Momo and Birthright Israel: Splitsville?

I HOPE you can come. Spend a long time in Israel for a CHANGE

MomObama:CHANGE!

Well, thanks to an article in the New York Jewish Week, the cat’s finally out of the bag so I can freely write about what many of us have known for weeks: the relationship between Taglit Birthright Israel and Oranim’s “Momo” Lifshitz is in jeopardy. Last week, Oranim officially informed Birthright Israel that it was not planning on participating in this winter’s session, calling into question the future of their relationship.

Why is this relevant? Because Oranim is the largest trip provider that recruits participants and runs trips for Birthright Israel. In the 10 years that Birthright has been in operation, Oranim has brought in nearly 50,000 of the 200,000 young Jews who have come to Israel – and Momo, in his trademark style, has greeted nearly every single one of them. So what transpired that would cause such a rift?

First it’s important to understand how Birthright Israel works. The Birthright Israel Foundation takes care of fund-raising for the trips. Taglit-Birthright Israel takes care of the programmatic, educational and management aspects of the trips. Finally a series of pre-approved and duly vetted Israel Trip providers are paid by Birthright to recruit and offer free Israel trips to participants. Right from the start it was decided that Birthright would use Independent trip providers to run the trips so that as many unaffiliated young Jews could be engaged to participate. Of all the trip providers that have worked with Birthright, none have been as successful as Oranim, thanks in no small measure to the loyalty inspired by Momo and his staff due to their very personal approach. Oranim used that loyalty to create a network of young Jews who by word of mouth encouraged their friends to choose Oranim as their Taglit Birthright-Israel trip provider.

So successful were these efforts that Taglit was forced to institute what was known as the “Momo Rule” whereby the percentage of participants that could go with any single trip provider was restricted to a smaller and smaller percentage. It was widely acknowledged that such restrictions were aimed squarely at Oranim, one of the few trip providers that was actually affected by these rules. Thus many people recruited by Oranim either could not go or were forced to go with another trip provider not of their choosing.

Oranim’s success did have its detractors. Some claimed that by appealing to the lowest common denominator – ie unaffiliated college aged students – Momo ran trips that were more about the experience and the passion (some say the party atmosphere, despite the fact that Oranim strictly forbids inebriation and does not allow staff to drink) than they were about imparting a strong educational message. There were issues with the message Oranim was imparting as well: “alumni say he routinely pushes aliyah, pressures participants to date only Jews and stresses that they should “make Jewish babies”” The New York Jewish Week wrote as follows:

Lifshitz cited an ideological reason for his move… “Due to new rules and regulations within the project, I have been instructed that there were certain things I was simply not allowed to talk about,” Lifshitz wrote. He noted that Birthright had prohibited him from using the phrase “raise your children Jewish” or encouraging aliyah to Israel. And he said he could no longer promise his free Israel honeymoon gift to brides and grooms who had met during their Oranim Birthright trips… “I cannot continue to allow my messages to be muted,” Lifshitz continued in the letter.

Momo can be a bit gruff, and he does not hide or make excuses for his agenda. Jewlicious has run 6 trips with Oranim and I can tell you the man doesn’t give a rat’s ass about political correctness. Consequently, some participants have taken umbrage with his message:

“Oranim’s ‘honeymoon package’ and emphasis on ‘making Jewish babies’ commit a cultural faux pas that carries the potential to damage Birthright’s image in the U.S.,” said Ruth Stein, who attended an Oranim trip in June 2007. “Such ‘religious’ choices are regarded as private matters that are none of anybody’s business… “Momo’s lectures on the unsurpassed beauty of Jewish women, among other topics,” continued Stein, “are especially risky given the trip’s reputation as a secular option for non-religious Jews.” … Apart from what some see as Lifshitz’s hard sell on dating Jewish, some participants were put off by what they saw as his hard line on Israeli politics… “The right-wing perspectives presented were rather unsettling, and the indoctrination was unappealing,” said a 23-year-old 2005 Oranim trip participant, who requested to remain anonymous due to his work at an American Jewish organization. “[Momo] spoke to our group, saying, ‘Some people say the Iraq war was good for Israel. Wrong. The Iraq war was great for Israel,’ representing a rather astonishingly narrow viewpoint.”

While Momo definitely has his own agenda, in his defense, when we ran trips with them, he gave his speeches but he never told us what we could and could not tell the participants. Anyone that’s been on an Oranim trip with us can tell you that they were exposed to a more nuanced message that encouraged hard facts and continued study after the trip.

It’s clear that the vast majority of the participants seem to have enjoyed their experience tremendously, especially judging by the continued success of Oranim’s word-of-mouth (and Facebook, and email etc.) marketing strategy. This past summer, Oranim accounted for 70% of the registered participants, although they were only given 14% of the available spots (another sore point mentioned by Momo). Birthright Israel seems nonplussed, some might say relieved even, by Oranim’s latest move. They lost no time sending an email to all of Oranim’s alumni encouraging them to tell their eligible friends to choose any of 2 dozen remaining trip providers for their Israel trips.

Momo’s letter leaves the possibility of Oranim’s return to Birthright next summer open. I don’t know if Birthright and Oranim will be able to bridge their differences and I don’t know if it even matters. Oranim is still doing great business running traditional tourist programs as well as MASA initiatives, and Birthright, for its part, seems kind of relieved at Momo’s departure. As for the legions of kids that would have gone to Israel with Oranim, will no doubt find other trip providers. But one can’t help but wonder – was this turn of events good for the Jews? Was Momo reviled for his message and personality or was pressure put to bear on him by jealous individuals and groups who simply could not compete with his marketing prowess?

An interesting aspect of the whole Taglit-Birthright Israel project is the fact that it is a unique partnership between philanthropists, a non-profit entity and a group of organizations and for-profit entities like Oranim and others. For-profit entities were included because it was understood at Birthright’s inception, that existing Jewish organizations had historically failed to adequately engage secular and unaffiliated young Jews. It was hoped that the profit motive would inspire these companies to scour the world for and engage disenfranchised young Jews. But over the past ten years it is possible that a sense of entitlement had settled upon some of the trip providers who found that marketing cut into their profits and that the lure of a free trip was enough to get people to fill their buses. Let’s hope that this development does not signal the victory of mediocrity over talent.

And one other thing. I have very good relations with several very good Israel trip providers as well as with Birthright Israel. Please don’t get mad at me – I’m just reporting the story. If you have any issue with anything I have written, feel free to leave a comment. We don’t censor anything except for the occasional Nazi or racist. OK?

Addendum: Yes, I created that MomObama graphic, obviously inspired by Shepard Fairey of ObeyGiant and his Obama HOPE and CHANGE posters. No I won’t make one of you for free. Sorry. Stop asking. Yes you can use it on your Web site but only if you credit both Shepard Fairey and me, David Abitbol – you know © David Abitbol 2008. All Rights Reserved. That sort of thing – first used here, remember?

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Founder of Jewlicious? Publisher? Man I hate titles. I coined the name Jewlicious and I slave over the site. I live in Jerusalem and I need to get some breakfast.
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64 Comments

  1. Pingback: Sharon Udasin » Blog Archive » Jewlicious adds to the Momo situation

  2. Moses Malone

    7/8/2009 at 11:19 am

    Apparently, Birthright not realize that Oranim is saving Israel. Put spiritually confused young Jews raised in a materialistic culture with other spiritually confused young Jews raised in a materialistic culture and hope that sex and children will follow? Brilliant!

  3. LB

    7/8/2009 at 11:22 am

    He noted that Birthright had prohibited him from using the phrase “raise your children Jewish” or encouraging aliyah to Israel.

    So basically turning birthright into a free, meaningless spring break trip? I would boycott them to. (Especially considering my (very few) tax shekels help fund them. A little.)

  4. Rae Gross

    7/8/2009 at 11:35 am

    I was on an Oranim and I was told ahead of time that Oranim was the party group, but my experience was very much the opposite. We were too busy seeing the country to party hard. I think that it has more to do with the group you are traveling with, than Oranim or Momo. And yes, Momo was controversial, but he was part of the experience! Everyone talked about Momo, how nuts he was and how Israel was great etc. It was this common thread among so many birthright alum. I also personally know someone that called Momo when they fell ill after they extended their trip because Momo gave each of his personal phone number. I think it is a great loss, sometimes the people that irritate you the most are the people that make the greatest change!

  5. Ayelet Sondak

    7/8/2009 at 11:40 am

    It’s a real shame that Birthright Israel couldn’t simply bow their head at Momo’s success and rewarded him accordingly. I’ve experienced other birthright organizers and none hold a candle to Momo and Oranim. Participants like Ruth Stein who took offense at Momo’s message should have read Oranim’s website before choosing to attend their trip since the message and intent were always crystal clear.

    It’s a known fact that the same people who chair Birthright Israel are also the chairs of CIE (Canada Israel Experience) so I would not be shocked if that’s the main reason Oranim has always experienced pressure from the top. Jealousy is an ugly thing! When will Jews learn that uniting (regardless of where, with whom, or how religious or non-religious) will be the only way to prevent a 2nd holocaust. Their failed attempts at matching Oranim’s success is a sad fact and pushing the best out of an already tough business will undoubtedly prove disastrous in the long run.

  6. Mike D.

    7/8/2009 at 12:27 pm

    Honestly, Ruth Stein has noooooo idea what she is talking about. Momo has created a wave of love for the state of Israel within Jewish students in the United States. Because of him thousands of Jewish people have visited Israel apart from Oranim/Birthright trips. You can simply take Momo’s message as you please. Either listen or don’t. But the rest of the trip is AWESOME. Plus, so what. He is promoting something that all Jewish people promote- marrying Jewish! All of our Rabbis and parents do the same thing! Only Momo speaks our language and talks about the beautiful girls. Momo makes the topic attractive and fun. Think about how many people remember Momo’s speech that very first day….well there is a reason for that. It is catchy and fun. Plus his honeymoon offer….honestly. A free trip to Israel if you marry Jewish!? So sick (in a good way). And about Momo being at the airport that first day you get to Israel. That is something special that no one else has ever done. I didn’t realize the magnitude of his presence that day, simply thought he was some crazy guy saying WELCOME HOME! But then that simple sentiment resonated in my head throughout the course of the trip. I began to truly feel and understand what the holy land was like as a result of that initial welcome from him.

    Everyone should take a moment and simply think about Momo’s ultimate message. Come to Israel, enjoy the holy land…and if you happen to bump into your future husband/wife, then he’s all for it and he’ll even pay for your honeymoon. Can’t get better than that.

  7. Dave

    7/8/2009 at 12:48 pm

    I went on an Oranim trip last summer and thought Momo was a real piece of work. A blow-hard whose word was the law and who did not tolerate other opinions. He presents an image of Israel as intolerant and self-righteous.

    His program may have been successful, but his method of encouraging support was ethically questionable. It wasn’t that he encouraged marrying Jewish and supporting Israel, but rather that he would not tolerate the contrary.

  8. eden lasker

    7/8/2009 at 12:52 pm

    as an israeli, that joined a group of oranim while serving the IDF i have to say, by looking at israel from an oranim group point of view, i fell in love with israel after 20 years of growing up there…
    i believe that this is the meaning of birth right, to help jews see israel from that beautifull point of view…
    let the man do his job, his doing it with loyalty, love and care for the future of this small contry…
    this is the home of the jews no metter where thay come from and yes, to keep us on this planet for many years from now we have to raise our children jewish!

  9. Michelle Fields

    7/8/2009 at 1:15 pm

    As someone who has spent a lot of time with Momo, I think that Momo is what’s RIGHT with the Birthright Project. Just as a lot of the young generation in America responded to Obama, young Jews respond to Momo- meaning that young, un-involved Jews are hungry to connect with people that have passion and drive. Momo demonstrates this passion for the Jewish People and I think it has been incredibly infectious. And knowing that he has this passion should encourage people to take seriously what Momo has put his focus on most recently- his long term programs. I think he’s really filling a need within the young jewish community to springboard beyond Birthright and maintain and deepen their connection with Israel. Instead of debating his relationship with Taglit-Birthright and where it may or may not go…. were missing the point. What is Momo doing NOW?! Personalities like Momo don’t just drop out of something ‘just because’. If he’s putting effort into these long-term programs… there’s gotta be a reason and they completely deserve a look.

  10. Micah

    7/8/2009 at 2:17 pm

    My first trip was with Oranim, and it forever changed my life. That is not an overstatement. I was not terribly religious before, and I am now more observant, though still quite liberal. I was able to connect with my Jewish ancestry in a way that I never even knew was possible. Don’t let anyone fool you, Momo can be a huge softie as well. I remember him talking about the invasion of Iraq being great for Israel. Our group, including myself disagreed with him vehemently. Instead of saying I am right and you are wrong, he was open to the possibility that maybe we were right. He is not so hardline as to think other opinions might be wrong. He has a lot of passion for the Jewish people, and no one can compete with that.

  11. avi

    7/8/2009 at 2:38 pm

    If Birthright is suddenly concerned about possible coercive elements, maybe they should turn their attention to Mayanot trips or the JEC (an Ultra-Orthodox Kiruv organization) which runs Birthright-Follow-Up in all of the New York area!
    birthrightisra...

  12. Matt

    7/8/2009 at 4:05 pm

    I fully support Momo and his mission. He has worked tirelessly to educate young Jews about what Israel stands for. Sometimes he’s a little rough around the edges…so are many Israelis. Living there takes a little guts. He’s done A LOT for me personally and for the future of our Israel.

  13. Joanne Davis

    7/8/2009 at 4:08 pm

    I was on the first Birthright trip in ’99 & went with Oranim. The following summer, I led an Oranim/BBYO Israel Summer Experience trip. Both were fantastic, and I think Momo had a lot to do with it. Isn’t part of Birthright’s mission to engage (or re-engage) non-affiliated young Jews, thus hopefully reversing the trend of intermarriage within the community? Momo’s comment about “making Jewish babies,” is, yes, a very Momo thing to say. But seriously, how wrong is it? Birthright is about bringing us to Israel & building a connection, but it is also about Jewish continuity. In addition, I found both trips (Birthright especially as there wasn’t much political content during the other trip) well-balanced and informative.

  14. Kaley Zeitouni

    7/8/2009 at 4:09 pm

    Momo is an incredible individual. I went on Oranim, and they were the only, i repeated, ONLY, trip provider that would take me due to medical concerns. Oranim agreed to take me because Momo believes so much in bringing Jews to Israel that he was willing to personally promise to take care of me if anything happened. He believed in me and he believes in his mission and to be honest, who cares about political correctness. He is a person with a passion and an opinion and he has every right to do so. Individuals can choose whether or not to heed his suggestions but he still has the right to say what he wants. And he is not saying anything bad but rather encouraging something very important. I have a lot of respect for him and I think he is doing the right thing by not giving in to Birthright’s demands to keep quiet.
    love you momo.

  15. John

    7/8/2009 at 4:10 pm

    I’ve been on an Oranim trip. The fact is, there are a number of rules in place that Oranim just doesn’t care about, and the most noticeable one was Shabbat: Trip providers are supposed to have meaningful Shabbat programming. On my trip, that was turning the hotel banquet room into a nightclub. Good shabbas!

    “despite the fact that Oranim strictly forbids inebriation and does not allow staff to drink” Believe me. Oranim staff drink with the best of them. I’ve seen them, and I’ve heard them brag about it afterwards, in addition to hooking up with participants. The rule on drinking was staff could drink, but not get drunk. Gee, wonder why that changed?

    “the continued success of Oranim’s word-of-mouth (and Facebook, and email etc.) marketing strategy. ” It is so cutthroat, recruiters will lie through their teeth just to get someone to go with Oranim. They’ll lie about other providers (Momo had to email his ambassadors and tell them to stop making a claim he told them to make because it was a lie) and they’ll also look for ways to steal recruits from other ambassadors. So someone working their tuchus off to go back can’t because someone else was just better at stealing credit for it.

    Momo runs a very unethical business with very immature, irresponsible people as the face of his organization… and he keeps encouraging it. While CIE’s jealousy in Canada is a small part of it, CIE doesn’t run in the U.S. and Birthright has to listen to the complaints of other organizers and past participants. Organizers can’t stand to hear “You’re not allowed to drink on Hillel” or “Israel Outdoors never goes to Eilat.” Participants are getting turned off on Momo using someone else’s money to preach his narrow views of the world, and telling Birthright they don’t recommend a free trip to Israel to their friends because of it. His politics are NOT on the Oranim website, so you’re not getting a full representation of what you’re signing up for with him.

  16. EZ

    7/8/2009 at 4:19 pm

    When Birthright started it was an amazing organization, so different from any other form of organized Jewish life. Within well thought out guidelines the funders spurred competition. Every group or organization was welcome to organize and operate a trip. It was democracy at it’s finest. There were experiences that all Birthright trips had to share, a trip to Masada, Yad Vashem, Hall of Independence, the Kotel etc. But, beyond that, trips could create their own flavor; Reform, Orthodox, Green, Adventure, Politics etc.
    In this model, Momo and Oranim flourished. They were the most popular trip by far. 70% of this summer’s applicants applied through Oranim. That number would have been higher if students hadn’t already figured out that applying with a small provider bettered one’s chances of actually going.
    But, Momo’s success was a major embarrassment for the organized Jewish world. How much was he spending on advertising? How big was his campus network? How many bodies on the ground did he have? Other groups dwarfed him. He was a new player without any of these advantages. His success was based on word of mouth, passion, and meeting the student where they were. What about Hillel? Hillel has some strengths, but, Birthright is not one of them. They are well down the list of most popular providers.
    Hillel advertises a presence at over 500 campuses. They have a central budget that is over 30,000,000. If we add up the resources that are spent at each individual Hillel the figure is staggering. Yet, with all this expenditure, where are the relationships? They don’t exist. Hillel even created a new campus outreach position whose primary responsibility was to recruit for Birthright and still Oranim beat them 8 to 1. Sure, there is a core of dedicated young Jews that seek Hillel out and participate in their activities. But in a competition for unaffiliated participation, Hillel could not compete. They advertise that they are the most popular Campus based trip. However, what they fail to report is that according to their definition, they are the only campus based trip.
    Rather than be embarrassed every season by Momo’s Oranim, they changed the rules. Every rule that has been established by Birthright has been a Momo rule. They look over the Oranim advantage and institute a new policy; Limit the night’s the group can go out, impose a 12PM curfew on all Birthright trips, force student’s to where their name tag the entire trip.Birthright. When these rules didn’t work, Taglit limited the amount of trips one provider could receive. This way the imbalance would not be so noticeable.
    Birthright used to be a great time for student and Madrich. While the trip is still good, and I would encourage people to apply and go, Birthright as an organization has become bureaucratic and extremely annoying. To get fined for wearing an old trip t-shirt, or having students without name tags is a bit beyond the pale. They need to sit down and think if treating someone who is in their mid twenties as a child really advances their cause.

  17. ak

    7/8/2009 at 4:20 pm

    MOMO IS THE MAN!!!!

  18. Carli Wells

    7/8/2009 at 4:27 pm

    LONG LIVE MOMO AND ORANIM!

    Over a year ago, Momo’s passion for Israel and standpoints on Jewish “propagation” ignited my own passion for Judaism and support of Israel. My heart ached a little when I read the email a few days ago and was hoping someone had hacked into his account and wrote a bogus note. Unfortunately, this does not seem to be the case and the repercussions of Birthright’s decisions on this matter will be detrimental to the program and to us “young Jews.” I hope that Birthright will overcome these politics so Momo and the Oranim leaders can continue to spread their POSITIVE Jewish message to others, like it did for me.

  19. Bret Feig

    7/8/2009 at 4:56 pm

    Momo is the driving force behind birthright. He has inspired traditionally secular Jews to come to Israel and embrace their culture. He never preached religious observance but instead preached the very essence of what it is to be Jewish. Their is nothing more basic then “making Jewish Babies” when it comes growing as a people or as a culture. As a race that progresses through matriarchs decent it seems to more a logical suggestion :). Birthright turning their back on Momo is really a slap in all of our faces. Fortunately for us, we have all had the opportunity to experience it Momo-Style. Sababa!

  20. themiddle

    7/8/2009 at 5:02 pm

    What is wrong with “making Jewish babies?”

  21. Chaya

    7/8/2009 at 6:11 pm

    I think people are very ignorant. I understand that by Momo telling people they should marry Jewish and make Jewish babies some people cry out that this is a private matter and is not Momo’s or anyone else’s business. Wrong. We are Jews and Jews should belong to a community, by marrying Jewish and therefore producing Jewish children we are maintaining and strengthening our community. A community that is seriously dwindling and falling apart. Some people dont like the negative approach of what Momo say’s. ‘You must do this, etc.’ But we must remember the rest of the trip is purely positive. The beauty of Israel as a Jewish state and home is shown to us 24/7. Our amazing history and culture…all the aspects of it from secular to orthodox are ours for the seeing and experiencing. Those where the parts that I clung to that made me realize I wasn’t part of my Jewish community and it was lonely. I truly believe that we are not perfect and so of course some of the madricha drink and some people did not the spiritual shabbat the thought they where going to get but that is simply the way things role depending on the timing of ur trip…sorry. I am now proud to say that I am immersed in my Jewish community, counting down the days to my Jewish wedding and awaiting my ‘Momo’ honeymoon back to Israel where I can kiss the ground and thank gd for giving me the BR experience and someone as driven and loving as Momo.

  22. Adam C.

    7/8/2009 at 7:12 pm

    Momo was the best experience of my 10 days in June 07!. He greeted me as soon as i walked off the plane with a Shalom Welcome Home! He really made it seem i was home. Everytime we had a meeting with momo I always had a smile on my face! He is a true Israeli and a great caring man!

    It is thanks to all the uptight ass holes and nerdy little kids who went home and complained to Taglit-Birthright or to their parents about what he spoke about.

    Wat is the point of sending jews from all over the world to israel?!

    TO SHOW THEM THEIR ROOTS! TO SHOW THE STRUGGLES THE JEWS PEOPLE PUT INTO MAKING THIS OUR LAND!! MOMO HAS THE RIGHT TO SAY WHATEVER HE WANTS! HE IS A CARING MAN THAT WANTS THE BEST FOR EVERYONE! IN THE SHOAH WE LOST OVER 6 MILLION! OF COURSE WE SHOULD MARRY JEWS AND RAISE OUR CHILDREN TO BE JEWS!! WE NEED TO REPOPULATE THE WORLD!

    If Momo is to be censored and told that he cannot say the things that he truly feels for, wtf is the point!? MIGHT AS WELL SEND SOME NAZIS TO ISRAEL AND JUST LET EVERYONE GO! CHRISTIANS CATHOLICS BLACKS HISPANICS! EVERYBODY!
    The point of birthright is to teach jews about being a jew!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    MOMO IS RIGHT TO TELL BIRTHRIGHT TO STICK IN THEIR ASS!!
    MOMO TRULY INSPIRED ME TO FOLLOW MY JEWISH ROOTS AND ONE DAY WITH ENOUGH MONEY I WILL MAKE ALIYAH TO ISRAEL!!

    Thank you Momo for everything! Im sure everything will work out! Dont let anybody censor or mute what you TRULY care about!!

    And one day i will make ALOT of jewish babies!
    “I LOVE THE SMELL OF A JEWISH BABY!!!”-Momo Lifshitz

    Hopefully we will meet again! I have been looking into long term programs through Oranim!

    You inspire me Momo!

    THANK YOU VERY MUCH FOR TURNING MY LIFE AROUND!!

    -Adam.. a very non religious JEW with family that survived and were exterminated in the shoah.

    LONG LIVE MOMO!!

  23. David

    7/8/2009 at 10:07 pm

    I recently attended an Oranim trip and had the expierience of a lifetime. The “party” atmosphere only exists with the very young immature travelers. My group was older, 23-26 and spent all there time learning and expieriencing Israel. Momo has strong views, but he like most Israelis have a passion that an outsider just will never understand. This trip has changed me for the better and i will never forget it. To take the best guy out of the whole deal is a mistake. My wife is catholic, and Momo knew it. I took his Jewish babies speach and did some thinking. Before the trip my children were going to be whatever. Now because of Momo and the state of Israel, my kids will positively be Jewish.

    Thank you Momo for welcoming me home and showing me an amazing time, propaganda or not!

  24. Dani

    7/9/2009 at 2:33 pm

    I’m somewhat torn about this situation.

    I think that Momo’s tactics and aggressiveness may have turned off a lot of people, and the fact that Oranim’s trip was somewhat void of content or education, makes me OK with this.

    On the other hand, I think this is bad news for Birthright Israel. For them to have a powerhouse like Oranim bring in 70% of all registrants for nearly 30 trip providers is insane, and Birthright’s registration numbers will decrease because of it.

    For those that are interested, StandWithUs & Routes run an amazing Taglit Birthright Israel trip which is focused on Israel education, advocacy, and coming away with a better understanding of Israel.
    standwithuscam...

  25. lori

    7/9/2009 at 3:01 pm

    They should be bending into pretzels to reconcile with him. So what if he was a prima donna? He had a great vision, and all 44 members of my trip remember him fondly.

  26. lori

    7/9/2009 at 3:09 pm

    Dani,

    Did you go on an Oranim trip? I’d have to disagree with your assessment. Firstly, birthright in itself is meant to be experiential education. A study out of Brandies University has birthright as the most effective form of Jewish education, quantified by Jewish communal participation later in life. It beat even day school. What do you call “content”, classroom-like lectures?

    If that’s what you’re looking for, there was plenty of that too. Every day we had several 30 minute lectures while touring — one of which even recounted the Sabra and Shatilla massacre.

  27. Eric Cohen

    7/9/2009 at 3:18 pm

    Dan – I’m somewhat torn on YOUR POST.

    I don’t understand how you can write that “Momo’s tactics and aggressiveness may have turned off a lot of people” since 50,000 of the 200,000 alumni came on one of his trips. And remember, that 50,000 had a choice of over 20+ organizers to choose from, one of them being you. If you can do math, that’s 25%!

    Now, where do you come off saying that “Oranim’s trip was somewhat void of content or education?” Are YOU some sort of professor of Jewish and Israel education? Have YOU ever been on an Oranim trip? Oranim’s trips don’t have any voids. They’re full of education, Zionism, adventure and most importantly, fun. Oranim’s Tour Educators are recognized as the best in the industry. You can’t find a more sound team then the team of Oranim.

    Birthright’s numbers will for sure decrease because of Momo’s departure. Who’s left to do the recruiting? It’s been seen on campuses for years – the only active recruiting and marketing has been done by Momo and Oranim. Some campuses have Hillel working on recruiting too, but not other organizers. When it comes to marketing and recruiting, Birthrights’ model leaves that up to the organizer. All Birthright is worried about is that their logo is bigger than the organizers. Who gives a shit! Why not spend some money to do their own global advertising campaigns?!

    Oh, and your shameless plug for Stand With Us… HAHA. That little organization can barely come up with enough participants for two buses a season, or now three, whatever Birthright’s minimum is. No wonder they had to become part of Routes to still stay alive. Why would someone want to go with Stand With Us? What’s attractive and appealing about their program? Nothing!

    The bottom line. Oranim is the best. Birthright will suffer. Just wait and see…

  28. Dan

    7/10/2009 at 2:12 am

    Public fact: Taglit has less money now than last year. Translates to less participants.
    Not having Oranim in the mix, especially with their proven marketing muscle, means a greater percentage of applicants will probably participate in 2010. Then Taglit can correctly say they were able to take xx% of those who applied. Most likely significantly more than in 2009.

    Now you see why Taglit has a marketing person as CEO?

  29. Eric Cohen

    7/10/2009 at 8:34 am

    Dan #2 (from 7/10) – You say “Taglit has less money now than last year.” TRUE. You say this “translates to less participants.” Also TRUE. Then you go on to say “not having Oranim in the mix, especially with their proven marketing muscle, means a greater percentage of applicants will probably participate in 2010.” Again, also TRUE.

    But what does this all REALLY mean?

    Well, a great percentage of people will participate this round (applicants vs. participants), but there will also be a significant drop in the number of applicants.

    There is a reason why ORANIM accounted for 70% of the applicants when BIRTHRIGHT closed their registration. The MARKET DEMANDS ORANIM.

    Many of these other small providers wouldn’t exist today if ORANIM was given allocation to accommodate the MAJORITY of their applicants. These smaller organizers are getting ORANIM’S leftovers – and the participants don’t come out as happy as they would if they went with ORANIM in the first place.

  30. Carey S

    7/10/2009 at 3:35 pm

    I have staffed 4 Oranim trips, each different, and each the same. Momo inspires passion and reminds people that Jewish marriage is a viable option, which in some areas does not always seem so. I have had my disagreements with him, but I can say that agree or not, to argue that a position of Momo’s seem contrary to the objectives or opinions of Birthright seems odd. From countless conversations with Jews previously “unaffiliated” who have themseleves talked about gaining an identity they hadn’t reviously had, to my personal experiece of leading unoffical groups inside these oranim trips, I can say without consideration that the Oranim approach offers something special to the people who are EXACTLY important to Birthright.

  31. Carey S

    7/10/2009 at 3:46 pm

    I wanted to add that I was actually able to attend one of these wedding “gifts” in Israel and it was an incredible moment and inspired a lot of pride in the members of my group who attended.

  32. WSO

    7/10/2009 at 5:51 pm

    Show your support for Oranim. Visit WeSupportOrani...!

  33. Leon

    7/11/2009 at 2:28 am

    a response to those that think momo is trying to brainwash oranim’s participants or that he’s not within his right to promote certain pro-jewish and pro-israel messages:

    i think you are all totally misconstruing the message momo is trying to pass on.
    birthright trips last only 10 days. people don’t donate tens-of-millions of dollars each year for us young american jews to come to israel just to party for 10 days. there is obviously a message they are trying to pass on, and it makes me SICK when people think that oranim organizers are trying to brainwash us into believing certain things. if you dont want to hear them try to explain the importance of marrying jewish, raising your kids jewish, or making aliyah, or anything along those lines, then why did you come on a birthright trip??
    if your religious and marital choices were so private (and obviously not those which momo tries to communicate to us, cuz otherwise you wouldnt be complaining), they WHY WOULD YOU HAVE EVER WANTED TO COME ON AN ORANIM TRIP?
    that’s the exact point. bring secular, non-religious american jews to israel to show them what israel and young israelis are REALLY like (and NOT what you see on tv) so that you can realize that its okay to be proud to be jewish. most young american jews that don’t really consider themselves jewish anymore is because they are ASHAMED of it. but that in reality stems from ignorance about israel, israelis, and judaism.
    how the hell can people say that oranim only brings kids to israel to party for 10 days, and then scolds oranim for trying to pass on too many pro-israel and pro-jewish messages to its participants??
    momo and oranim ALONE could have been responsible for the future of israel and judaism. because if it was left up to us in the united states, judaism will virtually disappear in the next few generations, thus also disappearing any connection or relation we have to the land of israel.
    i think you need to reevaluate what you really think oranim is trying to accomplish and crawl out of the little nest you clearly grew up in that makes your life so comfortable and worry-free. i’m in israel as we speak, and this is REAL LIFE. its not about agreeing with the desires and beliefs of all 50,000 oranim participants, because clearly each person will have their own beliefs. its about passing on a message to the greater american jewish population, emphasizing certain important things, that, sad as it may be, ARE TRUE. promoting jewish marriage and children is brain washing?? how about its actually making people try to realize that JEWS ARE DISAPPEARING because it doesnt MEAN anything to most young american jews to be jewish anymore.
    and this is coming from someone who hasn’t been to temple in at least 5 years, is not kosher or religious in any way whatsoever.
    but THANK YOU momo for doing all you have done so far. i hope he finds a way to make his message be heard, because if we leave our futurs in the hands of people like you we wont exist much longer.

  34. Stephen Robert Morse

    7/13/2009 at 1:30 pm

    Momo:Howard Roark
    ::
    Birthright:Ellsworth Toohey

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  36. Ruth Stein

    7/14/2009 at 6:27 pm

    Thank you all for helping me to better see the other side of this issue. While my quote was a mere attempt to find a reason for birthright’s decision to censor Oranim, I am less convinced, having read all your posts, that they had one.

    To Leon, who tracked me down to send me his rant, I did not say anything about brainwashing.

  37. Momo

    7/15/2009 at 6:01 am

    Shalom Jewlicious Readers,

    I’ve read Dave’s article and all the comments and I’ve appreciated all of them. It is great to see everyone’s views and opinions.

    Please keep commenting – this disucssion is very interesting.

    Ruth, please email me (momo@israelfree.com) – I’d love to talk to you.

    Shalom from Israel,
    Momo

  38. Dani

    7/15/2009 at 11:38 am

    To those who commented to my post, and to Momo …

    I wrote what I wrote based on 2 factors: Dave’s (ck) post, and having spoken to dozens of Oranim alumni over the years.

    Comments are sometimes not the best place to express complex ideas but I will try to expand on what I meant. SWU deals with very motivated, activist participants who have come to Israel with a very clear agenda. Packing more education into their trips is what is expected. The participants are receptive and already knowledgeable. Oranim however has dealt with far greater numbers and when dealing with the unaffiliated, the reality is that there is only so much education you can cram into someone in ten days. What Oranim does extremely well is use those ten days to inform and impassion and inspire kids to want to learn more. Thus while the formal educational roles of our trips differ, the goals are the same and SWU has benefited from the involvement of a number of Oranim participants who started off indifferent and came back impassioned. You can quote me on that.

    I don’t see the situation as black and white. In the end, many will lose out because of Oranim’s absence.

    ~Dani

  39. Sarah

    7/21/2009 at 7:41 am

    Lori – the study of birthright concluded by Saxe at Brandeis in fact concluded that birthright does not affect a long-term change in participants engagement in the Jewish community. In the immediate term, they attend more activities on-campus, but 10 days does not make an engaged Jew. That is why Birthright NEXT and other initiatives were created – to respond to this serious criticism, to start to engage participants when they return home. 10 days is not enough to inspire a lifetime of commitment, but it HAS proven to inspire a love for Israel. This is something educators can build from.

  40. Pandaface

    7/31/2009 at 4:57 pm

    Reality Check:

    He says “Make Jewish Babies”. The honeymoon promise thing is a hook-up incentive. He gives talks on how beautiful the girls on Israeli beaches are and then the group is taken out partying all the time.

    What were the chances of that ever being an educational trip?

  41. Carey S

    7/31/2009 at 5:29 pm

    Pandaface,
    That is a week position. To claim that the trip is not educational is an insult to all of the educators (some admittedly better than others) and other staff members that engage participants in education (book and non-book) throughout the 10 days and continuing afterward. If you can not reference anything educational from a first-hand experience on an Oranim trip, then perhaps you are more predisposed to taking advantage of a “partying opportunity.”

  42. Pandaface

    7/31/2009 at 6:35 pm

    Carey,
    When the guide is explaining in the morning what we’re doing, where we’re going & what we are going to learn & asks “Any questions” and the one question is from a bleary-eyed participant “eh.. are we going to a club to night????…” you have to wonder how educational the trip is. All the Birthright operators have trained educational staff. They’re not all trying to convey it to hung over participants.

  43. p to the e

    8/1/2009 at 9:37 am

    What am I? The self appointed ignorant comment cop? Guess so! Here goes…

    Pandaface: Momo met every group twice for about an hour each time. The first meeting took place upon the group’s arrival at the airport. The first speech welcomes everyone to Israel, tells them about Birthright in general and outlines the trip’s rules. Particular emphasis is placed upon avoiding lateness and inebriation. The fear of God (and Momo) is placed upon each participant and they are told that along with the privilege they have in getting a free trip, they also have responsibilities and those include not getting drunk and not detrimentally affecting the quality of the trip for the other participants. Violation of these rules will and have lead to participants being unceremoniously sent home.

    The second speech, which takes place usually more than halfway after the trip, is the one where he reiterates the rules, blesses the Birthright funders (he calls them “holy”) and outlines his ideas – ideas that talk about love and passion for Israel, his desire that the next generation of Jewish leaders have a firm Jewish identity and his hope that all the participants will marry Jews and have lots of Jewish babies.

    Oranim trips are (were?) not non-stop nightly parties. When you are dealing with American college students of course you are going to have your fair share of total morons! But for the most part, these trips have adhered to Birthright standards, have expanded their participants’ awareness of Israel and their Jewish identities and have been significantly educational. Your assertions are baseless.

    “Make Jewish babies” is an invitation to hook up? Are you serious? As if participants need an incentive to hook up! As if the purpose of hooking up is impregnation! Are you kidding?

  44. Pandaface

    8/1/2009 at 11:55 am

    p to the e
    Momo creates a culture of partying and sex. It would be futile to deny this. Please, ask Momo. He will tell you himself. He does this so that participants will recommend Oranim to their friends next year. This is what sells Israel. This is what sells Oranim. Birthright money is a mixture of philanthorpic Jewish money and Israeli tax-payer’s money. Momo, very openly has used the system, using sex and drink to get people onto his trips and promote his business.
    If Birthright has to constantly rein in the partying becuase Oranim groups are out of control, what does that tell you?
    PS – You started your comments in past tense “Momo met the group” and carried on in the “The second speech, which takes place usually more than halfway after the trip” You seem to me familiar with Oranim working methods. How is this?

    • froylein

      8/1/2009 at 12:26 pm

      Sorry to interrupt, but what exactly is wrong with a partying atmosphere? Or are those trips for Puritan Jews only?

      And as far as a politicial / sociological agenda is concerned, one could probably say that about any Birthright trip aims at the same goals, just that some appear to be more outspoken about them.

  45. Pandaface

    8/1/2009 at 12:42 pm

    Partying is great… But when it’s more partying and less content… you gotta ask why donated money is being used?

    • froylein

      8/1/2009 at 12:57 pm

      I’ve been wondering anyway why anybody from a post-industralised nation need have their trips paid for, particularly considering that half of the world’s and one-third of the US’s Jewry lives below poverty line.

  46. Pandaface

    8/1/2009 at 1:32 pm

    Froylein… That is a very good point you raise. I, myself am a confused as to why US Jewish philanthropic money is not going into the Jewish poor in America. I don’t know. What I do know is that this money goes to fund Jews from post-industrialized America to acquire some kind of Jewish education that no-one else has ever paid for. Maybe some money should go into Jewish educational initiatives in the United States instead. It may be more effective. That’s a whole other conversation. In the meantime, this is educational money. It’s not party money.

  47. p to the e

    8/1/2009 at 2:06 pm

    OK Momo? Are you out there? Do you create a culture of partying and sex? I mean above and beyond one that would naturally exist on any trip run by any trip provider wherein the participants are young and naturally horny college students?

    Pandaface, you seem to discount the effect of face to face interaction, before, during and after the trip, that seems to be a hallmark of Oranim’s approach. I literally know dozens and dozens of people who have been on Birthright. Some of them didn’t recall the name of their trip provider a year after the trip. Only the Oranim participants universally recalled the name of their trip provider and its enigmatic head Momo. That’s called name brand recognition, a standard goal in marketing any successful product, and might go a long way towards explaining Oranim’s popularity. Brand loyalty is a powerful thing.

    Yet what you are saying is that “sex and drink” is the sole explanation for Oranim’s success. Not the successful recruiting, not the personal touch, not the hip young tour guides, nope. Sex and drink.

    It also seems to me that when Birthright steps in, it’s to rein in Oranim’s marketing success. For instance, Birthright’s rules about the maximum percentage of buses that a single trip provider can be assigned (known as the “Momo Rule”) seem to have penalized mostly just Oranim. Hillel has gotten around that rule by having other trip providers handle their overflow. Oranim just closes its registration early and sees people it has recruited forced to go to other less marketing savvy trip providers.

    The use of past tense is reflective of the fact that Oranim is no longer (at least for now) in the Birthright trip provider business. I am very familiar with the working methods of several trip providers, from the left-wing orientation and map-program of Israel Experts, to Hillel’s fiercely multi-denominational no kid left behind approach, to Mayanot’s “non-coercive” religious orientation, to Israel Outdoors.. whatever. You get the point. I have attended very Jewy colleges, most of my friends have been on Birthright and some have even worked for several trip providers as madrichim/madrichot. I have a non-professional interest in the whole program, in part because I never went (I had been on a peer trip, oh well!) and because Jewish community issues related to youth interest me. The administrators of this Web site can, with my permission, confirm that I am not writing from Israel where most trip providers are based – if that’s what you’re implying.

    What about you Pandaface? What’s your familiarity based on? Where do your interests lie? For instance, how do you feel about the fact that the writer of the otherwise very parve article in the New York Jewish Week about the Momo affair seems to have been uninvited from a Birthright trip she was supposed to participate in as a guest journalist because her article presumably displeased someone at Birthright. Any comments on that Pandaface? Or are you just about ad hominem attacks?

  48. momo

    8/1/2009 at 2:30 pm

    Shalom from home !!!

    I am here reading all of this.

    My heart is clean . I gave 100% of myself and my great people , both sides of the ocean ,to strengh Jewish identity and the relationship with Israel.

    I left with tears. i am not happy. I did not wanted to leave i was forced to do so.

    Thank you all for your support it means a lot to me

    momo

  49. ck

    8/1/2009 at 3:11 pm

    Uhm… thanks Momo. As per the request, p to the e is in fact writing from the US.

    Pandaface: I’ve led or been involved with trips with 4 Birthright trip providers. All were geared towards secular unaffiliated participants. I’ve led what, 6? 7? trips with Oranim and your descriptions ie “more partying and less content” are grossly out of line with my experience. You might want to explain how you came by your highly suspect information.

  50. DK

    8/30/2009 at 12:24 pm

    avi, when you have information like that, you need to tell Failed Messiah or myself. ck will not do anything with this type of information, because he doesn’t understand (or believe?) how devastating this type of Kiruv deception can be to young lives.

    Not that this story has come out in the Forward, thanks in part to people of good faith and heavy conscience within Taglit itself, we can have the public conversation we need to have as to whether or not ecumenical Jewish organizations should be handing over innocent Jews who have harmed no one to the insatiable furnace that is the Dark Light.

    forward.com/ar...

  51. ND

    9/9/2009 at 8:53 pm

    I am trying to sign up for a trip for this winter and was hoping to go one Oranim which organizer runs a similar program? Thanks

  52. themiddle

    9/9/2009 at 11:18 pm

    Um, ND, click on this:

    jewlicious.com...

  53. Karen K.

    9/12/2009 at 11:21 pm

    I ran an Oranim Birthright trip two winters ago, and I have ran 5 other trips from different organizers. So, I have the street cred. to say the following bullet points:

    – Oranims trips ARE party trips and attract a “lower class” of participants. Its not Oranims fault! They rely on word of mouth and so from one party animals mouth to the other…you get the picture.
    – Oranim is messy as a company on the whole. They act like theyr’e pros, but their staff is rude and unhelpful.
    – Momo is 100% Israeli and wont soften himself for Americans. This leads to huge culture shock. When he gave his “only date Jews” speech to my bus I had 2 Russians go ape bananas mad over it. Theyr’e mother wasn’t a Jew and were insulted.

    My opinion:
    I never liked Oranims trips and I think they SUCK at running Birthrights(yes people with degrees can be childish and blunt too). Can anyone recall their wholesome nickname? However, I was PROUD when Momo gave his “only date Jews” and “make Jewish babies” speec. He is the only one who has enough huevos to state the most important factor in Jewish survival. In fact I have often thought that if I became Madame President Taglit-Birthright Israel I would add a little required check box to my application that says, “I PROMISE TO DATE JEWISH, MARRY JEWISH, AND RAISE MY BABIES JEWISH.” In the end you can’t really hold anyone accountable for checking that box, but at least, like Momo, I’d have done my part for the Tribe. If it bugs some Americans I guess my response to them is to grow up. Not everything in life is as pleasant as pie.

  54. Israel I.

    9/12/2009 at 11:28 pm

    i went on an oranim trip and it was crazy! we had so much fun! there was a different girl in my room every night. the counselors were even bringing my breakfast up to my room to get me out of bed. and i went on oranim because my friends told me it was trip that i could get wasted and screw around on.

  55. themiddle

    9/13/2009 at 1:13 am

    The thing is, Karen K. and Israel I, we can see that you’re writing from the same computer. It kinda takes away from any confidence we have in what you’ve told us.

  56. Karen K.

    9/13/2009 at 1:15 am

    Yeah I told my friend that but HE WOULDNT LISTEN. Thanks.

  57. themiddle

    9/13/2009 at 1:22 am

    Yeah, well Karen/Israel, I believe that excuse has been used before.

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  59. Jen

    1/20/2012 at 6:47 pm

    Cutting off Oranim… TOTAL #FAIL for Birthright. I’ve sent dozens of people on Oranim Birthright trips, I myself was a group leader, and everything was absolutely by the book. Just because Momo, was a smart wiz when it came to marketing and he had an opinion, trust me when i say a bus full of 40+ jews is FULL of opinions. Momo just cared enough to express them. It was refreshing.

    Best of Luck Momo.

    I will say this in 2006-2008 I knew dozens of people who couldn’t wait to go. Now I don’t hear anyone as interested as they were on going on an Oranim trip!

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