By Guy Carmi
Have you ever invited people to your house and gave them a tour of all the different rooms?
Now here's a more difficult task - try and give someone a tour of an entire country in one single room!
Sounds difficult? Well that's exactly what Tal and I did in our Israel room at JCC Without Walls last Sunday, November 20. In our room, we welcomed the community to "Take a step and move 5,000 miles away."
How did we do that you ask? At the entrance to our room our guests signed their name on the Israeli flag, and as they entered to the sound of Israeli music playing in the background, each one of them received a small map of Israel to mark the places they would visit, a passport to get stamps at each station and a list of useful words in Hebrew for their stay.
Before they started, they pinned on a map of the world where their family originally came from. We were so happy to see pins all across the globe. It made us realize how we are all one big family.
The first station on the tour was the city of Tel Aviv. After landing at Ben Gurion Airport, people visited the Azrieli Towers; 3 large geometric towers in the center of the city that are in the shape of a circle, a rectangle and a triangle. Our guests competed in a stair climbing competition, just like in the real towers. However, that wasn't quite enough. You still have to see it to believe it so we gave our guests a chance to really see the towers by experiencing them through 3D virtual reality glasses.
The next stop on the tour was Israel's capital city - Jerusalem. The guests visited the famous market (or in Hebrew, "Shuk"), where they had a chance to taste some popular Israeli snacks. After that, they visited the holiest place in the city -The Western Wall. At The Western Wall, our guests experienced it through two mediums. First, they looked through another pair of 3D virtual reality glasses. Then they wrote a wish (or a prayer) on a note and they put it between the cracks of our “makeshift” wall. It is believed those notes will be read by G-d and he will make them come true (or answer those prayers.) We've collected these notes and we promised that, when we return to Israel during our February vacation, we will take each and every single one of them and put them in the actual Western Wall.
The next station was Guy's home - Givat Ella. At that station, our guests played a game where they had to complete Givat Ella's bike trail by having a player and rolling a dice to keep moving on the board. On the trail there were surprises like obstacles and questions about Givat Ella where they had to guess the correct answer to move forward.
The next station was Tal Gilboa's home, which is surprisingly called - the Gilboa region. At that station, our guests learned about places in the Gilboa region and special things that the region is known for. The guests had to find balls hidden in shredded paper and sort them into the appropriate box. The three boxes were “Places Located in the Region,” “Places Outside of the Region.” and “Special Things the Region is Known For.”
In the final station, our guests had to decide on their favorite place during their tour and mark it on a huge map of Israel. We were surprised to see how varied the answers were.
Tal and I worked very hard on this activity. We spent countless hours in the office to make sure each station was perfect so everyone would have a great time. Honestly, it was a little bit exhausting sometimes, but it was all worth it. We had a great time and we were so happy to see so many people enjoying our Israel room.
There were many people that helped us make our room a HUGE success and in the spirit of Thanksgiving we want to thank them all: Our amazing Coordinator, Marcia Reinhard, Federation Director Jerry Fischer, all of the staff in the federation office, 4 lovely emissaries from the SNEC region that came to help us (Noam and Eliav from West Hartford, Ron and Aviv from Springfield), the Sackett family of East Lyme, Temple Emanuel's brotherhood members (Jonathan Rowe, Scott Zettler and Mike Reinhard), some Connecticut College Hillel students, 7 Coast Guard cadets, Rachel Sheriff, the Hillel Director at Mitchell college, the staff at the Mystic Y and most of all - our warm community that came to experience our country.
We've been your guests for the past 3 months and it has been a pleasure for us, for now we feel we are much more than guests. We feel like we are part of this warm and wonderful community. Eastern CT has quickly become our second home and we wanted to give you the chance to be more than our guests. We wanted you to also feel that Israel is your second home.
We are Tal and Guy, the new young emissaries. We arrived on August 31 to Eastern CT.
We both graduated High school about 5 months ago. In Israel after high school you get to choose whether you want to go straight into the army, go to a “Mechina” which is a year that prepares you for the army physically, educationally and emotionally, you could go to Yeshiva to study the Torah, and you could volunteer to do a year of service. (Religious students may study Torah and not go to the army).
The program we chose to take part in is a year of service. We chose to dedicate this to making connections; the rule of the young emissary program is to be the Israeli connection for the community. We go to temples, day schools, religious schools, public schools, colleges, rotaries and more.
So we got here, and definitely not by accident, we both are passionate about this year. When we first arrived, we had a four day orientation at Camp Laurelwood in Madison. Then we arrived in the community to our host families - Guy with the Wolfs in Lebanon and Tal with the Rowes in Waterford. Jetlagged, confused, tired, already homesick, any other feeling that you can think of - we had that.
Guy, still adjusting, had to pack up and go back to Israel for his brother’s wedding. Guy left after a week for a week and came back - yay, never ending jetlag!
We work at Solomon Schechter Academy most of the week days. It has been amazing! When Sagi told us about the school being another family, we weren't sure how a school could be anything like a family.
When entering the school, getting to meet the kids, the staff and the building – we understood what he said. So, we have another host family: Solomon Schechter Academy
We have a few more families, too. Temple Emanuel welcomed us with open arms and the place is just full of unique people who you want to talk to all day long. We work at the religious school and Hebrew school on Wednesdays. Those are days we like; spending this time with wonderful kids and to make programs for them!
Then there’s Hebrew High (aka Jewish Community High School which also takes place at Temple Emanu-El,) a group of teens from 10th grade to 12th grade, who study, eat and have a program led by us. The best group of teens you could have in the same room- that is that!
Another family we have is Temple B’nai Israel. There we do programs for kids as well, and frankly, while it is a smaller group of kids, they are so fun and intelligent - we are glad we get to spend the year with them. We also went to a Shabbat wine and cheese service where we talked about a song that is near and dear to our hearts.
The next family we have is congregation Ahavat Achim, a really great family who we get to spend time with at programs for the kids and services. They welcomed us so very warmly.
Beth El, our family that hosted our welcome dinner on Wednesday November 19th , there we get to meet with the seniors at their senior lunch, to meet kids and adults and do all kinds of programs and enjoy the people.
Congregation Beth Jacob is another family we've got. We had a spectacular time with seniors there as well and were welcomed with a Friday night service and Shabbat dinner.
Only a few families left:
The Connecticut College Hillel house who always invite us to events is a fun place with good people.
BBYO, the youth group who we get to join and mostly enjoy spending time with the teens,
Youth group with amazing kids,
The Reinhards, especially Marcia, who takes such good care of us.
We have The Jewish Federation family that made it easier to get to work.
And, all of you, The people who make us feel just as home as we can, the people we run into who smile, say good morning and ask how we are doing.
We got to spend our first Jewish American holidays with activities, programs, and services which were all very interesting and very different experiences than what we are used to.
So a little thanks to our families for making us know we have made the right decisions.
So far we have learned that a supermarket has more than just groceries but also has electronics, dog food, Halloween decoration, clothing, a baby section, a pharmacy and decorations for the next holidays as well; that turning right on red is okay and is actually really fun; that school buses are yellow; that everything can be fried; that the leaves can have more than two colors; that being Jewish means something different to every person; that maintaining a Jewish lifestyle is a challenge and is not easy at all. We have learned a little about the people, and now, we just want to learn more. We hope you also learn something from us.
be your name Buxbaum or Bixby or Bray
or Mordecai Ali Van Allen O'Shea,
You're off to Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting.
So...get on your way!”
we’re on our way…
So, a little disoriented and with a troubling jet-lag, we returned back to an eventful month. Not a week after our return, we joined both the Junior and the Senior BBYO movie Madness events where we had so much fun with both groups. It was good to see them all after being away. The day after, we visited (for the first time EVER) Bacon Academy in Colchester and three days after that we also visited the William J. Johnson Middle School, also in Colchester. We had so much fun in both schools and we thank them for the warm welcome that we received. What a wonderful start for this very important connection.
We joined the Connecticut College Hillel for a Friday night Shabbat dinner. We made masks with them for Purim and played some Purim games. The day after, we also marked a first when we went to speak about education in Israel to a group of teacher’s from the local chapter of Delta Kappa Gamma Society International Sorority. That was a very educating morning for us as well, and we enjoyed our time with those wonderful teachers.
On Sunday night, March 6, we joined Temple Emanu-El for their Italian night. We enjoyed schmoozing with lots of people from our great community, eating the wonderful food that was cooked and served by the Temple Emanu-El Brotherhood. Two days later, on Monday, March 7, we went to Flander’s Elementary school and experienced “traveling” with them by simulating a journey to Israel. We provided each student with a passport, a pretend Western Wall into which they put wishes and gave them hot chocolate when we got to Mt. Hermon to go skiing. What a trip! We had as good a time with these students as they did going on this makeshift vacation.
On Wednesday, March 9, we got to speak to students at the Williams School in Ben Ladd’s Foreign Policy class, about the Israel-U.S. relations.
On Thursday, March 10, we went to New Bedford for an early Purim celebration and concluded the week at Temple B’nai Israel in Willimantic on Friday night, March 11 at their TGIShabbes program, where we introduced some Israeli songs, explained their meaning and discussed the Israeli mentality which is mostly full of hope and optimism in spite of some difficult times through the years. Shabbat in Israel was another topic we covered during this evening. It was a great night and we loved being there with all the wonderful people who came.
On Saturday, March 12, we attended Amanda Rowe’s Bat Mitzvah which we were honored to be invited to. We had an amazing time and we wish Amanda a heartfelt Mazal Tov! Thank you to The Rowe Family for including us in your simcha!
The following week we were away for our monthly group meeting for two days where we gathered with all the other Young Emissaries in the SNEC region. We had a great meeting where we all got to share what it’s like to be back and reconnected with our communities.
On Tuesday, March 15, we returned to East Lyme High School to Matt Laconti and Shannon Saglio’s classes for a presentation about the Holocaust and it’s commemoration in Israel. On Shabbat we were excited to see the Solomon Schechter Academy students take part in the morning service of Schechter Shabbat at Congregation Beth-El. The students were wonderful- Kol Hakavod Guys!
Finally, Purim arrived! First, on Sunday, March 20, we celebrated in Temple Emanu-El with the students in the religious school. We made groggers and masks as well as organized and supervised various station games. Then Amit went to Willimantic for the pre-K kids known as “ J-Kids” facilitated by Merle Schwartz, Rav Jeremy’s wife. We celebrated Purim by making Hamantaschen, reading the story of Esther, and parading and playing games."
Then, on Wednesday morning March 23, we went to West Side Middle School for a wonderful presentation with the students. In the evening, we went to Temple Emanu-El for their pot luck dinner. Sagi only stayed for a little while as he left to go to Congregation Beth-El to read the Megilah and celebrate with everyone there. Amit stayed at Temple Emanu- El for their Megillah reading, parade and celebration. Both were so festive that we didn’t want them to end! Our last Purim celebration was at Schechter the following day where we, once again dressed up, enjoyed the Megillah reading and Hamantaschen, sang and danced and had so much fun with the students. What a great holiday!
On Friday, March 25, Sagi moved from his first host family, The Sacketts, to his new host family, The Novicks. Sagi lived with Ella and Kelly Sackett and their amazing boys, Daniel, Yarden and Yally. Life with the Sacketts was terrific and Sagi is very grateful to them for their constant love and support. He is looking forward to spending the remainder of his year with Caryn, Steve, Ethan and Ryan who have already welcomed him with open arms and introduced him to many extended family and friends.
While we are on the subject of changing families, Amit changed host families as well. Upon her return from Israel, Amit moved to the home of Sue Hainline and daughter, Tabitha. She had been living with Bruce and Lori Goldstein and their awesome daughter, Hillary, right up until Amit returned to Israel. Amit also got to spend some quality time with their older daughter, Andrea who is finishing her last year at WPI in Massachusetts. Amit had a great relationship with both girls. She is very grateful to all The Goldsteins for opening their home and their hearts to her. This was actually The Goldstein’s third time hosting a Young Emissary. They are a great family!
Now that Purim is over and both our moves are complete, we are looking ahead to the many upcoming events. We will visit the senior lunches in New London and Norwich next week (we are so excited!) and also return to West Side Middle School one more time to the classes of another teacher. We will also return to Bacon Academy to do a program one of the teachers had requested about Yom Hashoah and a little about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Yom Ha’Atzmaut is around the corner, and we are working very hard to make the best celebration ever. We know you’ve had some huge celebrations in the last few years and we want to continue that tradition. So watch for lots of information coming your way and SAVE THE DATE: Wednesday, May 11.
Keep being the engaged and wonderful community that you are! More events are coming up! Stay alert and with Passover only a month away we wish you all a Happy Pesach and Happy Spring!
Amit & Sagi
Your 2015-16 Young Emissaries
By Amit Horovitz, Young Emissary
As you know, our “job” is composed of several roles: we get to see you at services and events like Café Dilemma, holiday celebrations, community events and in our daily lives. We see the younger ones in the day school, the Hebrew and Religious schools and Junior Youth Group Events. We meet the teenagers at BBYO meetings and at Jewish Community High School on Monday evenings.
Another important role in our year is different from all that are listed above. As emissaries, we have the great opportunity to go into the public schools in the area and present what we call “our Israel”, share our experiences from living in Israel, explaining more about Israel and answering questions from the curious students. We started going to schools around November, but we would like to share with you our two recent presentations: one at Cutler Middle School in Mystic and the other at The Williams School in New London.
We went to Williams on a cold Monday morning, January 11, and spoke to the whole school during an assembly. We introduced ourselves, talked about Israel in general and then focused on specific topics such as Technology and Innovations among others. At the end, we entertained the school with some Israeli music. We then participated in a more intimate forum in the US Foreign Policy class with Mr. Ben Ladd and his students, where we discussed current events from the Middle East and shared our opinions about all that is going on.
Two days later, on Wednesday, January 13, we found ourselves at Cutler Middle School, right in lovely Mystic. We were a little surprised by the size of our audience (two groups of about 90 students) and the amount of time that we were given (about 100 minutes each), but we overcame our concerns immediately and had a fantastic time! With such intrigued and wonderful students, we talked about Israel in depth and presented other sides of Israel (Israel: Innovative, Scientific, Resilient, Active, Equal and Live). We answered fascinating questions and gave some in-depth answers in some difficult subjects. Then again, we ended with some Israeli music and (of course) a beautiful group picture. (See photo.)
We would like to thank The Williams School, Mr. Ben Ladd and other staff members, Cutler Middle School, Ms. Mary Penfold, Mr. Brian Byassee and the many other teachers on Teams A & B at Cutler. We thank our student audiences for their interest and the schools for inviting us in. This is definitely a privilege and we are excited at the beginning of every presentation. We are looking forward to speaking at East Lyme Middle School on January 20, returning to East Lyme High School on January 28 and going to Bacon Academy (for the first time any emissary has ever gone) on February 29 when we return from our vacation back home in Israel.
Looking forward to see you all soon!
Lots of Love,
Your Young Emissaries for 2015-16
Sagi & Amit
By Marcia Reinhard, Director, Israel & Youth Programming
It is hard to believe but our Jewish Federation and all of Eastern CT are about to welcome our 15th pair of Young Emissaries. We have been hosting Israeli Young Emissaries since 2001. The Emissary program is part of the Afula-Gilboa Partnership 2Gether Program of the Jewish Agency. The Afula-Gilboa partnership has been in existence since 1994. For many of the communities comprising the Southern New England Consortium (SNEC) this was a natural partnership as they had been involved in the Afula-Gilboa region through Project Renewal. SNEC is composed of 12 Jewish Federations from the area of Connecticut (9) and Massachusetts (3).
This year our new emissaries are Amit Horovitz and Sagi Zazon. Amit lives in Ram-On, interestingly, the same Moshav as Ron Peleg who just left us. Sagi lives in Tsfat. Below are their biographies for you to read and enjoy getting to know them just a little bit before they arrive here in Eastern CT on August 27.
My name is Amit Horovitz, and I live in a beautiful small place called Ram On, in the Jezreel Valley not far from Nazareth. I am the oldest daughter in a family of four kids. My family includes my father, Ziv, my mother, Anat, my younger siblings, Tomer, Noa, and Roy and my dog, Tamuz. I studied in Nir Ha’emek high school and I majored in chemistry, physics, math and agriculture. My hobbies include running, singing and reading.
I moved with my family to San Diego, CA and lived there for my sophomore and junior years of high school. We returned just last summer in time for my senior year and to apply for this year of service. This past year, I volunteered in a boarding school for kids from troubled families, where I helped them with their studies in the learning center and I was involved in different social events in my community. I missed being involved in a youth movement for the two years I was living in San Diego, CA, but was able to volunteer there when I returned home to Israel.
I joined the Shlichim program because I love Israel and want to share with you my own view of Israel. For the two years I lived in California and far from my home in Israel, I realized how much I love and feel connected to it. I am very excited for the upcoming year. I love working with young children and I am looking forward to meeting all of you and becoming a part of your community.
Hello Eastern Connecticut! I am Sagi Zazon and I am the new Young Emissary along with Amit Horovitz this year. I grew up and am living in Tsfat, which is the capital of the Galilee and the highest city in the country. It is an amazing place with a rich history, amazing weather and beautiful views.
My father, David, is a manager at a hotel Qeriat Shemona, and my mother, Adina, although not working right now, is awesome pastry chef by trade. I have two brothers whose names are Matan and Itay. Matan is 25 years old and an engineer in the Israeli Air Force, and Itay completed his military service, went to school for Sports Communication and is now working at Hertz. Itay is 23 years old.
Now that you know a little bit about my family, I will elaborate about myself. I majored in theater and physics in high school and enjoyed it a lot over the years. Most of my interests and hobbies involve sports such as basketball tennis, football and soccer. Besides sports, I enjoy a lot of different video games, Maccabi Tel Aviv (basketball), music, movies, roller coasters and much more.
Over the years I took part in a lot of youth movements. As a teenager, my first youth movement was Psagot in Tsfat and I was a counselor for a year to 6th graders and one and a half years to 8th graders. I was also a part of the national, country and city school students and youth counsel but my focus was in my city because that was the place I wanted to contribute the most. I was the Vice Chairman for a year and a half and the Chairman for a year through my years at the counsel. I led a lot of projects such as movie nights, work fair and many more.
I was also in Aharii, which is a youth movement to train for the army. I was there for two years during which I led journeys as well as learned and trained a lot.
The last movement I was a part of was Cnafaim Shel Krembo which is a movement for kids with special needs between the ages of 7-21. I can proudly say that I had a main role at starting this youth movement in my city as a part of the leaders' team.
I am postponing my military service and coming over to your community for a year because this work is very meaningful for me. I want to share "my Israel" with people around the world and specifically in Eastern CT and introduce the beauty of it; the people the atmosphere, the styles, the culture - everything about this beautiful and amazing country which I love so much and is really special and important to me. I want to share all of these things as much as I can with everyone so you will know what I know. I am looking forward to an amazing year with lots of exciting challenges that will be interesting, fun and priceless!!
Hope I gave you enough little bits about myself. I can't wait to get to your community!!!
By Noa Brosh & Ron Peleg, Young Emissaries
We are already back two weeks and have begun our school presentations for the second half of our year. Our first week back, we went to The Williams School and met with 11th and 12th grade students in The Middle East class with Mr. Ben Ladd. We had a lively informal discussion with the students about many aspects of life in Israel. This presentation came to be after we gave a shortened presentation to the entire student body earlier this year. Mr. Ladd has had Young Emissaries present to his class for the last few years and he was warm and welcoming to us when we first met him. It was a privilege to be able to speak to his students in a smaller group.
Just today, March 9, we spent the entire day at Cutler Middle School with 160 energetic 6th graders. We had a blast!! In two separate groups of 80 students each, we talked about life in Israel, how it is to grow up in Israel as a teen, the differences and similarities in our cultures. We played a game of Trivia with them based on the information we had presented, played a couple of age appropriate activities and even had time to write each student’s name in Hebrew. It was a great day and we really felt like we created a Living Bridge!
We can’t believe how lucky we have been to make so many presentations at so many different schools in the area and even to our Senior Citizens in Norwich. We are looking forward to speaking to our Senior Citizens in New London in the very near future.
Connecticut College Hillel has invited us to many Shabbat dinners and even to lead a program to their members. We are going back again to lead two more programs; one later this month and one in April.
Some of the public schools we have already been to were Sacred Heart in Stonington, HW Porter Middle School in Columbia, Clark Lane Middle School in Waterford, East Lyme High School and Westerly High School in Rhode Island. This was the first time anyone from our community ever presented at Westerly High School.
At Westerly High School we did something else that was new and exciting. After making our presentation to Middle East and World Affairs classes in November, the teacher, Mr. Mike Gleason, asked if he could bring his Middle East students down to our area to tour a synagogue and have Noa and Ron make an Israeli lunch. Our Executive Director, Jerry Fischer, also spoke to the students that day and gave them a very quick and comprehensive explanation of the history of Israel and the Jewish people. We spent an amazing afternoon together and the day was hugely successful. Mr. Gleason said he will be having Young Emissaries back again in the future.
We had a great JCC program in November and thank everyone who came up to our activity room for some fun and games about Israel. We’ve spent time with our high school teens at Jewish Community High School on Monday nights and when possible at BBYO events. We join our middle school pre-teens once a month at their youth events as well.
In late fall, we went to New Bedford, MA to help the synagogue in that community and run Israeli programs for two religious school classes.
At each and every work-site, we’ve have had wonderful experiences, met great people and were always warmly received. We are really looking forward to all that the rest of this year holds for us!!
Hey everyone! My name is Noa Brosh and I'm 18 years old. I come to you from the north of Israel where I live in a small village called Korazim. My father's name is Yoav and my mother's name is Smadar. I have one big sister called Yarden and she is 22 years old and, of course, one special fish called George.
I was a counselor in a youth movement for two years in my village with a group of kids between the ages of 12-13 and kids in the ages of 16-17 and I enjoyed every second of it! Last year I volunteered with kids that have mental retardation and it was one of the most amazing experiences I ever had!
It's important for me to come this year to your community of New London/Eastern CT, which I heard a lot of amazing things about, because I think this connection between Israel and the Jews in the whole world is important. I remember I had this experience when I was in Camp Tawonga (San Francisco) when I was 16 years old. I loved Camp Tawonga and I will want to go back there as a counselor after my army service.
Also I was in a program called "Diller"; Diller Teen Fellows Program is a fifteen-month international leadership program for Jewish teens. Diller empowers participants to be active, effective leaders with a strong Jewish identity and a respect for pluralism. Diller Teens showcase a commitment to repairing the world and a sense of belonging and responsibility to their communities, Israel, and the Jewish people.
I feel that Diller changed my life and was one of the reasons that I chose to do the Young Emissary program this year.
I can't describe to you how much I'm excited to come to your community and I can't wait to get know all of you and have a chance to learn more about Eastern CT.
I'm so happy that I get this opportunity to spend this year with all of you and I want to wish us all a wonderful blessed year! You can find me on my Email for anything -- email@example.com.
My name is Ron Peleg and I'm 18 years old. I live in a small village near Afula named Ram – On. In my free time I like playing tennis and playing on my guitar.
We are 5 people in the family and I'm the middle son. My father's name is Yuval and he is working as a Sales Manager. My mother's name is Michal and she is working as a Geography Teacher. My older sister, Shahar, is currently a soldier in the IDF and my younger sister, Ziv, is in middle school.
My family isn’t very religious so I hope that in this year I will learn more about Judaism and will even strengthen my Jewish identity. I chose to be in this program because during my sister's year in this program (Shahar was a young emissary in Worcester, MA three years ago) I saw how much it is important to have a connection to Israel and how much my work as a Shaliach (Young Emissary) is important to the communities.
Another reason that led me to this program is the presentation of Israel in the world. Sadly today Israel is shown as the "bad guy" in the Middle East. I believe that I can help change that image by telling and showing what is really happening in Israel and in the Middle East.
Israel is my home, the place I feel connected to; the land and to the culture. In this year I want to show you Israel as I see it - from the special atmosphere in the holidays to the beautiful views that Israel has like the Negev, Golan Heights and especially the Gilboa.
I'm looking forward to coming and meeting you all! I know we will have a great year together! You are welcome to contact me through my email – firstname.lastname@example.org. And even more welcome to add me and Noa to your Facebook – Noa Ron Young Emissaries.
Editor And Publisher, The Jewish Week
Each summer the Jewish Agency for Israel sends hundreds of shlichim, or emissaries, to Jewish camps throughout the U.S. Their dual goal is to bring the spirit and reality of Israel to youngsters here, and to deepen the relationship between young American and Israeli Jews.
With the war in Gaza raging, though, this summer was particularly difficult for the shlichim, most of whom have recently served in the Israel Defense Forces.
“I felt hopeless being so far away,” explained Ofir, a resident of Beit Shemesh who worked at a 92nd Street Y day camp for Russian-speaking children.
He and the six other shlichim at a roundtable discussion I participated in last Friday morning emphasized the stress of feeling torn between their personal concerns for family and friends back home — some serving in Gaza — and their responsibility to provide positive experiences for their young charges at camp. But they agreed that, to their surprise, they came away with a deep appreciation of how much their campers and staff peers cared about, and connected to, Israel.
In all some 160 shlichim took part in a session marking the culmination of a three-day, end of summer seminar sponsored by the Jewish Agency and UJA-Federation of New York called “Bringing It Home.” Expanding on a small pilot program begun a year ago, it was designed to help the attendees meet, share stories and process their experiences as Israelis in a new environment; it was one that exposed them to a diverse community with a wide range of religious and cultural expressions.
The sponsors hope the shlichim will return to Israel with an interest in becoming active in areas of social justice, with a deeper, global perspective on Jewish peoplehood.
“You are the bridge builders,” Eric Goldstein, CEO of UJA-Federation, told the group. “You will play a critical role in forging lasting connections between Israeli and diaspora Jews,” he said, noting that, having spent the summer in the U.S., the shlichim have a better understanding than most Israelis about “the significant differences” between the two cultures.
Later, in an interview, Alan Hoffman, the director-general of the Jewish Agency, looked out at the participants, buzzing in conversation, and said proudly: “These are our future leaders.”
Hoffman said that the three days of intense dialogue, combined with visits to Jewish sites in New York and conversations with local leaders, confirmed for him the importance of the seminar. His conclusion was underscored by comments like those of Nick, a young Israeli who was on staff at a local camp for Russian-speaking Jews. He told our group how difficult it was for him last summer when, at the end of his stint at a camp in the U.S., “we just cleaned out our bunks and went home.” He said he very much appreciated this year’s seminar and the chance to focus on and compare his experience with others before returning to Israel.
The Jewish Agency has been providing shlichim to the U.S. for more than 46 years, with service ranging from post-high school teens who live with American families for a year and volunteer in schools and community centers, to senior shlichim, usually in their 30s, who come with a family and serve federations or JCCs in helping to connect young Americans to their homeland. There are also shlichim working on college campuses through Hillel, and youth movement-affiliated shlichim, in addition to the short-term summer camp service program. The summer shlichim are selected from about 7,000 applicants to be the face of Israel, English-speakers who are high achievers with an interest in the worldwide Jewish community.
Of the 225 summer shlichim in about 30 participating New York area camps, 160 volunteered to take part in this first large-scale seminar, held at UJA-Federation.
A highlight of the Friday morning roundtable program was a guided discussion, with a facilitator at each table of about 10 people asking the participants — made up of shlichim and UJAF professionals and lay leaders — to describe their feelings about the place in Israel that is most dear to them, and the place most challenging.
While the places most dear to the shlichim at my table varied from Jerusalem to the Judean desert to the Golan Heights, the most discomfort was attributed to areas where different elements of society clashed. They cited rifts between the religious and the secular in Jerusalem, disagreements over the value and policy of the settlements, and Arab-Israeli tensions in Nazareth.
What struck me was that their descriptions of specific local pressures underscored the larger problem Israel faces: a lack of space — namely, a small bit of land fought over by so many with conflicting, passionate claims.
Clearly it was the war in Gaza that galvanized their attention this summer, as well as the seemingly irrational and often-virulent criticism expressed by those who view Israel as the callous aggressor in a war it did not seek.
While the shlichim at my table expressed gratitude for the support they received from campers and staff members they encountered, Aviva Zeltzer-Zubida, chief strategy officer of the Jewish Agency, explained that in a lengthy private session the previous day, the Israelis shared reactions from camp personnel that “ran the gamut” of emotions. Many of the Americans expressed deep empathy for the Israelis, while others were critical of Israel’s perceived over-reaction in bombing Gaza, they reported, putting the emissaries on the defensive. Some said the Americans simply did not want to hear about the feelings of the shlichim.
At the closing comments at the Friday session, Adi, a young woman who served at the Ramah Berkshires camp, said she felt good about bringing a bit of Israel to her charges, stressing the need to educate American Jews about their ancestral homeland. And Irina, who was also at Ramah Berkshires, said that coming from a family that is not religious, “it was special for me to feel more connected to the prayers and rituals. I felt more Jewish than I feel at home. And it makes me happy that I will bring what I learned home with me.”
Surely the more programs that can bring American and Israeli Jews together in ways that allow them to learn about each other can only strengthen a feeling of mutual responsibility, bringing us closer to the goal of Clal Yisrael, one people.
So I landed. Flight was almost empty. Since my flight was on the "no American flights to Israel" day, I expected it to be a little crowded, but it was pretty empty. Who can I blame? Not the best timing to travel to Israel. But to me, as an Israeli, this is the best time to come back.
Let me tell you a secret. I was more scared in America then I am here; scared that something bad will happen to someone I know and I won't be here. That thought is terrifying. Yes, everything is crazy. Lucky me, I live in that one area (the north) that didn't have any alarms this time. Yet, everything is different than it usually is.
Let me explain. When I came home this time I was pretty much alone. Most of my friends are already serving in the army and had to stay in their bases. I couldn't see them until later in the week. Two of my friends and my cousin were already inside Gaza when I got here so I didn't even get to hear them over the phone till today, Monday, July 28 thank God. All they show on TV is the news and the radio only plays sad songs, but all of those are not even the important part.
Let me tell you about the better side of being here right now. Israel is united. Almost completely. War times make us forget about left and right, and reminds us what's important. First it's our country, we have to protect it. And second, those are our children protecting it. Sadly almost every one of us has lost someone we knew.
So the first thing I did when I got here (after hugging all my beautiful family) was run to the grocery store; I bought some candies, deodorants, socks and underpants and gave it all to the youth center in Afula. They put them in a few different boxes and later that day shipped them to the south (war zone). I felt like I had to do something too. So I did. But I was not the only one. The amount of stuff collected in that little youth center was unbelievable; seemed like everyone in the city gave something, and the beauty is, that they probably did.
I have to say just one more thing. It is scary, but not as scary as it looks from where you are. We have a strong army that protects us and most of the time we manage to maintain a normal life, which I think is a little victory of ours. Tel Aviv still had no open parking spots for me. I can still see more people than open chairs on the beach.
The Young Emissaries program allows Israelis, like May and Bar, to postpone their military services after high school and contribute to their country by representing and bringing Israel to the Jewish communities in America. Both May and Bar believe it is extremely important fr Israel and the Jews in the American Diaspora to be connected and united. This program requires much the utmost dedication; both May and Bar were required to go through extensive training and leadership classes, learning about and understanding the American culture (areas where it was similar and different). Additionally, there were discussions on acclimating into the American society and lifestyle and of course, studies regarding the Jewish community and Jewish lifestyle in America.
May Abudraham and Bar Halgoa (2014 Annual Report)
Photo courtesy of Joel Etra