When I contemplate the concept of birthright, I’m reminded of Disney’s The Lion King (in many ways, my mind is like the prized VHS tape from my childhood—totally busted, for one), specifically the scene where Mufasa lectures Simba on top of Pride Rock.
“Look, Simba. Everything the light touches is our kingdom,” proclaims Mufasa. “The sun will set on my time here, and will rise with you as the new king.” Simba’s all like, “No way, daddy-0.”
Meanwhile, as a Jew (but not really), I’m entitled to an all-expenses-paid trip to Israel, the land of milk and honey. Taglit-Birthright Israel, a nonprofit organization known simply as Birthright, offers free, ten-day trips for young adults to discover their Jewish heritage. I say that I’m not really Jewish because I’m not, well, not really. What I mean is that I spin the occasional dreidel—I can deny neither my Jewish ethnicity nor that of my family, and heck, I’m proud of it—but when it comes to the religious practice, and organized religion in general, I’m kind of like, “No way, daddy-0.”
I’d rather not discuss religion. (I’m kind of a silent-but-deadly atheist, if that makes sense, and it brings out the worst in me.) Instead, is it hypocritical of me to sign up for Birthright despite having disavowed the Jewish faith? Fun fact: I’ve been to Israel before. I have family there, and whether you’re Christopher Hitchens or the Man Jesus himself, it’s a magical place. To be honest, there’s no moral dilemma, not within reason. It is, in fact, a heritage trip, open to nonbelievers, Beliebers, and non-Beliebers. Not to mention that for a limited-time offer, it’s FREE!
And yet, I’m conflicted. A number of my Jewish friends, most of whom are equally not really Jewish, have organized in hopes of going on the trip together. Because free. Because friends. And yet, and yet, I’m still not convinced. For some reason—and to clarify, it’s not political—I feel my dignity’s at risk. Similar to how I resist buying a smartphone, in my eyes, to attend Birthright would be to bulldoze the loose moral ground on which I stand, and sometimes stumble.
In recent years, my dude-father has re-embraced his Judaism. Whereas my family would haul ass to temple only for the High Holidays—go big or go home, they say—my dad now attends services on a more regular basis. Not to speak on his behalf, but it appears to be less of a divine, religious awakening and more of a mid-life, lifestyle change, like taking up yoga or getting your real estate license. Regardless, notwithstanding my latent atheism, it’s clear that it provides my dad comfort, and that makes me happy.
But like, do we have the right to be comfortable and happy? Beliebers, what’s your take on this?
Anyway, I’ve come to think, or at least I’m making the claim, that my aversion to this trip is rooted in the idea of a birthright. What’s the value of such a right if you have no say in the matter? At no point in my life was I presented with the option to be Jewish. On a similar note, at no point in my life did I subscribe to Rolling Stone magazine (but I still get it because of some unknown Internet promotion, you know, from the powers that be).
I think my dad’s religious revival is in part due to the fact that he too was never presented with an option. Now, rocking hard in his fifties, he’s come back to Judaism on his own terms. Again, not to speak on his behalf, but I feel as if the religion he practices today is entirely different than whatever it was that we sat through years ago. I’m interested in this new religion, and although it’s unlikely, maybe one day I’ll give it a try. That is, if I choose to.
Category: Philosophy and Religion