pre-trip thoughts and preparations

Many of the participants on my trip recognized that they were unprepared. Quite a few asked for a reading list where they could follow up on the two sanctioned political discussions we had on the trip. Our guides mentioned that there was a reading list on the Birthright website. Unfortunately, my group wanted more wide-ranging viewpoints on Israel and its policies and the Birthright-approved reading list presents a fairly narrow perspective. You can examine the list for yourself:

The Case for Israel & The Case for Peace, Alan Dershowitz
Still Life with Bombers: Israel in the Age of Terrorism, David Horovitz -- (This book does have some discussion of the living conditions of Palestinians)
Coming Together, Coming Apart, Daniel Gordis
Exodus, Leon Uris
O Jerusalem!, Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre
The Source, James Michener
My Life, Golda Meir
In The Name Of Sorrow And Hope, Noa Ben Artzi Pelosoff
Warrior, Ariel Sharon
Walking The Bible, Bruce Feiler
Nimrod Flip-Out, Etgar Keret
What Israel Means To Me, edited by Alan Dershowitz

As for me, I did a little preparatory reading. I read this article in Salon as well as Noam Chomsky's Fateful Triangle. I also looked at quite a few Wikipedia articles (especially 1948 Palestinian Exodus, Second Intifada, History of Zionism and Israel. I also read a book called Jerusalem Calling. I thought about these works in relation I had been taught in 8 years of Hebrew school. As I continue to read more, I may be able to put together a more eclectic reading list which I will post in the future.

I made my first journal entry on the plane ride to Israel:

I begin the trip in a defensive position. What is the spectrum of debate going to be? How far will I be allowed to go in my questioning before I'm chastised? How closely will the guides connect a Jewish identity to the state of Israel? How much will they "tug at the Jewish heartstrings?" And what will be the extent to which they mention or even discuss the Palestinians?

I notice that other people on the plane are journalling as well, so perhaps there will be a documentary history of the trip to refer back to. Ultimately what I'm wondering is: will I be the odd man out? A Hasidic man walks around the plane offering tefillin and I secretly hope that he takes the time to approach me. [Not because of any piousness, but because it satisfies me in some way to don this symbolic uniform. At times I like to assert my Jewish identity.]

An "artist's" depiction of me wearing the tefillin

I put on the tefillin, say the blessings, the shemah and the viahaftah. After I sit down, other members of my trip start asking: "What were you doing? What were those things on your head and arm?" So I explained.

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