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by Sharon Chisvin, January 23, 2011

Since its founding a decade ago, Birthright Israel has brought almost a quarter of a million Jewish young adults, ages 18 to 26, to Israel. Established by the Jewish Agency of Israel in conjunction with Diaspora communities and impassioned philanthropists worldwide, the Birthright experience – a free first time, peer group, 10 day educational trip – was created with the intention of enhancing Jewish identity, Jewish solidarity and Diaspora Jewry’s connection to the State of Israel.

To date, Jews from 52 countries around the world have participated in Birthright trips. In Canada, about 15,000 young adults from across the country have taken advantage of the Birthright opportunity, including, in the last three years, two of my children. By all accounts the program has been a tremendous success. Most of those who participate in Birthright  report feeling more comfortable and connected with their Jewish heritage and with Israel following the trip, and a significant number return to Israel as tourists, volunteers, students, and even as olim.

In celebration of Birthright’s first 10 years, Nextbook Inc/The Toby Press has published What We Brought Back: Jewish life After Birthright, Reflections by Alumni of Taglit-Birthright Israel Trip. Edited by Wayne Hoffman, Nextbook's managing director of special projects, the book is a collection of 31 anecdotes, recollections, illustrations, photographs and poems by recent Birthright participants from the United States.

As a whole, the reflections in this compilation are insightful, tender, thought-provoking, clever and funny. Several describe the way in which the Birthright experience was life changing, not just for the opportunity it provided to travel and experience Israel, but for the opportunity it provided for participants to better see and better understand  themselves, their relationships, and their life choices.

A few of the submissions are particularly wise and perceptive.  In his essay Reaching Nirvana, author Mordechai Shinefield, who studies the history of Jewish music, writes, “Israel feels like a country that muddled its way to where it is – dragging alongside it the issues and people and moments that never got resolved …It’s a country of incidentals, and almost-misses, and chance moments never again replicable.”

Many of the book’s contributors are, like Shinefield, writers, musicians, and performers either by hobby or by profession.  Many of them as well, participated in the Birthright Monologues, a 2007 spoken word and hip-hop show about Jewish identity and the Birthright experience directed by the Hebrew Mamita, Vanessa Hidary. A trailer of this show can be viewed at (

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