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One-on-One with Birthright Israel Madrich Alan Avitan

September 9, 2019 at 7:54 am
by Birthright Israel Foundation

Outside of the favorite Hebrew words Birthright Israel participants learn, like Sababa (cool), Yalla (let’s go!), and Ma’Kore (what’s up), they also learn the word, Madrichim (leaders/staff/guide). 

Madrichim are often staff members from the participants’ home country who accompany them on their Birthright Israel journey. The Madrichim are an essential element to the educational components of the program, which are based on a person-centered learning approach. 

Our Madrichim must be passionate, dedicated, and share an inclusive vision of Jewish peoplehood – making each participant’s experience life-changing.

Those who choose to become Madrichim are usually alumni of the program or are young Jewish adults who believe in the power of Birthright Israel. They volunteer their time, some even taking vacation days from work, to ensure their peers see and experience Israel firsthand through this gift.

We had the opportunity to speak with three-time Birthright Israel Madrich, Alan Avitan and learned how even as staff, the trip is impacting his life.

When did you begin staffing Birthright Israel trips? And most importantly, why?

I became a Birthright Israel Madrich in December 2015, and since then I have staffed three trips! Because I had lived in Israel for two years after high school, I never had the opportunity to go on Birthright as a participant, so when the opportunity came up to staff – I jumped at the chance. I never get tired of visiting Israel either, even though I’ve been there over 10 times, each time with Birthright feels like I’m seeing the country again for the first time.

What impact has Birthright Israel had on you as a young Jewish adult in the United States?

Birthright Israel has made me prouder of my Judaism and shown me the importance of it in my day to day life. I also have a much stronger connection to the State of Israel, even though its thousands of miles away. I’ve learned that anything that happens to Israel affects me here, even in an indirect way. Since staffing Birthright Israel trips, I’ve spent more time devoted to helping causes associated with Israel and made an effort to learn more about the historical, social, and political issues within the country.

Can you describe your Jewish background?

I grew up culturally Jewish and in a very traditional Jewish household, I attended Hebrew school and had a Bar Mitzvah. My family would go to synagogue on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur and had occasional Shabbat dinners. Then after high school, I decided to do a gap year program in Israel and began connecting to my Jewish roots, slowly taking on more ritualistic practices, incorporating more Jewish values into my life and decided to make Judaism a bigger part of my identity.

What was your biggest takeaway from being part of the Madrichim?

I think my biggest takeaway was seeing how the participants were able to grow throughout the course of the trip, both in terms of their relationships with one another and with their own Jewish identity. On my most recent trip, it was incredible to see how 34 strangers, with their only commonality being that they were Jewish, could become lifelong friends in the course of 10 days.

It also spoke volumes to me to see how my participants all came from different Jewish backgrounds were able to gain a strong sense of Jewish pride. Seeing them transform gave me a greater feeling of Jewish pride myself.

How has Birthright Israel changed your view of Judaism and/or Israel?

I think there is a general idea that Judaism is practiced in a certain way and that Israel is, for the most part, a very religious country. After leading multiple Birthright trips, I learned being Jewish doesn’t look a certain way, it can be found in many forms, unique to each person, and that however you choose to practice, that is okay. Travelling Israel also showed me how diverse the country is and how so many different people from all over the world, Jews and non-Jews can coexist together.

Each Birthright Israel group gets to have Israeli soldiers (Mifgash) accompany them on their journey. What did you learn from interacting with them? What do you think they learned from interacting with you?

I learned that Israelis are just like us, they listen to the same music, have the same interests and that we aren’t very different from one another. I also learned more about their mentality and national pride towards Israel. Given the fact they are citizens and soldiers, it was so interesting to hear from them about how important Israel is as their home, as our homeland, and as a Jewish country, and how important it is that we protect it and make sure it’s around for generations to come.

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