Birthright Israel – mention this to anyone who has participated and you’ll instantly hear. “OMG, I loved my trip.” Or, “My so and so went on Birthright and loved it.” Or, “I wish I could go.” So we all know what a positive experience a Birthright trip to Israel is for the thousands who have attended – but few of us know about the behind-the-scenes planning that makes these trips so successful.
Birthright Israel takes pride in the design of the trips, which have as their mission strengthening Jewish identity, Jewish communities and solidarity with Israel. It is essential that each of the 12 accredited trip providers knows and understands the educational goals of Birthright so that staff and tour educators can carry out that mission over the course of the 10-day trips. Toward this mission, there are overarching, daily themes embedded into each activity on a Birthright trip. The trip is so much more than just showing Jewish young adults Israel’s many tourist sites!
Birthright Israel Fellows are an essential part of the mission. A collaborative program between Birthright Israel, the iCenter for Israel Education and the Maimonides Fund, the Fellows provide knowledge and training to the Jewish professionals who staff Birthright trips, with the goal of enriching participants’ experience in Israel.
I am privileged to be a participant in Cohort #4 of the Birthright Israel Fellows. At the end of March, I joined 93 like-minded Jewish individuals in San Diego for four days of experiential education.
We learned the art of expressing our own Jewish journey in a way that will help participants integrate and verbalize what they may experience on a trip. We also learned from master Israel educators, including Zohar Raviv, international vice president of education for Birthright Israel, how to best tie sessions together and facilitate meaningful dialogue among our participants.
One of my favorite activities from the training took us through a typical Birthright day to help us develop learning goals and themes from seemingly dissimilar sites, historic figures and events in Israel’s history.
Thanks to the Birthright Israel Fellows training, I gained a wealth of information about experiential Israel education, met a great group of people, and had a chance to practice new skills. I’m excited about applying what I learned in San Diego to my work leading future Birthright trips. I can’t wait to take off with students from the University of Rhode Island on their Jewish journey on May 30!
YANIV HAVUSHA is the Jewish Student Life Associate at the University of Rhode Island Hillel.