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Author(s): Kasstan, Ben
Date: 2012
Abstract: This is the first study to explore the ways in which Jewish identities and identifications with Israel are fostered in and articulated by forty British Jews participating in Taglit-Birthright, which is a free ten day tour of Israel. Birthright is an institutionalised programme for young Jews from fifty-two countries around the world, which proclaims the primordial link of the Jewish people and the land of Israel through two means; education and experience. Birthright sits at the forefront of the current debate concerning British Jewry, and what it means to be Jewish in the twenty-first century, as the programme admits an array of participants who fall beyond the traditional ‘boundaries’ of Judaism in order to discover and create their own Jewish identities. This paper serves as an interesting comparison to the American accounts that currently dominate the anthropological discourse of Birthright, by contextualising the aspects of the tour which affected British participants most. It will illustrate that the documents proving Jewish heritage, requested by Birthright organisers in the United Kingdom but not in America, is indicative of the key difference between the two cohorts which harnesses British participants from feeling Jewish. The work then focuses on the tochnit (‘schedule’), which enabled participants to negotiate their Jewish identities by picking and choosing aspects of Judaism and Israel that they could personally identify with. It then argues that Jewish rather than Israeli identifications were more widely expressed amongst participants. Overall results demonstrate that ethnic Jewish identities, which gravitate less around religiosity, became increasingly favourable amongst this sample of British Jewry. This infers that Jewishness should be measured across a spectrum that encompasses the multifaceted nature of Judaism in the twenty-first century.