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Tours That Bind

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

Shaul Kelner
Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 292
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  • Book Info
    Tours That Bind
    Book Description:

    Since 1999 hundreds of thousands of young American Jews have visited Israel on an all-expense-paid 10-day pilgrimage-tour known as Birthright Israel. The most elaborate of the state-supported homeland tours that are cropping up all over the world, this tour seeks to foster in the American Jewish diaspora a lifelong sense of attachment to Israel based on ethnic and political solidarity. Over a half-billion dollars (and counting) has been spent cultivating this attachment, and despite 9/11 and the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict the tours are still going strong. Based on over seven years of first-hand observation in modern day Israel, Shaul Kelner provides an on-the-ground look at this hotly debated and widely emulated use of tourism to forge transnational ties. We ride the bus, attend speeches with the Prime Minister, hang out in the hotel bar, and get a fresh feel for young American Jewish identity and contemporary Israel. We see how tourism's dynamism coupled with the vibrant human agency of the individual tourists inevitably complicate tour leaders' efforts to rein tourism in and bring it under control. By looking at the broader meaning of tourism, Kelner brings to light the contradictions inherent in the tours and the ways that people understandtheir relationship to place both materially and symbolically. Rich in detail, engagingly written, and sensitive to the complexities of modern travel and modern diaspora Jewishness, Tours that Bind offers a new way of thinking about tourism as a way through which people develop understandings of place, society, and self.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-4918-0
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xv-xxvi)
  5. 1 Deploying Tourism
    (pp. 1-20)

    On the evening of June 6, 2004, the Israeli cabinet announced its intention to dismantle all Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip, captured from Egypt on that same date 37 years earlier. Soon afterward, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon made the short drive from the Knesset building to Jerusalem’s convention center, whose name, Binyanei Ha.umah—Buildings of the Jewish People—anticipated the crowd that had gathered to hear him. Packing the 3,100-seat Ussishkin Hall were college-age Jews from four continents whom Sharon’s government, in conjunction with diaspora Jewish philanthropists and nonprofit agencies, had brought to Israel on an all-expense-paid tour. They...

  6. 2 Striking Roots
    (pp. 21-46)

    “I want a hike to the death!”

    Andrew’s comment pierced the mountain air. It was not intended for me, but I turned back to offer a knowing glance. Our walk up the wooded trail to Mount Meron’s peak was little more than a leisurely stroll. Hardly the climb we were led to expect when the tour guide, Ravit, told us she was canceling our visit to the industrial park to take us hiking up a mountain instead. It was the dawn of the 21st century, but she decided to have us encounter Israel’s northern Galilee region 1940s style, by romancing...

  7. 3 Contesting Claims
    (pp. 47-81)

    Three months earlier, on a bus parked on a quiet roadside in the northern town of Kiryat Shmonah, near the Lebanese border, 40 students from a Taglit group sat awaiting the arrival of eight Israeli soldiers, male and female, who would be joining their tour. Like the American tourists, Yoni and his comrades were also around 19 or 20 years old, but soldiering had endowed them with a presumptive charisma. As they stepped onto the bus for the first time, conspicuous in their olive fatigues, they were greeted with applause, yelps and piercing whistles. The next several days of cross-cultural...

  8. 4 Consuming Place
    (pp. 82-108)

    An ancient teaching warns that one should not begin studying the Zohar, the central text of the kabbalah, until one reaches 40 years. Any earlier would invite misunderstanding and court madness. Touring once with Birthright Israel in the the city of Safed, where the Jewish mystical tradition achieved its fullest refinement, none of us, save for our 47–year–old guide, had reached the age for unlocking the Zohar’s mysteries. Nor, to the best of my knowledge, were any of us—guide included—versed in the mystical practices that might gain us some privileged knowledge of the Divine. We did,...

  9. 5 Collapsing Distance
    (pp. 109-140)

    “I miss Wal–Mart,” Michael said as he stood holding the microphone by his seat at the front of the bus.

    We were about 20 minutes into our ride from Ben–Gurion Airport to the ancient Roman beach town of Caesaria, our first stop in Israel. Michael was addressing the group, making introductions, warning us about dehydration, and preparing us for what lay in store. People were surprised to find that their guide was an American immigrant and not a native Israeli.

    Victor Barabash, a member of the group who himself had come as a child to the United States...

  10. 6 Encountering Community
    (pp. 141-168)

    The night air was crisp and the January sky ablaze with stars. At 4:20 a.m., all was stillness and silence, save the tour bus blasting disco as it barreled through the Judean Desert toward Masada. On board, the atmosphere was electric, an inversion of the collective half-sleep that marked the wake-up at the hotel in Arad an hour earlier. Bleary-eyed college students, unshowered and clad in university-logo sweatsuits, had trickled into a common room whose fluorescent lights only brought out the dingy yellow of the walls. On a table near the stairs were slices of a bone-dry brown cake that...

  11. 7 Locating Self
    (pp. 169-190)

    “Yad Vashem.” Translated literally, the words mean “a memorial” (yad) and “a name” (shem). “The Nazis wrote numbers on us,” Ravit told her group at the Holocaust memorial as we sat beneath trees planted in honor of gentiles who had saved Jewish lives. “‘Yad Vashem’ means bringing the names back.”

    Ravit introduced our visit to the museum by speaking of the importance of names as markers of individuality and as links binding people to community. Her words began with reference to the Shoah but quickly came to focus on us, the tourists standing at a Holocaust memorial in an independent...

  12. 8 Building Diaspora
    (pp. 191-206)

    The past century and a half has seen the rise of modern mass tourism as a new way of engaging place. Although tourism was initially and still is largely a market-driven phenomenon, by the latter half of the 20th century, nation-states and nongovernmental organizations had discovered that they could systematically deploy this novel cultural form to influence political identities. The ethnic culture industries of many different countries and diaspora communities began applying rational planning, bureaucratic organization, and, in some instances, even ideological, philosophical, and theoretical articulation to develop tourism as a medium of diasporic political socialization. As suggested by the...

  13. Methodological Appendix
    (pp. 207-208)
  14. Glossary
    (pp. 209-210)
  15. Notes
    (pp. 211-234)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 235-248)
  17. Index
    (pp. 249-260)
  18. About the Author
    (pp. 261-261)