– Written by Andrew C –
As my staff experience began, which was an amazing opportunity to give back and make an impact on an impressionable young Jewish adult, I really had the opportunity to create an atmosphere and guide the group together through this experience is so unique and special.
Six years prior, I was a participant on this same Taglit-Birthright trip and had the time of my life – travelling around our Holy Land for 10 adventure-packed days with some uniquely awesome new friends! While one may think participants get very little sleep on a Taglit-Birthright trip, staff members are constantly stressed out having to watch 40+ college-aged kids and get even less sleep – having to hold late night meetings to finalise details and straighten out logistics while also waking up early to ensure appropriate materials are ready for programs and more.
One of the most inspiring things I witnessed during the trip, was the gratitude and appreciation by one of our participants. He reaffirmed, from the very beginning, that this trip was one of the best decisions of his college life and was so proud to be Jewish – even if he didn’t practice or observe back home in the States. Once the Mifgash Program (translated as encounter) started, which is when Israeli soldiers join the trip with our American participants; he lead the efforts to help welcome the soldiers into our group and quickly established relationships with each of them – simply based on the shared love of Israel and common interests of 18-21 year-olds, even though some have been fighting for their country over the past 3-ish years!
As the Mifgash segment of the trip ended, the American kids became distraught and could not imagine exploring the country without their new Israeli friends. The emotional Siyum (translated as completion) allowed us all to recap the few days, wish each other well, and exchange contact information to future conversations. Immediately prior to the ultimate Siyum at the end of the trip, our group was lucky to be teamed up with an acclaimed chef team at “Kosher Cooking Experience” to learn about Israeli cuisine and actually cook our last meal together (with the help of the professional chefs)! This definitely was the coolest activity to watch, as all forty American participants came together to combine multiple skills and work styles to create a cohesive group dinner – complete with chicken fingers, falafel balls, grilled eggplants, rice dishes, homemade hummus, other dips, and so much more!
In the end, staffing a Taglit-Birthright trip is an absolutely incredible opportunity! Sure, it was stressful and I got little sleep; sure, there were times when my co-staff disagreed with me and we had to figure it out on short notice; sure, some of the kids got on my nerves and I couldn’t do anything about it… but all the knowledge I gained from visiting the tour sites again and learning from my kids through their experiences was well worth it.
At every new experience, the Jewish people often say the Shehecheyanu prayer (the Blessing of Praise) and thank G-d for “giving us life, sustaining us, and enabling to reach this moment.” When we reached the hills of Jerusalem, overlooking the beautiful Old City, I sang this prayer to myself and thought how perfect this was – thanking the Almighty for bringing me to this moment as I stood overlooking the holiest city of Judaism, once again fulfilling the call to be “Next Year in Jerusalem…