To the Editor:
I read the article in the Herald regarding the request that Hillel should disassociate its support of the Birthright Israel program. It was an interesting and thought-provoking article. I even shared some of the concerns regarding the treatment of the Arab population in certain parts of Israel.
However, I firmly believe that the protestors completely misunderstand the purpose and the scope of the Birthright program. I am not in the habit of writing to newspapers, but this time I felt compelled to express an alternate view.
The protestors seemed to assume that the students who are interested in participating in such a program come from well-to-do, middle-class families, who have a firm Jewish identity and are politically well informed. In my opinion this is far from the truth. Many students who participate could not afford to visit Israel without this subsidized program. Would it be fair to take away such an opportunity?
Many other students come from a background that was not conducive to form a positive Jewish identity. For students who are either confused about their identity or are seeking a confirmation of Jewish identity, this program represents a significant first step learning about Israel and Judaism.
As a former Instructor in the College, I would offer the parallel that, pedagogically, one should not aim to cut out the basic courses from the curriculum and expect everyone to do well in the advanced program. In order to learn the finer points of either physics or literature, students at any level need to learn the basic facts to be able to inquire about more in-depth discussion.
On the international scene, the Birthright program offers trips for mixed generations, which provides an invaluable experience for grandparents and grandchildren and perhaps achieve bonding through Judaism. The Birthright program also offers trips to groups in surviving Jewish communities in many areas of the world. As a former refugee from Hungary, I am well-aware of the incredible value these trips provide to the young generation of Jews, where Judaism has been suppressed for decades.
And last, but not least I want to comment on how some of the democratic principles we live by are related to this topic. As a former refugee from a totalitarian country, the democratic principles are carved in my heart. I risked my life in order to live in a democratic country. The principles I am referring to are allowing choices and offer good competition.
The students in Hillel have a choice whether or not to participate in the Birthright program. Nobody forces them to. If those of you who object to the Birthright trip offered by Hillel wish to organize and alternative program that suits your political principles, then do so. It will serve as a good competition to the present program, and I will applaud your competitive spirit.
However, I suggest that you do not aim to destroy the root of the tree in order to shape the leaves to your liking. That would be a serious error in judgment.
Dr. Susan V. Meschel