Five new high school graduates — one from Ofakim, one from Ra’anana, and three from Rishon Letzion — began a year of service Aug. 22 as rishonim, young emissaries from Israel to the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest.
Now in its eleventh year, rishonim is a program of the federation’s Legow Family Israel Program Center. The emissaries will be assigned to a variety of institutions and schools, including Golda Och Academy in West Orange and the Jewish Educational Center in Elizabeth.
They will report to Moshe Levi, who comes from Jerusalem and will spend the next two to three years as the community shaliah, supervising the rishonim and escorting delegations to and from Israel.
“Their message will be the same, but the methods will be different,” said Levi. “They need to understand the different crowds — what they know and what they don’t know. If at the JEC the interest is more in religious cultural life in Israel that is one thing they can talk about. If they are interested in pluralism at Golda Och we can talk about that. We want people to be connected to Israel.”
The new rishonim spoke with NJ Jewish News at the workspace they share at the Aidekman Family Campus in Whippany just hours after stepping off a plane at Newark Liberty International Airport.
Matan Sidi from Ofakim will be serving students at Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School in Livingston, Temple B’nai Jeshurun in Short Hills, and the JEC. He said his role is to “make them feel more of a connection to Israel, but more in a fun way and a new way, to show the youth and our hosting families a new perspective of Israel as a person who lives there.”
Bar Grufi from Rishon Letzion will be assigned to Golda Och Academy, the JEC, and the Israeli Scout troop based at GOA. “Our mission is to present Israel in the best way and to make a connection with the Jews who live in America,” she said.
Cheyenne Stein of Ra’anana will be stationed at GOA, Congregation Agudath Israel in Caldwell, and Congregation Shomrei Emunah in Montclair. “I want them to make a personal connection, whether it is by visiting Israel or listening to my story. The connection is a lot more intense when it is personal,” she said.
Omer Gavish of Rishon Letzion will be working at GOA, Hebrew Academy of Morris County, the Israeli Scouts, Temple Sinai in Succasunna, Temple B’nai Or in Morristown, and Oheb Shalom Congregation in South Orange. His message to young American Jews is “Israel is a Jewish country and in my opinion, every Jew in the world should have a connection to Israel in any way they can make a connection. Israel is a big part of the Jewish life.”
Anais Liebermann of Rishon Letzion will be at Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School, Hebrew Academy of Morris County, the federation’s Diller Teen Leadership Program, Adath Shalom in Morris Plains, and Bnai Keshet in Montclair. “When we come we bring a little part of this big puzzle. We are young, and I think we bring something that is new,” she said.
As community shaliah, Levi succeeds Dafna Yizrael, who had been the youth shliha supervising the rishonim, and will work alongside Amir Shacham, the IPC’s newly appointed executive shaliah.
Since completing his army service in 2001, Levi has been working in the field of Jewish education as a counselor for the Conservative movement’s United Synagogue Youth. He holds degrees in Jewish history and comparative religion and served as a shaliah to the USY in Minneapolis. There he gained experience in interfaith work.
“One of the things we lack in Israel is an understanding of what it means to be a Jew in the Diaspora. I would like them to take back an understanding that there are a variety of ways to be a Jew and what it means to live as a minority.”