The Greater MetroWest community said a sad, grateful farewell to its latest cadre of Israeli rishonim at a June 13 gala in West Orange.
The five young shlihim, or emissaries, were the 10th cohort brought to the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ region to serve as ambassadors for Israel at synagogues, local day and public schools, and Jewish community centers.
During the gala, held at the Cooperman JCC in West Orange, leaders and staff of the federation’s Legow Family Israel Program Center, which hosts the rishonim program together with the Jewish Agency for Israel, celebrated the service of Shahar Sabag, Inbar Sade, Coral Levy, Adi Ben Harosh, and David Marder, as well as the local families who have been their hosts.
The evening included a rollicking concert featuring another group of young visitors from Israel, the Israeli Scouts’ Tzofim Friendship Caravan, one of four such groups visiting the United States this summer.
The program’s 10th anniversary cohort brought to 38 the number of post-high school/pre-army rishonim hosted by the community and 65 host families since 2002.
Debby Brafman, GMW chair of the Jewish Agency for Israel’s Partnership 2Gether program, was there at the start.
“We decided to embark on this program as a way to get more people in touch with Israel, but not knowing how it would work out,” she recalled.
She explained that the word “rishonim,” which can mean “leaders” or “pioneers,” was also a play on Rishon Letzion, one of the federation’s P2G communities in Israel. For 10 years, she said, it has built on the “living bridge” vision at the heart of that partnership.
That first year, two young people came over. One of the first lessons was practical: “The rishonim needed driving lessons, and boy did we learn that!” Brafman said.
As the program continued and the cohort grew, organizers learned from experience. “It was not always so easy,” said Brafman. “The teenagers came from a bit of a different culture and they had to learn to deal with our culture.” But those adjustments have been made, and now “we are all mishpacha — family.”
The evening including a live Skype connection with colleagues and former rishonim in Israel, who had stayed up very late for the chance to see and be seen. As they paraded past the camera, the West Orange crowd cheered and called out to the ones they knew best.
Carmelle Bargad, a Golda Och Academy graduate, summed up what the rishonim have meant for local youngsters: “They teach us what our text books can’t,” she said.
David Marder spoke for the rishonim, explaining that they had decided to give Shabbat candles and a bottle of wine as a thank you gift to their host families to signify the importance of the Shabbat dinners they shared with them.
“As hard as it was for each of us to be away from our families, each and every one of you has made us feel at home,” he said. “Thank you for giving us this amazing experience.”
The IPC is saying goodbye to senior staffers later this summer as well: Noga Maliniak, the IPC’s director and executive shliha, and Daphna Yizrael, its community shliha. Both will maintain their connection with the federation after their return to their native Israel.
Federation president Lori Klinghoffer gave the parting words to the rishonim. “You have become part of the rishonim family,” she said. “Our hearts are with you and your hearts are with us.”