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Looking for the ‘Jew Inside,’ Young Adults Grapple with Israel

January 20, 2000 | 7:00 pm

The high winds stirring up the sands at Masada added an epic Cecil B. DeMille air to the words of Rabbi Binny Freedman.

But 24-year-old Riva Saker of Deerfield Beach, Fla., wasn't paying attention.

Freedman, a former Israeli tank commander, is one of many educators trying to raise dormant Jewish sparks within 6,000 young, mostly unaffiliated Jews on their first-ever trips to Israel, through an innovative program called Birthright Israel.

Saker tried her best to tune out Freedman's explanation of how and why a group of ancient Jewish zealots chose to commit suicide rather than surrender to the Romans.

She was crouched on one knee, facing the opposite direction, rubbing the red dirt on her hands and gazing at construction workers making repairs on the fortress. For her, thinking of the men who built massive structures like this one makes Jewish history come alive more than ancient war stories.

"Now, that interests me, the construction of it," Saker said. "Religiously, who dominated who for what reasons... " her voice trails off.

Saker is the kind of Jew for whom Birthright Israel was created.

The product of a Jewish mother and a Catholic father, Saker was raised with very little Jewish identity. "I think we only did Shabbas, in my entire lifetime, about six times."

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