||After leading 12 Birthright Israel trips in fewer than five years, Nomi Mitchell ’06 is going back to school. This summer—after two more Birthright Israel trips—she will embark on a new program that includes a track toward a master’s degree in Jewish education at Hebrew University.
“The hardest part about leaving this job is I love staffing Birthright Israel trips,” Nomi said. “Having this experience with young Jewish adults has been the most inspiring part of my entire journey. Watching them grow during and after their Israel experience has been really inspiring.” She acknowledged that “the job definitely has a shelf life—most coordinators don’t stay longer than three years.”
The 18-year-old Birthright Israel program says its mission is “to give every Jewish young adult around the world, especially the unaffiliated, the opportunity to visit Israel.”
After graduating from Maimonides, Nomi took part in Young Judaea’s Year Course in Israel, then immediately enlisted in the Israel Defense Forces for two years. She returned to the U.S. and received a bachelor’s degree in religion and Jewish studies from Northeastern University, which is where she became involved with recruiting for NU’s Birthright Israel program.
“I always knew about it—and I knew I wasn’t eligible.” She ended up helping staff a Northeastern Birthright Israel trip in the winter of 2012. “It was definitely an eye-opener for me, in terms of understanding who Birthright Israel is targeting, what the goals are and what people got out of it. For a lot of people it was the first time to Israel — and a completely life-changing experience for some of them.”
Nomi accepted a position as engagement associate with Cornell University Hillel, staffed another Birthright Israel trip in the winter of 2013, and then was put in charge of recruitment for the campus. Then in May 2014 she returned to New England as the Birthright Israel/CJP Campus Initiative coordinator at Boston University Hillel.
Birthright Israel trips, which are free to participants, last 10 to 12 days, and the Boston University campus trip usually sends about 80 students. Leadership is by Nomi, a male staff member, and a tour guide. The itinerary is full, so “everything on the Birthright Israel trip is just a taste,” Nomi acknowledged.
“Every Birthright Israel trip has a template, but the trip organizer, Israel Outdoors, always leaves wiggle room to put in things that are different,” she said. “They do let me make special requests and customize the campus trips as much as possible. It’s definitely not a cookie-cutter itinerary,” although there are some activities that are standard, including visits to Masada, the Dead Sea and the Kotel.
“Every campus culture is different, and Birthright Israel coordinators all have to figure out how we incorporate that into the trip,” she continued. Boston-based itineraries always include the local federation’s partnership with the city of Haifa—not only a visit but also some kind of service activity. She especially enjoys stopping at the Yemin Orde youth village, the home and school for at-risk youths located south of the city. “The BU students really loved it there.”
Inspired by Birthright, “A lot of BU alumni have had subsequent Israel experiences, continuing to explore their relationships with Israel and their Jewish identities,” Nomi said. “That’s really inspiring.” She advises the participants: “This is just the beginning. Don’t go into your Birthright Israel trip thinking that this will be the only opportunity you will have to go to Israel. Keep going back to learn, explore, and widen your horizons.”
Nomi, who is from Providence, began her Maimonides career in Grade 6. There were teachers “who saw potential in me and encouraged me to believe in myself,” she said, including her eighth grade English teacher, Sharon Steiff, z”l, and her high school social studies teacher, Carlo DiNota. She added that she hopes to teach like Rabbi David Ehrenkranz. “Talmud was really hard for me and he made it fun. I want to make Judaism enjoyable and relevant for my students.”
“My grandma used to say to me, ‘I think you would be a great teacher.’ Education is definitely where I find my passion, even though it has not been in a formal setting,” Nomi related. “For me, education has been experiential—we are touching things, feeling things, smelling things, all very relatable for the Birthright demographic.”