reform movement’s trip provider, URJ Kesher, again failed to meet its recruiting quota. . . . The movement is now examining what it calls “other modalities” to continue working with Birthright.
Birthright participants choose their program providers freely, and a trip organizers’ status is determined objectively. [An institution] doesn’t stop being a trip organizer by failing to meet recruiting goals once; [it] must fall short in two of the last three rounds.
Rather than a ploy on the part of Birthright’s Orthodox components, the release of the Reform movement signals nothing worse than market forces at play. Young Birthright participants just aren’t choosing the Reform option. The Reform movement, America’s largest Jewish denomination, has been one of the smallest Birthright trip providers for years. . . .
What’s most upsetting about [the response] is the contempt for Birthright participants. Rather than treating this next generation of young Jews as the smart, savvy, somewhat cynical, often wary, perpetually meaning-seeking people they are, [it] infantilizes them, assuming they’re lemmings, easily suckered into fetid right-wing Orthodox waters. The portrait is insulting, intolerant, and inaccurate.