The inspiration to create Mifgash, an independent documentary about Taglit-Birthright Israel, came in the fall of 2007.  Dan Levine, Kip Lombardo and I were having a conversation about the affects this ten-day Israel experience has on participants.  At the time, the three of us were working at Boston-area campus Hillels, and collectively had staffed over-eighteen Taglit-Birthright Israel trips.  Anecdotally, we noticed that the impressions left on participants from their Birthright experience were pretty much the same.  They basically return with a heightened sense of Jewish community and identity.  While some trips have specific focuses (outdoors, denominational practices, specific politics, etc), it does not make a considerable difference which season the trip runs (winter or summer) or the background of the participants; they generally feel a similar effect.

We also noticed a culture of people who question the motives of Birthright, believing it is a right wing political propaganda or orthodox conversion machine.  It seems that this sentiment stems from folks honing in on specific stories they heard from friends or friends of friends, as opposed to looking at Birthright holistically.  (Just a little research will reveal that Yossi Beilin, better known as the Knesset member behind the Oslo Accords and Geneva Initiative, came up with the idea for Birthright).

So it was decided, we would set out to make the first documentary about Taglit-Birthright Israel by taking an ethnographical approach with participants.  The participants featured in Mifgash were on a bus that Kip and I staffed.  We were able to naturally build relationships with participants, which enabled us to film candidly and not alter the feeling of a trip by bringing in outside crew.  The film also uses primary interview footage with specific individuals involved in founding and sustaining the program, which enables use to explore the history of the program withing a broader context.

Four years later, the final edit of Mifgash is making its rounds at festivals and various community organizations.  It is also available for free streaming on Hulu.com.  Our hope is that the film will be a window into the bus experience of a Taglit-Birthright Israel trip, and the program as a whole.  With this, we encourage viewers think and talk not only about Birthright, but more globally about the value of Jewish identity and what Israel and the Diaspora’s relationship should be.