A light bulb moment on Birthright-Israel

By Roxanne Cohen, Director of Fundraising Engagement

I recently met Sarah Glidden, a 26 year old from Newton, MA, who chronicled her 10-day journey to Israel through Birthright-Israel in a graphic novel, entitled “How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less.” Sarah shared her experience with a group of 50 gathered at the PJCC in Foster City, at a program co-sponsored by Women’s Philanthropy of the Jewish Community Federation.

Sarah’s “journey” began following 9/11, as her compass started spinning and her awareness of political issues elevated to new heights. For years, as a progressive young adult, she grappled with the question of whether there was room for her to feel a connection to Israel as well as empathy for Palestinian people. The two felt paradoxical to her. When the opportunity arose to travel to Israel with Birthright, it was a “light bulb” moment for Sarah. She could actually go and see for herself.

And though she expected propaganda aimed at influencing her to unconditionally support all aspects of Israel, she instead found Birthright tour guides and educators who helped her and the group tackle tough questions head on. Her expectations were challenged, and she learned quickly about a political situation more complicated than anyone could imagine.

Roxanne Cohen and Sarah Glidden

Roxanne Cohen and artist Sarah Glidden at the PJCC's exhibition "How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less."

As they traveled from Independence Hall, past the security fence and throughout the country, Sarah learned that “YES”—she could feel love for Israel and sympathize with Palestinian aspirations for statehood. “We are all members of the human condition,” lectured renowned scholar David Hartman at the Shalom Hartman Institute. These words spoke to Sarah in a deep and meaningful way.

The title of the book is a joke, said Sarah. The point is – you can’t understand Israel in 60 days. It is easy to think you understand, but the issues are so deep. Part of being Jewish is questioning, talking, debating. As a people, we will never all agree – but we need to simply try to understand. If we can all open ourselves up to that, how much more “Jewish” we will all be. Birthright is an amazing tool. No two experiences are the same, but its ability to impact Jewish identity is consistent. I am proud that our Federation not only supports Birthright, but has made a commitment to raise the funds needed to reduce the waitlist and help more young adults confront their own issues of identity and what it means to be Jewish.

Sarah Glidden’s work is on display at the Peninsula Jewish Community Center (PJCC) in Foster City through December 28th. For more information visit www.pjcc.org.
Categories: Israel


November 14, 2011


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