Tours That Bind: Dias­po­ra, Pil­grim­age, and Israeli Birthright Tourism

Shaul Kel­ner
  • Review
By – September 1, 2011
Some­times a trip is just a trip. But to Shaul Kel­ner, a pro­fes­sor at Van­der­bilt Uni­ver­si­ty, tourism is seri­ous stuff, cajol­ing trav­el­ers into height­ened states of aware­ness and play­ing a cen­tral role in the for­ma­tion of a land’s cul­tur­al pol­i­tics and col­lec­tive iden­ti­ty.

The sub­ject of Kelner’s fas­ci­na­tion is Birthright Israel, the orga­nized tours that have tak­en more than 200,000 Jew­ish young adults from North and South Amer­i­ca, West­ern Europe, Ocea­nia, and the for­mer Sovi­et Union on 10-day trips through Israel since Decem­ber 1999 to the tune of more than half a bil­lion dol­lars.

And what do we have to show for it?

Legions of young adults between the ages of 18 and 26 who feel an unshake­able bond with Israel, regard­less of their upbring­ing. After sev­er­al years of seri­ous schol­ar­ship, Kel­ner con­cludes that tourism is the great equal­iz­er, an oppor­tu­ni­ty for insti­tu­tions to com­pete for the abil­i­ty to rep­re­sent a peo­ple.

Though not the first book to explore Birthright’s impact, Tours That Bind approach­es the sub­ject aca­d­e­m­i­cal­ly, ana­lyz­ing how Israel co-opts the Jew­ish dias­po­ra to strength­en its nation-state.

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