Tuvia Book, the new core educator for Write On For Israel, The Jewish Week program that educates students about modern Israel in advance of their college years, has lost count of how many teen and young adult tours to Israel he has led. He may well be the longest-serving Birthright Israel tour guide, dating back to the pilot program in December 1999. And as part of his work in Jewish education, both formal and informal, he has climbed Masada more than 200 times. It’s never routine, though, because “I get to see it each time through the eyes of those who are there for the first time,” he says.
Book, a fast talker with a dynamic personality, is a native of London who was raised in the United Kingdom and South Africa. He made aliyah at 17, served in an elite IDF combat unit, and has lectured and taught in Israel, Europe, South Africa, Australia and the U.S. His textbook for young people, “For the Sake of Zion: A Curriculum of Israel Studies” (JAFI: 2010), is used throughout the Jewish world. This fall’s Write On program begins Nov. 16.
Q: What’s the mood on campus this fall in terms of Israel, post-Gaza war?
A: It looks to be a banner year for anti-Israel activity. Ironically, as Prime Minister Netanyahu has noted, the more liberal the campus, the more anti-liberal the views expressed. Just compare Israel to Arab countries on human rights, treatment of women, gays, etc.
What’s the most effective way to deal with campus criticism of Israel?
The key is to be proactive, not reactive. Don’t try to convince hard-core critics. Concentrate on the 60 to 80 percent of college students, including Jews, who are somewhere in the middle and looking to those on campus who are knowledgeable. But before you become an advocate you have to be informed, have ideas. Best is when you’ve seen Israel with your own eyes, and met the people, including those in Arab communities. See the kind of daily interaction that doesn’t make the news. When we visit Israel, I hope to introduce the Write On students to Israeli role models, like the young rescue pilot who went to Ramaz here and made aliyah. I want then to see what motivates Israelis, and to have the students come home with a sense of enthusiasm and passion and a positive connection to their land and people.
Your doctoral thesis (at the Jewish Theological Seminary Davidson School of Education) takes a unique look at Birthright’s impact — from the point of view of the Israeli soldiers who participate in the trip. What have you found?
Of course the major donors have focused on the effects on the diaspora participants. But about 100,000 IDF soldiers, the cream of the crop, have taken part as well, touring with groups for five to 10 days. My research has found that these encounters shatter their stereotypical impressions of shallow American Jews. It makes the Israelis see what they have in common with other young Jews, but also strengthens their motivation to serve. They see themselves through the eyes of these young people and it gives them a strong sense of purpose, of being part of and protecting Jewish people everywhere.