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Leadership Lessons from Birthright Israel and J Leaders Academy

By Leya Aronoff, ’22-’23 J Leaders Academy Fellow and Digital Marketing Strategist for J Leaders

Leadership is a multifaceted skill that takes time and support to cultivate. Birthright Israel and the J Leaders Academy, two remarkable programs, provide fertile ground for cultivating these essential skills.

Whether embarking on a Birthright Israel trip or participating in the J Leaders Academy, you are presented with countless opportunities to meet new individuals and deepen existing bonds. This blog explores the significance of leadership, and how Birthright Israel and the J Leaders Academy foster the development of exceptional leaders.

Forming New Relationships

One key leadership skill is relationship-building. Both Birthright Israel and the J Leaders Academy have plenty of opportunity to build relationships.

Whether you come on a Birthright Israel trip or J Leaders Academy knowing people or not, you get the opportunity to meet new people and deepen relationships with others. I learned so much from my fellow travelers and Academy fellows because they all had different backgrounds than me, whether it was where we each grew up, how we practiced (or didn’t practice) Judaism, or our takeaways from each activity.

Active Listening Leads to Deeper Connections

A big part of leadership and relationship building is truly understanding those around you. While getting to know my Birthright travelers and J Leaders Academy fellows, I practiced active listening. By actively listening, the person I chatted with felt heard and understood, which is a great foundation for a new friendship.

Follow Your Role Models and Mentors

Knowing who your support system is is key to becoming a great leader. Both Birthright Israel and J Leaders Academy have great mentors in place.

While on your trip with 40 participants, my staffers and Tour Educator were responsible for guiding my Birthright Israel experience. I looked to them for recommendations on the best ways to enjoy my journey through Israel.

During a J Leaders Academy, I got to hear from esteemed leaders from the business world and nonprofit spaces as they shared their wisdom. To this day, I keep in touch with those that resonated most with me!

Learn By Getting Out of Your Comfort Zone

Learning from a seminar, lecture, or book is one thing. But taking those lessons and putting them into action is where you can solidify those lessons.

That is one similarity between the J Leaders Academy and Birthright Israel.

Birthright Israel is a great way to experience a lot of new adventures, including sleeping in a Bedouin tent in the desert, effortlessly floating in the Dead Sea, or rafting in the Jordan River. Getting out of your comfort zone is how you learn about what is possible for you. On the same vein, the J Leaders Academy also encouraged me to learn by doing by engaging in thought-provoking conversations with seasoned leaders and partnering with organizations to impact my local Jewish community.

Be Inclusive of Participants that Look Lonely

During the first J Leaders Academy retreat, Monica Rodriguez Kuniyoshi, Gunderson Dettmer Chief Marketing Officer on Inclusive Leadership, talked to us about the importance of inclusive leadership and tangible actions to be more inclusive.

I got to practice this principle while on my Birthright trip. Traveling with a group of 40 people can be daunting! It can be easy to find your 2-3 close buddies and stick with them the entire time, leaving some participants excluded. However, one central tenet of leadership is inclusion. Become an inclusive leader by engaging with people who haven’t integrated with the group yet.

Vulnerability Leads to Growth

Birthright Israel and the J Leaders Academy are incredible opportunities to learn about your heritage by being present during each activity and sharing your discoveries with other participants.

For me, visiting Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, was an incredibly vulnerable and moving experience. Getting the opportunity to share that vulnerability with my new friends allowed me to learn even more from the experience and connect more deeply with those around me.

During the J Leaders Academy, discovering my values through a Jewish lens empowered me as a Jewish young professional. Then sharing those values with my peers solidified my learnings on what it looked like for me to be a Jewish leader.


Through my experiences on Birthright Israel and in the J Leaders Academy, I gained invaluable insights into the essence of leadership. At the end of the day, the skills that I developed and relationships I made will make me an infinitely better leader in the long run.

Birthright Israel and the J Leaders Academy have not only deepened my understanding of my heritage but have also empowered me to lead with purpose and authenticity. To cultivate your leadership skills through the power of community and Jewish wisdom, take a look at our J Leaders Academy and apply before our registration deadline of August 31st.