Monday, February 27, 2012

The Culture of Expectation and Entitlement

Members of the Jewish community are often flabbergasted when people my age choose not to join a synagogue or other institutions. As the token "young person" on boards and committees, I have heard it all before: Why don't you come? Is it too expensive? Would you come if it was free? And my answer to these question is always the same: It is an issue of values not value.

However, this is lost of the major funders of the Jewish community - Case In Point: Birthright.

Taglit Birthright Israel provides thousands of young people with what it would call an opportunity to experience Israel. Nay, they would call it a gift. The gift of Birthright. In fact we are told that it is a gift and we just should say thanks and enjoy it.

There are thousands of pages of journals, blogs, and news paper articles praising or condemning the programing of this "journey." And while there is a lot that is great about Birthright, there is a lot wrong with this program.

But the worst thing Birthright has done to my generation is that it has created an expectation of free goods and services.

This could not be any more clear in the completely misguided BirthrightNext Shabbat in a Box.

Meat Grinder Jews
Put in Numbers Get Committed Community Members

See, BirthrightNext, thinks that if you continue to provide money to people to do stuff you want them to do they will do it more and without funding later on in life. Simply, if you offer to host a group of Jews -- some Birthright alums, some friend, some others -- you can get funding for a Shabbat meal. Up to $14 per plate. This is a pretty good meal if you shop smart.

Do what we want for money. It seems somewhat less like religion and more like spiritual prostitution.

It is one thing continuing the disingenuous "gift" terminology for the trip to Israel but expecting more people to do Shabbat dinners after the funding dries up is just stupid.

This is subsidized Shabbat dinner for those who do it all the time and a free meal for those who don't care.

There should be an expectation of more than gratitude. After flying to Israel, "experiencing" Israeli life, and being really hungover on the bus to the Dead Sea FOR FREE you should be required to do something. Nope. There is nothing required of the young adults who go on Birthright. They come home with pictures, a sense of entitlement and a little something extra from an Israeli soldier.

And while Facebook and penicillin will take care of two of those issues, we are faced with a serious question in the coming years. What are we going to do to keep institutions both relevant and above water? The relevance question is answered by providing quality and meaningful programing. That takes investment in the right people and materials. But making that investment is impossible now that so many people expect Jewish life for free.

The start to the solution is simple: set a higher bar for Birthright alum. Force a few hours of engagement in ANYTHING in the Jewish community. The second step is stop giving away money. Invest in the community. Dinner is great and sitting around a table for a meal is a powerful community building tool. But those who are committed to this cause are having dinners already. Let's use this money for something that hits more people than the same ten who had the free ride in Israel.

The Me First, Give Me Give Me mentality will destroy us. We need to change it. So, stop giving me money.


molly YEH! said...

Blerg! Maybe I should have said that I work in medicine or business on my application instead of arts...

Rachel said...

I agree with you in principle, but there are a few things you're missing. Birthright and Birthright Next are almost completely separate organizations run under the same name. Steinhardt just pulled his funding from Birthright next, and I've heard Bronfman complaining about it for years. Because of the funding cuts, they just laid off most of their staff including most of the leadership. It's time to bring someone in who will engage alumni, and not just recent alumni, but people who went 10 years ago. I think we have an opportunity now to reevaluate how we engaged the young and unaffiliated, but it's going to take the right leadership and strategy.

dcc said...

Molly, I think you will still get to go.

Rachel, That is good to hear. When I was very much involved in the community the funding sources were the same and so was the leadership. That said the core idea behind both programs is to give Jews free things and expect engaged Jews. It is both short sighted and hurting the real Jewish community.

Adam said...

Interesting idea - Jewish community service / involvement as "payment" for Birthright trip. Would it scare away participants?

Birthright, besides giving young American Jews a personal connection to our Holy Land, also helps the Israeli economy. I wouldn't want to see a reduction in the number of participants, because they did not want to commit to a specific program after the trip.