By Lena Leybovich.
Back in 2012, before my Taglit-Birthright Israel journey began, I didn’t feel a real connection to my Jewish self. Like many of us, I have family in Israel, whom I visited several times. I loved the country from first sight, but back in Germany, I didn’t “really” lead a Jewish life.
Once I met a Jewish girl at the school debate team who brought me to the Jewish youth center in our community in Stuttgart. I didn’t go there very often however, because back then, this was all unfamiliar to me. Similarly to other Jewish families from the former Soviet Union, we didn’t celebrate Jewish holidays at home or followed Jewish customs. Still, through the community, I heard about Taglit- Birthright Israel, and registered for summer 2012. This is when my journey to my Jewish self, began.
Though I have been to Israel in the past, I never saw the country the way I did on Taglit- What fascinated me most on this trip was meeting other young Jewish people who, like me, also worked in Jewish youth centers in their cities, passionately promoting educational programs for local children. When I returned home, I decided I want to be more active, too.
I returned to the youth center in Stuttgart, where I enthusiastically learned many things about Jewish holidays and traditions. Not long afterwards, I underwent a six-week long training and became a guide or, as Israelis would call it- "madricha". I enjoyed developing programs for the kids and working on dance routines and songs for big events like the ‘Jewrovision’ contest.
It was a wonderful feeling, seeing how the children enjoyed the programs in our youth center ‘Ha-lev Stuttgart’ and celebrated the holidays together as a community. It really became a part of my heart, my "lev".
Now, six years later, I got to take part in the special Fellows Seminar for "madrichim" on Taglit- Birthright Israel in the Kibbutz "Maale Ha-Hamisha".This seminar was unlike any other I had before.
For many of us participants, our Jewish journey began with Taglit-Birthright Israel, and there we were, ready to learn how to pay this experience forward. Thanks to the Genesis Philanthropy Group and Taglit- Birthright Israel, we had an incredible opportunity to spend a week in a beautiful Israeli Kibbutz and learn about Taglit- Birthright Israel and their educational philosophy from executives like Zohar Raviv and Nimrod Ran, & talented speakers like Professor Avi Blumenfeld who spoke with us about Jewish identity.
Our educational leader, experienced guide and educator, Shmuel Kahn, taught us how to help the group grow together and how to communicate the Jewish spirit and values to participants. At the culmination of the seminar, we had the opportunity to improve and hone our skills as "madrichim" during a trip to Jerusalem. There, each of us got a typical role of a "madrich" on a group, the rest of us acting as participants. It was very helpful to practice our skills and ability to react to stressful situations and manage possible conflicts during the trip. In our final evening, there was a huge party for all groups from Germany and the former Soviet Union, all celebrating together.
What made our seminar extraordinary was not only the possibility we had to perfect our educational and leadership skills but to also grow together as a team of young Jewish leaders and future "madrichim". In the next season of Taglit Birthright Israel, winter 2018, we will be even better "madrichim", helping others find their own path to the Jewish self, as we did before them, and discover Israel as their country and their home- a place where they are always welcome.