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Birthright

By Alexa Crim

When approached by Levin about this assignment, I hastily agreed to write a piece about birthright citizenship (without even really being able to spell it). Being a talented procrastinator, I had only briefly researched the subject and discovered that there are many meanings of birthright. So as not to dig myself a large hole, I asked Levin if I could write about birthright, not in the sense of immigrants and America, but that of Jewish heritage and Israel. It couldn’t have been more perfect timing as Hanukkah starts on December 2 and goes through the 10th. So without further ado, let's get this challah:

Judaism is an ancient monotheistic religion with the Torah as its foundational texts. The Torah is part of a larger text known as the Hebrew Bible. Globally, it is the 10th most practiced religion with a population spanning between 14.5 million and 17.4 million. It has its roots in the Bronze Age as an organized religion in the Middle East. The people of the Jewish faith were originally called ‘the children of Israel,’ which was later replaced with ‘the Jews’ in the Book of Esther. Jews constitute an ethno-religious group that includes both those born Jewish and those who convert. Unlike other ancient religions, the Hebrew God is portrayed as unitary. His principal relationships are not with other gods, but with the world, and, more specifically, with the people he created. Judaism thus begins with ethical monotheism (or “the belief that God is one and is concerned with the actions of mankind”). According to the Tanakh, God promised Abraham (a prophet similar to Jesus) to make of his creations a powerful nation. Many generations later, he commanded the nation of Israel to love and worship only one God. He also commanded the Jewish people to love one another; that is, Jews are to imitate God's love for His people. These are two of an extensive list of commandments and laws that constitute the substance of Judaism. While there are many different ideas about the core tenets, the most popular are the Maimonides’ thirteen principles of faith. If one diverges from any of these, according to Maimonides, they should be considered a heretic. A brief summarization of the principles is as follows: There is one God. He is blessed, almighty, powerful, and one must believe everything he has told us.

Birthright, by definition, is a natural or moral right possessed by everyone, or in this case, by those of Jewish heritage. A company by the name of Birthright Israel started funding heritage trips for young adults of Jewish heritage, ages 18 to 32. This nonprofit organization was launched in 1994 with private donors such as Charles Bronfman and Michael Steinhardt, as well as the Israeli government, the Jewish Agency for Israel, and Jewish communities around the world. Their goal is to give young adults the opportunity to visit Israel and explore their heritage. Since the trips began, over 600,000 people from over 87 countries have participated. Participants travel throughout the country to religious and cultural sites including Jerusalem, the Western Wall, and the Dead Sea. Trips also often include an event, which brings everyone together for a celebration featuring speeches and musical performances. Junior Heather Hirsch, who has not been to Israel yet, but is planning on completing a pilgrimage later in her life says, “It's a way to see the world and learn more about my religion.” Hirsch embraces her heritage and is vying for an opportunity to learn more about the culture she has grown up celebrating. She admires its ability to bring her family together: “It’s nice to have everyone around.”

Hanukkah started the same day I started this article (which is rather fitting), and a little description of this holiday seems like a great way to commemorate the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem during the second century B.C.E., which, according to Jewish legend, had risen up against their Greek-Syrian oppressors in the Maccabean Revolt. It is observed for eight days and nights and memorialized by a unique candelabra: the menorah. One branch is typically placed above or below the others and called the shamash; its candle is used to light the other eight candles. Each night, one additional candle is lit by the shamash until the final night, when all eight candles are lit together. Blessings are said for each of the candles as they are burn. Gifts are exchanged, and people play with the dreidel. Ms. Heather Hirsch says that for most Jewish families it is a pretty minor holiday, but that “it’s been so blown up because of people who have tried to make it the equivalent of Christmas. It’s not supposed to be a big holiday.”

I hope this was rather informative, and y’all have actually learned something today.

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