Levi Snow and Megan McKee do not have the traditional Birthright Israel love story. Before their…
Levi Meir Clancy was born in Los Angeles, CA, and is of Ashkenazi and Okinawan descent. Levi’s work, passions, and hobbies are all one and the same. He explained that growing up with a minority’s perspective on survival from both sides of his family — an estimated one-third to one-half of Okinawans perished in atrocities during World War II — eventually attracted him to combating violence and extremism through his career in strategic communications. This includes three areas: research-based demographic approaches for building strategies; content production like photography, videography, and copywriting; and monitoring and evaluation, including programmatic approaches to process big amounts of data.
This past winter Levi participated in Birthright Israel and most recently staffed a trip, so we’re excited to share what he thought about the experiences.
Q&A with Levi Meir
What inspired you to sign up for a Birthright Israel trip?
Levi Meir: “For as long as I can remember, Birthright Israel trips have been a rite of passage for my peers. When I was finally able to do a trip, what inspired me was the opportunity to travel with experienced, professional guides who could help me understand how Birthright Israel’s different stakeholders – the Israeli government, Israel advocates, and Israelis themselves — engage with the public about the State of Israel. I wanted to learn about what kind of “aha” moments are intended for participants and how those moments are cultivated so that people can form their own opinions. My belief is that anyone who knows Israel will love Israel.”
Did you have any preconceived notions before going to Israel?
Levi Meir: “My issue was less about preconceived notions and more about limited notions. In the United States, there is a fairly narrow range of Jewish communities that are particularly visible: almost completely assimilated families on one end and the very Haredi communities on the other end. In the State of Israel, that spectrum has multiple axes, and the gradations are a lot finer. The Birthright Israel trip showed me how people with drastically different lifestyles live their own lives, as well as live alongside other communities.”
Did you grow up with a connection to your Jewish identity?
Levi Meir: “I was raised with an extremely narrow but extremely strong connection to my Jewishness. My great-grandparents emmigrated from their little shtetlech (Jewish villages) in the 19th century, and upon settling in California, they were regularly in the local news for their advocacy on Jewish issues. My mother studied at Bezalel in Jerusalem, and I was raised that I am Jewish despite never having a synagogue affiliation. What my family and ancestors did not do, however, was define for me exactly what that Jewishness meant.”
Photography by Alum Levi Meir Clancy on Birthright Israel
What was your biggest takeaway from the trip?
Levi Meir: “My biggest takeaway was a sense of urgency regarding educating the public about the State of Israel’s geopolitical neighborhood. I have a background that is not so common: although I grew up in Los Angeles, I lived most of my adult life in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. For this reason, I could keenly feel how little my fellow participants knew about nearby countries. Also, I was shocked by how rarely the everyday Israelis we met communicated about their histories within (and emancipations from) nearby countries like Syria, Yemen, Libya, Iraq, Iran, and so forth — even though most Israeli Jews have ancestry in these and other present-day Islamic states.
Personally, what I saw and experienced in Iraq horrified me and has had a huge role in shaping my feeling toward the State of Israel. Also, I have learned a lot about the many Arabs and Muslims who deeply admire and support the State of Israel — sometimes under the penalty of death because of hateful, unbelievably cruel 21st-century laws against Jews, Israel, and Zionism. People focus on comparing the State of Israel to its neighbors on the north side of the Mediterranean, but that is only part of the story. I think a fuller explanation that includes North Africa and the Middle East will become increasingly important and convincing. For many participants, the educators on the trips were introducing them for the first time to these macro issues. I saw firsthand the enormous difference that made.”
How has Birthright Israel played a role in your life since coming home from the trip?
Levi Meir: “I wound up deciding to staff Birthright Israel trips. This has given me fantastic volunteer experience, as well as many learning opportunities about the education and outreach sector. But just as importantly, it has shown me that there is an unbelievable (perhaps even incomparable) amount of love within the Jewish world, and Birthright Israel is an expression of that. I feel so glad knowing that I have engaged and contributed.”
Are you involved more in your Jewish community because of your Birthright Israel trip?
Levi Meir: “Birthright Israel was actually part of my decision to become involved and affiliated with my Jewish community. I grew up without any formally organized Jewish community — it was just my family and some of our close friends. That may have worked for a time, but by my late twenties, I wanted something more involved for myself and my future family. My Birthright Israel trip was one part of my journey to gain normative, organized experiences with other organizations as well, like my local synagogue.”
It takes nearly 40,000 donors each year to provide the gift of Birthright Israel to young Jews everywhere. If you could meet the person who made your trip possible, what would you say to them?
Levi Meir: “More than half of the global Jewish population lives within the metropolitan areas of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, New York, and Los Angeles. Each of these places has an eruv wire, which to me is one of the more interesting concepts in halakha. For many communities, this symbolic boundary means that entire blocks, neighborhoods, and more are halakhically considered a semi-public space wherein you can carry things for Shabbat.
In other words, from a spiritual perspective, countless Jewish families who have never even met (and who may have never heard of an eruv) may be more or less cohabiting. That type of expansive attitude on family and community is just so distinctly Jewish to me. It is very moving. Birthright Israel is yet another example like this. Each donor is helping maintain a thread — albeit not a physical one like an eruv wire — within which diasporic Jews and sabra Jews are part of the same Jewish family, and Birthright Israel serves as a family reunion in our homeland. I genuinely thank each and every donor for their part to keep this a reality.”
Connect with Levi on Social Media
Levi Meir took his Birthright Israel experience to the next level and recently staffed a trip for his peers — and he plans on staffing more! Follow his journey by connecting with him through his social media channels.