Community welcomes new faces representing Israel
Meet nine new “shlihim” — emissaries from Israel who are serving area synagogues, schools, and Jewish organizations — on a program through the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ. The six rishonim — who are just out of high school — and the tzi’irim — young shlihim who are post-army service — spend their time here sharing their insights about and experiences of Israel at area schools, synagogues, and institutions through the federation’s Legow Family Israel Program Center. They also receive funding through the federation and the Jewish Agency for Israel.
All are under the supervision of Moshe Levi, who is serving a three-year term as the federation’s community shaliah.
The shlihim tzi’irim are young adults in their 20s who have already fulfilled their service in the IDF — some have earned a degree from an Israeli university — and they have the option to remain here for one or two years. Part of a new pilot program this year, each is serving a different major Jewish denomination, working with selected synagogues that have joined the initiative and, said Levi, “bringing Israel into the synagogues in a deeper and more real way.” They are focusing on adult education, working with educators and engaging congregants with Israel and Israel programs. In the case of the shaliah assigned to Reform congregations, a partnership was formed with the Union for Reform Judaism and Camp Harlam, a Reform Jewish camp in Kunkletown, Pa., where that shaliah will work next summer. Each shaliah tza’ir lives in his or her own apartment located in different areas of the community.
The rishonim are 18-year-old high school graduates who have deferred their military service for one year to serve as emissaries. They will spend the year telling stories of their lives, their country, and their observations of America. They are assigned to Greater MetroWest’s four day schools and more than 20 synagogues in the area.
Each is hosted by two local families, each for six months. “The families are a major component of their experience,” said Levi, “since they are not just giving to the community, but also learning a lot about the American-Jewish community and their own Jewish identity. We are always looking for more families to join the project.”
According to Levi, the GMW delegation of shlihim is the largest under one federation in the United States.
MORAN SHEVACH lives in Kiryat Shemona near the Lebanese border. She completed her university studies in international relations at The Hebrew University and wishes to work in the field of Jewish education.
In her role as shliha, she is working with Conservative congregations Temple Shalom in Succasunna, Congregation Agudath Israel in Caldwell, Morristown Jewish Center Beit Yisrael, and Oheb Shalom Congregation in South Orange, as well as with Jewish students at Drew, Seton Hall, Kean, Fairleigh Dickinson, and Montclair State universities.
“I think people should know everything about Israel, the good and the bad,” said Shevach, who describes herself as “secular.” “Israel gives the Jews an opportunity to live more peacefully. It is very different here, and people should maintain their Judaism and teach their children Hebrew even if they are not religious.”
LAVI HOFFMANN is a Reform Jew from Jerusalem who is assigned to four Reform congregations — Temple Emanu-El in Westfield, Temple Emanu-El of West Essex in Livingston, Temple Har Shalom in Warren, and Congregation B’nai Jeshurun in Short Hills.
“I grew up in a Reform community but I did not know enough about the very important connection between the community in North America and in the world with Israel,” said Hoffmann. “We are here to build relationships and make connections between Jews all around the world.
“My message is to explain that there a lot of things that are different between the Israeli community and the Jewish community here, but in the end we are basically the same.”
TEHILA MAGENHEIM lives in Jerusalem. As shliha, she will spend much of her time with the Orthodox congregations of Anshe Chesed in Linden and Etz Chaim in Livingston, as well as the YM-YWHA of Union County in Union and Bruriah High School for Girls in Elizabeth.
After completing national service in lieu of her military obligation, she spent a year in Boca Raton, Fla. “But this is a totally different community,” she told NJJN. “People here are so welcoming and they want to think of me like I am family. I think we are different from the people in New Jersey but we are alike. We are the same at the end,” she said.
DORON GATENIO from Ra’anana is spreading her message among students at Golda Och Academy in West Orange, the Jewish Educational Center in Elizabeth, and others involved in the Greater MetroWest federation. “I want to bring Israel and what Israel really represents to me to the people who don’t really know Israel.
“All the people I see here really love Israel and they want to contribute to Israel,” she said. “They really care about us. They surround us in love.”
As LOTEM FRIED BETITO of Ra’anana visits a variety of afternoon religious schools, day schools, and synagogues, she said, she is “meeting a lot of people we tell about Israel. We get a lot of questions about what happened yesterday in Israel, are you going to go into the army, and what are you going to do there? I am learning we have a lot of similarities and a lot of differences. Every time I see the people, I feel they are getting more connected to Israel. Connecting with us is the most important part of their connection with Israel.”
GILI SHTIBELMAN, who lives in Rishon Letzion, said, “My job is to bring Israel here to kids at Hebrew schools, Jewish day schools, and temples, and I get to meet older people like teachers and rabbis. They are Conservative, Orthodox, and Reform, all across the spectrum. It doesn’t matter. Maybe their prayers are different but their connection to me is not different. I am here to show them a more personal side of Israel, and I really feel I am more than welcome. Things change in Israel, and I am the new generation.”
DOTAN MILLER came to Greater MetroWest from Rishon Letzion. He is spending time with religious-school students at Congregation B’nai Jeshurun in Short Hills, Temple Emanu-El in Westfield, and Congregation B’nai Israel in Basking Ridge, as well as with upper-school students at Golda Och Academy in West Orange. “The kids I meet care a lot and are very interested in Israel,” he said. “At Golda Och, because it is a Jewish day school, they know a lot and you can talk to them about deep stuff. In the Hebrew schools the kids are very similar and are thirsty to hear information about Israel — not from a teacher or textbook but from a person standing in front of them who is Israeli.”
RAN SHARON, who lives in Ra’anana, brings his message to students at the Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy and Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School and Temple B’nai Abraham, both in Livingston, Congregation Beth El in South Orange, Congregation Shomrei Emunah in Montclair, and the Israeli Scouts. “We are emissaries to every aspect and every point of view, and bringing to them Israel as I see it and I live it,” he said. “As Jewish persons, we have an obligation to bring Jewish identity to the families and people who have lost it. Some are people who don’t relate to Israel or go to the synagogue. We have to make their connections stronger.”
ABRAHAM BELILTY, a resident of Ra’anana, has been working with religious-school students as well as students at the Gottesman RTW Academy Jewish day school in Randolph. “Most of them want to know about me and how I feel about Israel and what do I think about what is happening in Israel,” said Belilty. “I am always optimistic. I learned that a lot of people love Israel even if they don’t know much about it. They all want to connect with me.”