Creating the Next Generation of Czech Jewish Leaders

photo: Courtesy of Marian Ziss

JDC’s most recent Hadracha madrichim (counselor) training – part of its global network of leadership development opportunities – was held October 10-13 in the Czech Republic and drew a record number of local young Jewish leaders.

Writing for JDC’s Field Blog, Hadracha organizer Marian Ziss, a professional psychologist and coach with extensive informal Jewish education experience, explains the genesis of the program and its value to the region.

How did it happen that the number of campers participating in our Jewish summer experiences are significantly increasing each year and that we now, for the first time, have a massive group of highly motivated young people ready to lead? Let me explain.

The six participants of the previous two Hadracha training programs and madrichim from JDC’s Szarvas international Jewish summer experience in Europe formed a small group. Providing their personal example of leadership, they demonstrated what comes next after you’re a happy camper: taking responsibility and passing on the amazing, life-changing experience you went though.

Instead of simply paying back their leaders, their task is to “pay it forward” to younger children.

By taking on this responsibility, they become members of a dynamic, inspiring group of madrichim who keep learning about Judaism and leadership; and who will benefit the life and continuity of our community.

When we recruited the previous group of madrichim, we had to work hard – and quickly – to prepare them for the task. We had the unique opportunity to lay down the basics of a Hadracha school, the first time we could build a curriculum and educate our leaders on all the aspects of the complex task of being a counselor in a Jewish youth camp or in a local youth movement.

I created that curriculum with Shlomy Saragossi, a trainer from Israel who works with teenagers. The training sessions were led by us and Eva Wichsova, a Czech woman who supervises madrichim at Szarvas. We focused on raising awareness of different aspects of leadership, the enrichment of knowledge, and the methodology of informal education (like group dynamics, games, triggers, communication and conflict solving). We gave participants plenty of practice opportunities to demonstrate leadership and solve conflicts.

I’m confident that I can say we succeeded in showing them the complexity of their (future) tasks, motivating them to do it, and creating the right values in the group. Participants felt free and safe to try, to ask, to create, to make mistakes, and to succeed.

We intend to continue our Hadracha school in the spring, building on the skills the madrichim developed in this previous seminar, making sure that 10 of them will be ready to take on leadership roles by the summer.

For me, the most touching moment of the seminar was when we gave time and materials for the participants to create their own Shabbat experience. They were free to decide what they wanted to do and how. We were just there to give advice, if we were needed; we were not needed.

The 18 participants, all of them coming from secular Jewish homes, made one of the most spiritual and proper Kabbalat Shabbat services and dinners I have ever been to, baking their own challah in the kitchen of the hotel of the small Czech town that probably hasn’t seen a Jew in more than 70 years, lighting candles, giving a drasha (lesson or commentary on the Torah), leading the Kiddush, and blessing each other with personal messages.

JDC operates Hadracha training in conjunction with the Buncher Leadership Program in Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Romania, and Turkey. The program Marian spotlights here is done in collaboration with the Federation of Jewish Communities of the Czech Republic. 

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