God Was With Us That Night in the Negev


Our bus driver Boris had been navigating the roads of the Negev for at least an hour when the whole bus suddenly shook, rattled and rolled. As we gazed out the window, we saw that Boris had left the road. All we saw was rock, dust and a little more rock. It took about two more hours of off-road driving for us to reach our destination for the night.

I stepped off the bus and asked our counselor, “Where is the bathroom?”
“Follow me and I will demonstrate,” she said. “Girls to those rocks on the left, boys to the right.” Enough said.

I had just arrived in Israel that week for a four-week tour with 34 other California teens in Group Three of the North American Federation of Temple Youth (NFTY) summer Israel program. And we were about to spend three nights in the middle of the Negev Desert with nothing but food and sleeping bags — definitely a sight to see.

Not only did we do it, but so did 12 other NFTY groups in Israel this summer, and we would soon find out that the experience of sleeping on our ancestors’ land would set the tone for our whole trip.

We unloaded the materials from the bus including dishes, food supplies, sleeping bags and our own personal bags. Once dinner was made and served, our group began to gather for Maariv, the evening prayer service.

This was by far the most spiritual moment in my life. I gazed up at the stars as I chanted the V’Ahavta prayer with amazing new friends, standing around the same rocks that our people had wandered past thousands of years before. My eyes couldn’t help but tear up as we moved on to the Mi Chamocha, the song of freedom. At that moment I felt as though God truly was with us.

We ended the night with our usual closing circle, where we sang Hashkiveinu and the Shema, with the words: “Keep us safe throughout the night, until we wake with morning’s light.” But that night, I felt as though we didn’t even need to ask for safety, that this ground and these mountains would keep us safe.

As morning woke us with its light, we found ourselves at the beginning of a long day of hiking in the Negev and then swimming in Eilat.

On our last day camping out, Boris took us to a Bedouin tent. We were warmly welcomed and introduced to the interesting Bedouin culture. We experienced their music, cultural food and hospitality — especially when they invited us to use the tent’s bathrooms, equipped with actual showers. I would have to say that the next task might have been even harder then the previous day’s four-hour hike. This was the situation: four showers, 20 girls, 30 minutes.

That night I was in a Bedouin tent celebrating Shabbat like I never had done before. This was our third and final night sleeping on the ground of the Negev, so we were both excited and upset.

The next day we arrived at Kibbutz Yahel near Eilat. Our tour guide, Sivan, took us on a very short hike on the outskirts of the Kibbutz. As we all sat in a circle in the middle of two mountains — a lot like our accommodations for the past three nights — Ellie Klein, our madrich, shared some words that I will never forget. She told us that by successfully making it through this Negev experience, whether we knew it our not, we had already changed and grown.

This campout was our chance to be with the land of Israel, nothing else. Just the land with all of its components. Through the tasks that we had completed and the experiences we had, we had assured ourselves that we could do it again.

Ellie asked us to grab a rock and gather them all in a pile in the center of our circle. I found a rock and felt the firmness of it and dropped it in the center, feeling as though I had just left a piece of myself in the desert. Not only a piece of myself, but a newly grown, solid and firm me. The words she said about us and the natural land still echoes in my mind because I really felt that for those few days, I was at my true quintessential state — and so was the Land of Israel.

We left the rocks in a clump on the ground as we made our way back to Kibbutz Yahel. This experience was the start of a treasured summer traveling with the most incredible people. I was finding my true Jewish identity not only among the historical sights, but among the millions of rocks that make up Eretz Yisrael.

Daniella Kaufman is an 11th grader at New Community Jewish High School.

Class Notes


The Write Stuff

From Nov. 13-15 in Toronto, college students are invited to attend Do the Write Thing, a conference on Jewish journalism held at the General Assembly, the annual gathering of machers in the Federation system and other Jewish organizations.

Aside from participating in workshops on things like objectivity in reporting, the dynamics of power between the media and the Jewish establishment and reporting on Israel, students get a chance to network with top-notch journalists as well as lay and professional leaders of the Jewish community.

The cost to students for hotel, meals and conference is $99, and travel is subsidized up to $200. Applications are due Oct. 13. For more information go to www.wzo.org.il/en/dtwt or call 1-800-274-7723.

Anti-Bias Buy In

Applications are now available for high school students of all ethnic and religious backgrounds who want to become involved in the Anti-Defamation League’s anti-bias youth education program, Dream Dialogue. In quarterly meetings, participants bond across ethnic groups, develop teen leadership skills, train to become anti-bias peer facilitators, lead discussions in valuing diversity with their peers and initiate a community social action project of their choosing.

The program is free. Applications are due Oct. 10 for the 2005-06 school year. For an application or further information, call Jenny Betz at the ADL, (310) 446-8000, ext. 233, or email jbetz@adl.org.

 

Arts No Longer Plays Second Fiddle


More than 10 times during Rena Ahdut’s stay at Solomon Schechter overnight camp in Olympia, Wash., last summer, her mother made the long drive from Tacoma to bring her home for dance rehearsals.

“It was kind of hard to come and go all the time,” said Rena, 14, who dances ballet, tap and jazz 35 hours a week at the Dance Theater Northwest.

For Rena, missing weeks of dance rehearsal was unthinkable, but so was missing out on the quintessential Jewish youth experience of summer camp.

This summer, Rena hopes to have that conflict resolved for her for at least two weeks when she attends T’hila, a new program at the Brandeis-Bardin Institute in Simi Valley that integrates a Jewish camping experience with an arts experience molded for young, talented artists who are as serious about their craft as Rena.

“If a child is incredibly talented as a Jewish artist, she can got to Interlochen [Center for the Arts in Michigan] or Tanglewood [Institute in Massachusetts], or she can go to Jewish camp, and her experience in terms of arts is not going to be at the same level, she will not be pushed and challenged in the same way,” said Shana Starobin, program director for T’hila. “We see the need in the Jewish community to create an opportunity for those kids who are really exceptional to explore their art in a Jewish context.”

The creation of actor/singer/songwriter Danny Maseng, T’hila will bring together a faculty of highly accomplished Jewish artists in drama, dance, visual arts, music and creative writing with high schoolers who want to make art a life pursuit.

Being dedicated to both the arts and Judaism poses enormous challenges are presented: Rena and her family, for example, decided to dance on Saturdays and to focus on kabbalat Shabbat on Friday nights.

“I haven’t been as involved in my synagogue as I wanted to, because I don’t have time,” Rena said. “I just want to be around Jewish kids in the summer, since I’m not really around them very often here.”

But with a $1,400 price tag for T’hila, which as a pilot program is 12 days at the end of August this year, Tovah Ahdut isn’t sure she’ll be able to send her daughter.

For families who pay for dance or drama or art lessons, along with Hebrew school or day school tuition and synagogue membership, costs become prohibitive. Limited scholarships are available for T’hila, which costs about the same as other arts camps and Jewish camps. About 15 kids have been accepted to the 40 slots available.

David Goodman, a 17-year-old writer and musician from Encinitas, Calif., who is attending T’hila this summer, looks forward to combining his Judaism with his art.

“No two things are more important to me than Judaism and the arts, and I haven’t had the opportunity to put those together and to focus on both those things as one unit,” he said.

At T’hila, which is Hebrew for Psalm, Jewish texts, for instance, might become the jumping-off point for artistic expression, and artistic expression will be framed in Jewish terms.

That kind of total integration separates T’hila from BIMA: The Berkshire Institute of Music and Arts in Massachusetts, a new program where about 40 Jewish high schoolers have already signed up for a summer of music, theater, dance, writing or visual arts instruction and Jewish learning at Williams College in Massachusetts.

While some aspects of the program will combine Judaism and the arts, “What we’re really looking for is to create opportunities for the two to intersect, but not necessarily to construct a synthesized experience,” said Rabbi Daniel Lehmann, executive director of BIMA, which is a joint project of the Gann Academy-The New Jewish High School of Greater Boston, where Lehmann is headmaster, and the Bronfman Youth Fellowships in Israel.

Both BIMA and T’hila are nondenominational and pluralistic; both will have kosher food and be respectful of Shabbat.

Maseng hopes that, by next summer, T’hila will have a full two sessions, and that the program becomes the cornerstone for an arts institute.

Brandeis is already working with a donor to build a year-round center for the arts on its property, where artists can gather for retreats, the community can come to learn and multidisciplinary performances can be produced.

“Brandeis was founded for young people to explore their Jewish identity in the beautiful setting that we have and to explore it through a number of different avenues,” said Helen Zukin, board chair at Brandeis. “Art, music, drama and dance were always important to the Brandeis experience and part of the mission since the beginning.”

Maseng sees a national Jewish art institute that focuses on participation, not passive viewing, as a way to remedy a problem in the perception of the arts in the Jewish community, where art is what happens between salad and dessert, he said.

And the place to start, he said, is with the youth.

“I’m not there to teach the kids to be religious or to tell them how to lead their lives, but I am here to impress upon them that they will never again look upon Judaism as irrelevant and Jewish art as trivial or having nothing to say to them in their lives or to teach them about their personal, current condition in life,” Maseng said. “And if we do that, that is a success.”

For more information on T’hila, call (805) 404-5209 or
visit www.thebbbi.org/thila. For information on BIMA call (781) 642-6800 or
visit www.bimasummerarts.org .

Avi Chai Grant Saves Birthright


A new grant of $7 million to Birthright Israel is breathing new life into the cash-strapped program, allowing Birthright to more than double the number of slots available for this summer’s tours.

The future of Birthright — which provides free trips to Israel for Diaspora young adults — was thrown into question recently as it became clear that its sponsors were not going to meet their financial commitments to the organization for 2004.

The major drop in funding came from the Israeli government, which reduced its funding for Birthright to a token amount for 2004 due to budget constraints. That prompted Birthright to reduce its available slots this summer to 3,500.

Now, with a new "challenge grant" of $7 million from the Avi Chai Foundation, Birthright and Avi Chai are hoping the group of 14 Jewish philanthropists who helped launch Birthright will match the Avi Chai grant.

Already, the group has notified its trip providers that it will now be able to bring 8,200 young Jews to Israel this summer.

Avi Chai officials said foundation members felt compelled to contribute the money to make up for the Israeli government’s drastic slash in Birthright funding.

"[We] believed it was unfortunate for the program to have to suffer a significant reduction in the number of participants just as Birthright was reaching full strength," the foundation said in a news statement.

Birthright officials reacted to the announcement with delight.

"We are extraordinarily grateful to Avi Chai, in whom we have great respect," said philanthropist Michael Steinhardt, one of Birthright’s founders and principal funders.

Steinhardt said the foundation agreed to become a Birthright philanthropic partner and is planning to give an additional $1 million per year for each of the next five years of the program.

When Birthright was launched, the three major sponsors of the program — the Israeli government, a group of Jewish philanthropists and the North American Jewish federation system — agreed to divide evenly the funding for the $210 million, five-year program.

Each party originally committed to contributing $70 million for the first five years. However, citing severe budget constraints, Israel cut its funding this year to $400,000, from $9 million the previous year.

Compounding Birthright’s financial woes, the federation system now plans to pay a total of only $35 million, of which it is currently short $4 million to $5 million, officials say. As a result, the Jewish Agency for Israel, the overseas partner of the United Jewish Communities federation umbrella group, has increased its contribution to the program to make up for the shortfall.

Since the program began, it has brought some 60,000 Diaspora youth between the ages of 18 and 26 to Israel for free 10-day guided trips of the country. For many, it is their first trip to Israel. Only youth who never before have been on a peer tour of the country are eligible to participate.

The ambitious program has been hailed as a revolutionary way to help infuse Diaspora youth with a strong Jewish identity, a sense of connection to Israel and the drive to connect with their own Jewish communities back home.

Before Tuesday’s announcement of the $7 million grant, Birthright’s future seemed uncertain.

Although Birthright took 10,000 young Jews to Israel this winter, including 8,000 from North America, the program was forced to turn away thousands more who were eligible because of a funding crunch, program officials said.

In its statement, Avi Chai said it wants to be a partner with the philanthropists backing Birthright Israel for the next five years and said it was awaiting word from the Israeli government on future commitment to the program.

Avi Chai also said foundation members hoped that the Jewish federations in North America and Europe would fulfill their pledge to provide one-third of the program’s funding.

Avi Chai is a private foundation that funds educational programs and describes itself as "committed to the perpetuation of the Jewish people, Judaism and the centrality of the State of Israel to the Jewish people."

Established in 1984, it has offices in New York and Jerusalem.

JTA staff writer Rachel Pomerance in New York contributed to this report.

Ambassadors of Understanding


Dominik Zotti is a strapping, blond 20-year-old from Vienna, grandson of a Wehrmacht veteran, who guides visitors through the Holocaust exhibit at the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Reinhard Hannesschlaeger, 24, from Linz in northern Austria, works in the computer section of Steven Spielberg’s Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation.

Both are acutely aware of the international criticism leveled at the Austrian government’s extreme right coalition party and hope to show, less by argument than by example, that there is a far different side to their native country.

Dominik and Reinhard are interns in the Gedenkdienst (commemorative service) program, which sends young volunteers, mostly in their 20s, to Holocaust-related institutions in the United States, Canada and Europe for 14-month long assignments.

Gedenkdienst, founded eight years ago by Austrian political scientist Andreas Maislinger, emphasizes as a central theme that Austria bears a share of the responsibility for Nazi crimes and the Holocaust.

The Austrian government underwrites the program and counts participation as an alternative to the mandatory eight-month military service for young men.

Reinhard and Dominik reject the idea that the Gedenkdienst offers an easy way out of doing army training.

“First, we have to go through an 18-month, part-time preparatory course, for which we have to pay,” explains Reinhard. “Then, if we qualify, we have to commit ourselves to 14-months of service.”

While abroad, interns get a monthly stipend of $600 for all living and personal expenses, which doesn’t go very far in Los Angeles. They supplement the stipend by parental support or their own savings, while the host institutions get their services for free.

Gedenkdienst gets some 300-500 applications a year, but the majority drop out during the preparatory phase, and only one in 10 get to go abroad.

“It takes a lot of personal and psychological preparation to stay the course,” says Dominik, who is Catholic. “It’s not the easy way out.”

Appraising his motivation, he says that “Somehow, I always had a strong interest in the Holocaust. I talked about it with my grandfather, who was in the German army. In high school, I learned about what happened to the Jews from a wonderful teacher, and we visited the Mauthausen concentration camp several times.”

Dominik, who as a tour guide meets the general public more than Reinhard, says he enjoys his job and, considering his Germanic appearance and accent, has had no hostile reactions. He has been invited to give talks at high schools and has savored the “unique experience” of a family Shabbat dinner.

Embracing Diaspora


The old-time Zionist religion had it that the only good Diaspora Jew was the one who made aliyah and settled in the ancestral land.

Now, after decades of inner-focused effort to build up the new land and survive, the Jewish state is rediscovering its distant relatives and, what’s more, is ready to accept them, on their own terms, as equals.

Stretching out a hand to the brethren abroad has become a sudden Israeli cottage industry. For the first time, a cabinet minister for “World Jewish Affairs” has been appointed. Senior politicians and think tanks vie to come up with imaginative plans to redefine relations between the world’s two largest Jewish communities in Israel and the United States.

In a reversal of fortunes, Israel is putting up $100 million to support an educational program for Diaspora youth through the “Birthright Israel” program.

Not least, Israel’s foreign ministry has made a major commitment in staff and money for new outreach programs, most notably the Young Jewish Leadership Diplomatic Seminar.

The inaugural run of the 25-day summer seminar has concluded and the newly coined “diplomats,” most in their twenties and hailing from 18 countries, have returned from Israel to their hometowns.

Among the 34 participants were two young professional women from Los Angeles, who came home with a new appreciation and knowledge of Israel — both its strengths and its unresolved problems.

Neither Lauren Rutkin, 29, or Marjan Keypour, 28, arrived at the seminar as novices. Both had visited Israel twice before, and their jobs — Rutkin as associate director of the local AIPAC office, and Keypour as a staff member of the Anti-Defamation League’s community services department — inevitably have a Zionist component.

In that sense, they differ from most of their American peers, to whom the Jewish state is “not central, not terribly important,” said Rutkin.

Even for vacation trips, noted Keypour, most American twentysomethings “want a paradise atmosphere, not the war zone depicted on their television.”

But even for the relatively knowledgeable participants from Los Angeles, the daily dawn-to-dusk sessions were intensive learning experiences.

They heard, and questioned, an array of experts on Israel’s foreign relations, the peace process, the country’s Arabs, Hebrew poetry, movies, theater, economics, media, jurisprudence, academic life, environment, urban sprawl, religion and more.

“There was no sugar coating of existing problems,” said Rutkin, and Keypour agreed that “they presented the facts and allowed us to draw our own conclusions.”

The two women did encounter the old-line Zionist perspective in the person of the formidable President Ezer Weizman, and felt some resentment at his insistence that Jewish life in the Diaspora was meaningless.

As often happens in such settings, the two Angelenas learned as much about differing Jewish viewpoints from their fellow participants from different countries as from the lecturers.

“I found out that such terms as ‘Conservative’ or ‘Reform’ Judaism mean different things in different countries,” said Keypour. “Religious pluralism was the number one topic of debate.”

What both women missed were personal contacts with Israelis of their own age, and Keypour added that the program was a mite too cerebral.

Future participants, particularly if first-time visitors to Israel, “should experience the country also on a more spiritual and emotional level… to smell the flowers and touch the stones of the Western Wall,” Keypour said.

But overall, Rutkin said, she returned feeling “more connected with Israel and the Jewish people, and energized in my commitment.”

She will apply her experiences to encourage the next generation of young leaders to spend time in Israel, starting with her three sisters. On a personal note, she has decided to celebrate a belated bat mitzvah in November.

Keypour, who arrived in this country 11 years ago from Iran, said she would focus her efforts on the young people in her own community, whose indifferent attitudes toward Israel mirrors those of other young Jews in Los Angeles. She also plans to talk to the Sinai Temple New Leadership, on whose board she serves.

Arthur Lenk, consul for communications and public affairs at the local Israel consulate-general, sees the seminar as a partial antidote to young American Jews, who view Israel as “just another country. “

“On our side, it has become clear that Israel does not solely exist for its own citizens, but has no less a responsibility for Jews everywhere,” said Lenk, who himself made aliyah from the United States.

“It’s part of Israel’s maturation process that we can say, sure we want you to settle here, but if you don’t come, that doesn’t make you any less of a Jew,” he observed.

Lenk, who interviewed 15 applicants for this year’s pilot program said that the feedback had been positive enough to plan for a similar seminar next summer.

How Do We Egage Teens?


There are more than 30,000 Jewish teen-agers in Los Angeles — how do we engage them?

I was thinking about this a few weeks ago while visiting the Bern-ard Milken Jewish Community Campus in West Hills. The occasion was a happy one, the ground-breaking for a new youth and sports complex at the Jewish Community Center on that site. What really struck me was the enormous potential for our Federation programs to reach out beyond the traditional young users of our communal services and actively engage as many Jewish teens who live in greater Los Angeles as possible.

Among the dozens of programs and services located at the Milken campus is the JCC’s Teen Services unit. Its highly specific mandate is to reach Jewish high school youth, and its goal is quite simple: begin to Jewishly engage a group of youngsters whose options for leisure time are endless and whose future Jewish identities are being formed. These are kids who could easily drift out of the Jewish community or worse, never really involve themselves at all.

Browsing through the JCC’s Teen Services newsletter, you begin to get a sense of how complex it is to reach an age group whose members are still searching for an identity. Since one size does not fit all, the efforts to reach teens must be multifaceted and creative. This is where the Teen Services unit comes in. They are the glue that cements diverse initiatives citywide. Working together with representatives of a range of other Jewish youth organizations and involving those groups from the synagogues and Zionist movements, they are using a wide range of approaches, including educational programming, cultural activities and social-action opportunities to reach our youth. Teens can help feed the hungry at SOVA, help build a Habitat for Humanity or assist someone with AIDS through Project Chicken Soup. These projects reach the young communal activist with a message of tikkun olam.

But that might not be enough. So how about outreaching to Jewish kids in public and non-Jewish private schools? That’s where the majority of Jewish teens are found. Almost 500 Jewish teens from 18 public and private schools, including Fairfax, Van Nuys, Santa Monica and Granada Hills, meet weekly to hear speakers, celebrate Jewish holidays, practice community awareness, have fun and hang out. With collaborative efforts from BBYO, United Syn-agogue Youth of the Conservative movement, the North American Federation of Temple Youth of the Reform move-ment and the National Council of Synagogue Youth of the Modern Orthodox movement, our communal efforts are maximized to reach more teens. For many, these initiatives are their only contact with Jewish communal life, so it takes on a special importance.

So while some teens are engaged by entering a Jewish creative writing contest or participating in a weekend retreat program of the Bureau of Jewish Education, others are attracted by taking a course in CPR or learning about Jews in film. The list is almost endless. With the new technology of the Internet, we have another way to reach teens.

But what really turns on a Jewish teen? How about speaking to their needs? Since so many teens in high school are actively thinking about college, what about a program to expose them to college life? We have it. Together with the Los Angeles Hillel Council, the JCC conducts a program to explore colleges in our own backyard. The teens might visit a campus, sleep in a dorm, and learn about Jewish college life at USC or UCLA.

Since not every teen wants to stay in Los Angeles, why not help them think about attending college elsewhere? We do it. By offering a program to visit campuses in Arizona, Northern California or even Boston, we reach teens by addressing their needs.

Additionally, the annual Hillel FACETS Conference, which assists local teens in decisions about college, drew more than 500 teens and their parents to this year’s event at UCLA.

The Jewish Federation, with the support of the United Jewish Fund through its constituent agencies and lots of associated groups, is engaged in fashioning a vision for a Jewish community of the future. What we see has great hope and potential, if we can continue to secure the financial and human resources to accomplish our communal goals.


John R. Fishel is executive vice president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

Editorial


Last weekend, I was at a gathering of maybe 80people, brought together to listen to a prominent Israeliintellectual who proceeded to dazzle us with his accounts ofpolitical, military and religious life in the Mideast. Actually, itwas more than dazzling. He was informative; he was insightful; he waswitty.

But when I casually reached for pen and notebook– I was the only journalist in the room — he laughed and admonishedme. Of course, this was all off the record. And off he soared:

  • Telling us about Prime Minister Netanyahu and the religious parties in Israel, and how they, in their separate ways, were forging a government that could not govern. How they, in the process, were ruining Israel.
  • Describing the migrant workers from Eastern Europe and Asia, anywhere from 150,000 to 300,000 (some legal, others not), whose presence in Israel was generating a great increase in drug use, alcoholism and prostitution. And, in neighborhoods adjacent to the Asian workers, a sudden disappearance of cats.
  • Analyzing the peace process, which, despite the stalled state of play, the failure of the Palestinians to make good on many of their promises and the prime minister’s dislike of the Oslo agreements, was nevertheless irreversible.
  • And, of course, charting the intricate political tactics and maneuvers behind the conversion bill. One point Americans should understand, he added, was that most Israelis, whatever their religious stance, had little comprehension or interest in Diaspora Jewry.

That comment — that Israelis were uninvolved withJews in America, or elsewhere in the Diaspora — caught me unaware.On reflection, it was something I knew, something I had experiencedbut had never before verbalized for myself.

It was evident at the media panels and conferencesI attended in Jerusalem, only I chose not to view the comments inthat particular light. And it was an inescapable conclusion to adialogue last month with six Knesset members who were visiting LosAngeles. They had traveled here to observe and to talk with AmericanJews; and, more specifically, to meet with a cross section of ourlocal Jewish community, listening to our concerns about the NeemanCommission and its political aftermath.

At one session I attended, the MKs patientlyexplained that the Commission was really about politics, notreligion, and that we Americans didn’t seem to understand the actualdetails of the Conversion Bill — otherwise, we would not be soexercised over it. Everyone in the room was left with a suddenawareness of just how much distance separated us from the Israelis,despite the fact that we all happened to be Jews.

Here it was again — the distance, the wide gap –only posed in terms of something that was a cross between innocenceand unconcern, albeit not on the part of the speaker. He had spentseveral years in the United States — Washington, in particular –and had traveled widely throughout the country. He took the seemingindifference seriously.

 

Many Americanyouth enjoy visiting Israel, so why not a program to bring Israeliyouth to the United States?

 

His remedy was imaginative: Start a program thatwould function something like a Jewish Peace Corps, with youngstersfrom all nations, including Israel, joining to work on projectstogether in different parts of the world. In short, apeople-to-people program, but concentrated primarily among teen-agersin the year or two between high school and college (an involuntaryclass bias here).

My thought is less grand, more miniature in scaleand logistics. Just as we are striving today to bring large numbersof American teens to Israel — for a school term, a summer, a month– so we might begin to think as well of bringing most Israeliyoungsters to the United States. (There are several small-scaleprograms in place already.) It has the virtue of linking families, ofcasting light on different kinds of Jewish experiences, and ofimplying a certain equality in the authenticity of Jewishidentity.

One caveat: It might lead to a great deal ofmobility, as Israelis — who have their own contemporary problemswith the nature of Jewish identity in the 21st century — adopt abinational lifestyle. But, then again, the meaning behind the act ofdeclaring “I am Jewish” is likely to preoccupy many of us, Israelisand Americans alike, as we spring into the new millennium.