How can young people’s first experiences of Israel be at once profound and revelatory, yet predictable and banal? This conundrum was well in place before 2000, when Taglit-Birthright Israel began offering free 10-day trips to Israel to qualifying diasporists aged 18 to 26. But the Birthright machine mass-produces the phenomenon — and now showcases it in the new book, “What We Brought Back: Jewish Life After Birthright” (Toby Press).
Over 30 selections, Birthright’s alumni (numbering some 200,000, they spawned the organization Birthright Israel NEXT, which co-sponsored the book’s production) reveal the high and low points of their sojourns abroad, and examine their religio-Zionist identities before and after. Men and women, straight and gay: Most came home reinvigorated as Jews. The book isn’t just propaganda for Birthright, however.