Why Jewish Agencies Should Let their Employees Staff Taglit-Birthright Israel Trips

by Sharna Marcus

In my role at Shorashim, I hire Taglit-Birthright Israel North American Staff. I receive thousands of inquiries, mostly from well-meaning, but unqualified individuals. Also, experience has taught me that unless I or a colleague knows the person well as a Jewish leader and/or educator, they typically do not work out.

The best staff, often, works for Jewish organizations. That doesn’t mean every person who works for a Jewish organization will be good staff, however, often the best and brightest have found their place working in the Jewish community.

However, often times those same people who would be fabulous madrichim are not allowed to staff because their employers or managers won’t allow them to miss work.

Now, I understand the point of view of the managers. Missing what would often be two full work weeks is a hardship for an organization. Especially because these potential madrichim are often in the beginning of their careers and are providing important support services. If there is an event that requires 1000 invitations to be sent out, the support person needs to be in the office to manage the process.

However, a manager needs to understand that allowing an employee to staff a Taglit-Birthright Israel trip is a valuable and worthwhile investment that outweighs the lost days of work. Here’s why:

Young Adult Exposure to Your Organization

A Taglit-Birthright Israel trip has 40 participants. Most of these participants are totally disengaged and completely unfamiliar with any Jewish organization. When your employee staffs the trip, they become the face of your organization, and suddenly 40 new young people know about your and your mission. After the trip, the employee can invite them to your organization’s events through Facebook and they can become part of your organization.

Networking Opportunities

Look at a flyer for almost any Jewish event or trip and you will see co-sponsorship. Co-sponsorship is an intelligent way for organizations to maximize the use of the community’s limited resources. However, it is hard to connect to other organizations or know who to reach and who will be good partners. Through the staffing experience, including staff training, your employee will be exposed to other Jewish professionals with whom they can build contacts and plant the seeds for future partnerships. Or, if your organization offers programs that are good for other young Jewish professionals, your employee will have a cohort of other staff people, as well as participants, to advertise your programs. This expands your organization’s ability to engage professionals from throughout the country in your product.

Invaluable and Free Professional Development

Leading a Taglit-Birthright Israel trip is very hard work, and we try to hire only the most talented people. However, leading a trip does not just require talent, it hones leadership. The staff learn from each other and from the experience. They become more confident speaking and managing large groups and dealing with what can be stressful situations. In addition, there is significant content-based professional development. We try to hire only the best guides who have a wealth of Israel knowledge. The staff learns from the guides and become more connected to the history and modern culture of Israel. Many Jewish organizations have an Israeli component and/or raise money for Israel. You want your staff to be as connected as possible to Israel so that their work and their solicitations are authentic. Leading a Taglit-Birthright Israel trip accomplishes that goal.

A Free Perk that you can Provide your Staff

Let’s face it. Entry-level jobs in the Jewish Community pay very poorly and often times there is a glass ceiling for promotion either because of budget, the size of the organization or the employee’s education level. In today’s digital society, even entry level employees are often always expected to be attached to their work email and have to work evenings and on Sundays. Allowing an employee to staff a Taglit-Birthright Israel trip gives them a bonus that neither you nor your organization could otherwise offer. It’s an investment in the person, by the organization, and should be presented as such.

Important Identity Building

A large part of the trip is talking about the participants’ Jewish identity. The staff members facilitate these conversations, and do not offer opinions, but the opportunity to explore these issues impacts the facilitator in addition to the participant. As a staff person on a Taglit-Birthright Israel trip, you cannot help but contemplate your own Jewish identity and how that affects or inspires your work and career choices. While all Jewish organizations would love to have these conversations, there simply is no time. A Taglit-Birthright Israel trip allows your employee to contemplate these important issues thus furthering their development.

The Experience Will Motivate your Employees

There is nothing more motivating to a Jewish Communal Professional than staffing a Taglit-Birthright trip. Because the participants are so unaffiliated and disconnected and then have this transformative experience, as the leader of the group you can’t help but be influenced and touched. The organization’s work, even though the staff person’s role might be more clerical, takes on new significance and importance. Your employee will not be just stuffing envelopes, but performing a task that is part of this bigger agenda of creating a strong and vibrant Jewish community.

With reduced budgets, every staff member’s time is valuable and critical. This is an absolute truth. However, managers at Jewish organizations need to weigh the cost/benefits of providing their employees with such a valuable opportunity and look towards the long-term positive effects on the individual and the institution.

Sharna Marcus is Director of Education at Shorashim.

photo: Taglit participants arriving at Ben Gurion airport, May 2012; photo by Erez Uzir.