Within hours of landing in Tel Aviv this past January, some new friends and I were wandering in a jet-lagged daze through a street market when we ran into an alumnus of the Taglit-Birthright program that had brought us, roughly 40 queer Jews, to Israel for a free 10-day vacation. “So,” he asked, “how are you guys enjoying faglit?”
Faglit! That was the word we’d been looking for. A blend of reclaimed hate speech and the Hebrew word for “discovery,” it was much catchier than gayright and rainbow trip, the terms we’d been throwing around—and also more deliciously transgressive.
If you hang out with Jewish Millennials, you’ve probably heard of Taglit-Birthright, established by philanthropists and the Israeli government in 1999 to bring young-adult members of the Jewish diaspora to the Holy Land. The junket is commonly, and rightly, considered a recruiting device to get Americans to make aliyah (move to Israel), or at least to stick up for the country in political arguments, and maybe even to find a nice Jewish spouse.
In 2008, the tour operator Israel Experience started offering trips tailored to LGBTQ Jews, and you can understand why: Israel wants to build goodwill with American liberals, and some queer folks would prefer to have plausible romantic prospects on the bus. But as I and my nose-ring- and skinny-jeans-bedecked fellow travelers scribbled our preferred pronouns onto our name tags before our departure from the Newark airport, I wondered how the Holy Land would sit with a group of people who resist tradition just by being themselves.