by Sana Britavsky
Joel Frankel’s thoughtful article (How American Staff on Taglit-Birthright Israel can Strengthen Jewish Continuity for Future Generations, Sept. 9th) has got the ball rolling on a very important discussion focused on the role of the national “madrichim” staff in Taglit-Birthright and the ways to improve its contribution to the success of this flagship Jewish project of our generation.
As an Executive Director of Genesis Philanthropy Group in Israel – one of the contributors to the Taglit-Birthright program for Russian-speaking Jewish youth – I would like to share our own experience on “filling the gap”.
Since the beginning of our partnership with Taglit, we considered proper training of the local madrichim in the former Soviet Union as “mission critical” for the program to become a key factor in development of Jewish identity for the Diaspora youth and not just a fun trip to Israel free of charge.
We understood that in the unique environment that Taglit provides, the madrich is the one who reveals the essence and the spirit of the program to its participants and also the one who introduces them to the Jewish world and keeps them there. Some four years ago it was this thinking that brought the Taglit FSU and Genesis Philanthropy Group to mutual decision to invest in professional training of the local FSU staff. This is how our Staff Conference program was born, executed by Taglit.
Every year Taglit holds a Staff conference for some 120 madrichim, chosen after a thorough filtering process, and their participation is conditioned by their commitment to lead future Taglit groups for a year at least. Then they come to Israel for a week of focused training together with the representatives of the local Taglit operators.
Certainly, we do not expect to prepare a high-class professional in one week. That is why the program is tailored for madrichim with a certain leadership experience. They come to the Staff conference in order to get a targeted knowledge that they will need as youth guides and leaders of Jewish youth groups in Taglit.
During the conference our trainees work with the instructors provided by the Israeli Institute of Informal Education and acquire tools and knowledge which enables them to fulfill their educational and spiritual mission. They learn how to conduct educational modules and feedback discussions. They study key subjects in Jewish tradition and history and participate in practical workshops. They meet Israeli tourist guides and IDF soldiers who took part in Taglit. They take part in specialized modules designed for the Russian-speaking youth – such as the Jewish genealogy project produced by “Am haZikaron” – and discover modern Israeli culture.
The program is rounded off by yearly evaluation, which provides us with both measurements of success and suggestions for improvements – new topics for study and training, new places to visit. So far, the evaluations have shown constant improvement in professional skills and commitment of the participant madrichim. Every madrich out of 400 who went through our training stays with Taglit for more than just one season. Staff Conferences not only assist them in obtaining professional knowledge, but also enrich them as a Jews and motivate them to participate and lead in local Jewish community projects, to spread their knowledge an influence well beyond the limits of Taglit-Birthright.
Sana Britavsky is Executive Director of Genesis Philanthropy Group in Israel.