“Everyone has inside of him a piece of good news. The good news is that you don’t know how great you can be! How much you can love! What you can accomplish! And what your potential is!”
– Anne Frank

Thus started my first Birthright group.  I didn’t know what to expect, didn’t know what to do, didn’t know what kind of a guide I would be, didn’t know what challenges I would face and how I would deal with them.

OU598 was full of firsts for me – my first 10 day trip, my first time guiding 50 people, my first Birthright.  More firsts came along the way – my first time on a camel, first time in a club in Israel.

I trained, planned, packed, had meetings, obsessed, shopped, and listened to those with more experience than myself.  And then May 31, 2012 came.

I met the 38 participants, the 5 other staff, and started my search for how best to guide them and balance being in the lead, and making sure that no one was left behind – socially, emotionally, or physically.

It was a challenge.  What is the best way to convey the sense of Jewish pride, history, continuity in such a short time?  How do you encapsulate the connection to Jerusalem in one day, especially if you need time to shop, learn, eat, and splash through Hezekiah’s tunnel?  If you need to pick one stop to represent the struggles to establish the state, and you need to slip it into an already written itinerary, what is that site?  How do you manage Masada and the messages that are so important there within a framework and in little time?  And the ideas are so powerful, that people need time to process.

Balance the above with always finding a spot in the shade, making sure everyone is drinking, wearing the right shoes, and has their name tag; and periodically undergoing spot checks from the Birthright/Moked Teva people to make sure you are dotting all the i’s and crossing all the t’s. Then, you take on another 7 people in the middle of the trip who are from a different culture and must integrate them into the group and give them time and space to bond and communicate.

But just in case this sounds for one minute like I am complaining – like this was just too much – let me assure you, that


I learned more about who I am, what kind of guide I want to be, what I have to give, than I could have even imagined.  Besides missing my family and friends, especially over Shabbat, I was happy, alive, engaged in life.  (It was really special to have Boaz, Naftali, and Hillel come spend the second Shabbat with me.)  And I was inspired.  I had forgotten about that side of me, the side that appreciates an honest conversation, a moving speech, a powerful insight.  I met some of the most incredible people who let me, an outsider, into their hearts and lives.  I toured this country that I love at high speed, appreciating her every day more and more, seeing her through fresh eyes.

So, thank you OU 598 (what??), for being the terrific people you are and helping me to discover myself.  I look forward to seeing you in Israel on your next adventure!  Maybe after you unpack your bag, we can have a sit, and wave the flag.


  1. Yes, Leiah you are living the dream and we love sharing it with you…and better yet…you have the opportunity to share it…even with those with ‘fresh eyes’. Enjoy every moment. And of course, breathe deep and seek peace!

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