Tours That Bind — A Study of Birthright Israel
Diaspora, Pilgrimage and
Israeli Birthright Tourism
New York University Press, 2010
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, the free trip to Israel tour seeks to foster in the American Jewish diaspora a lifelong attachment to the country based on ethnic and political solidarity. Over a half-billion dollars (and counting) has been spent cultivating this attachment, and despite the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict the tours are still going strong.
Based on over seven years of first-hand observation in Israel, sociologist 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 understand their 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.
Winner, 2010 Jordan Schnitzer Book Award, Association for Jewish Studies
Honorable Mention, 2011 Mary Douglas Prize for Best Book, American Sociological Association Culture Section
“One of the finest social scientific studies of contemporary Jewish life in a generation.”
— Riv-Ellen Prell, author of Fighting to Become Americans: Jews, Gender and the Anxiety of Assimilation
“The best book to date on diaspora tourism. A major contribution to the literature on tourism and Jewish studies.”
— Edward M. Bruner, author of Culture on Tour: Ethnographies of Travel
“Masterfully performed…. an excellent book…. highly recommended.”
— American Journal of Sociology
“The study that scholars of contemporary Judaism and American Jewish life have been waiting for…. A tremendous addition to the field.”
— Religious Studies Review
“Must reading for those who work on homeland/diaspora relations. Ditto for those who research tourism.”
— Contemporary Sociology
“A supreme example of how a case study can be successful….Kelner provides a refreshingly broader spectrum of comparison for Israel-experience tours.”
“Original and persuasive”
“Fascinating insights into one of the most daring and effective social experiments of the modern Jewish Diaspora.”
— The Jerusalem Post
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