I am currently enrolled in a course for sharpening skills as a Birthright Tour Educator. Today we were assigned homework to write a “Mission Statement” of sorts to answer the question: What are you trying to accomplish during your work?
When I started to think about this question, I thought specifically about Birthright groups. What is it that I am looking to do during the 10 days I have with them? How do I see myself as a person who has influence on them as a group and individually? How do I want them to change (if at all) during the trip? I started here because it is very controlled. I know more or less who they are; I understand more or less what the Birthright organization is trying to accomplish. So, in almost no time at all, I came up with my “Mission Statement” as far as Birthright is concerned.
I, as a Moreh Derech (Tour Guide/Educator, for lack of a better translation), during the 10 days they are with me, am looking to create for them a Jewish community and strengthen their connection to their Jewish soul.
The first phase of my formula is creating a Jewish community. Heavy stuff. But this is exactly what we do on the bus – create a community.
One of the first questions I get asked by participants is, “Why did you
move to Israel?”
My answer is simply and without hesitation, “Quality of Life.” I explain that the quality of life provided by the community is one of the driving factors which brought me here and kept me here for the last 18 years.
Then for 10 days, we travel together, eat together, have fun together, talk together, work together. Very quickly, a community is built. When the Israeli soldiers/students arrive, we deal with the issues of accepting newcomers to our community. As a Moreh Derech, my role here is in running ice breakers and team building activities, as well as keeping a finger on the pulse to make sure that everyone finds their place in the community. I want them to experience community because, in my opinion, this is one of the most important goals of strengthening their Jewish connection – seeing themselves as part of a larger community. It doesn’t particularly matter to me whether the community they will be most comfortable will be one of a religious Jewish community, a cultural Jewish community, an educational Jewish community, an Israeli Jewish community or a social Jewish community. The importance is the connection with fellow Jews as part of a larger whole.
People are not simply cogs in a machine, however, we have individuality. Because each one of us sees our Jewish soul a bit differently, each one of us connects more to one facet or another, as we have discussed extensively over the past few days in the course. Each person’s individual identity is unique, and so, my work within the group needs to be varied. How to get this result, this strengthening of each participants’ soul? Through wide-ranging programs, including activities to get them to think, guiding segments which connect them to place, introductions to people who can inspire them, all on the backdrop of the beauty of the land.
The other part of this work is not shying away from the things that are less than optimal. When I read parts of the Tanach, I see depictions of personalities who are less than perfect. For me, I see the holy people in the Tanach as people first, with all the imperfections of people; and because I am also imperfect, I can connect to them. This doesn’t mean that they are not holy. We have much to learn from imperfect people. I believe that this philosophy lends itself to personal growth at least as strongly as the wonderful, optimal bits.
Each and every participant will, hopefully, at the end of the 10 days find something in the experience which connects to his individual Jewish soul. As a Birthright participant, this is the instruction that we give them over and over, wear your name tag – be comfortable with your unique Jewish soul, however it manifests.
Taken to the wider audience, these specific goals can be quite easily broadened. As a Moreh Derech I want to accomplish two things. Firstly, I aim to provide opportunities for personal growth, through acquisition of knowledge, opening up to varied possibilities or helping people learn about themselves. Secondly, I strive to facilitate connections between people. And of course, G-d has given us the best guiding aid in the world for obtaining these goals – the Land of Israel and all that is offered therein!
My dream, then is to take these goals and to apply them to everything I do, not only in my work as a Moreh Derech, but in life in general. I don’t just apply these ideas because they help me focus my work; I apply them because they are the essence of my being.