I find it difficult to put into words how angry this article by Allison Benedikt in Slate– blaming Operation Birthright (which provides free visits to Israel for young American Jews) for the death of American oleh and IDF soldier Max Steinberg– made me feel.
What makes an American kid with shaky Hebrew and no ties to the state of Israel suddenly decide he is ready to make this sacrifice? Maybe Max was especially lost, or especially susceptible, or maybe he was just looking to do some good and became convinced by his Birthright experience that putting on an IDF uniform and grabbing a gun was the way to do it. That serving and protecting the Jewish people was the moral thing to do, and that the best way to accomplish it was to go fight for the Jewish state. It turns out that it’s not that hard to persuade young people to see the world a certain way and that Birthright is very good at doing it. You spend hundreds of millions of dollars to convince young Jews that they are deeply connected to a country that desperately needs their support? This is what you get.
My niece Hannah participated in an Operation Birthright trip to Israel earlier this year, and I can assure you that, while she developed a full appreciation of Israel and what it stands for, she did not return as a brainwashed ultra-Zionist.
Maybe– just maybe– Max Steinberg, as a Jew, felt a deep connection to Israel and decided it was not just “another country” but his own. He wouldn’t be the first, and he won’t be the last. His death is terrible loss but not, as Benedikt would have us believe, a tragic waste. He was doing something brave and meaningful to defend his country and he paid the ultimate price.
And tens of thousands of his fellow Israelis came to show their appreciation.