New shaliah takes up challenge of building bonds
Where others might have welcomed the time out provided by the High Holy Days, Abir Maliyanker was champing at the bit. The Israeli shaliah, who had arrived in New Jersey on Sept. 14 — just days before Rosh Hashana — to take up his one-year posting with the Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey, said he couldn’t wait to get going, sharing his passion for his home country.
And yet the 23-year-old Maliyanker had first come to the job purely by chance. Although he comes from Arad, the Negev town paired with the federation through the Jewish Agency’s Partnership 2000 program, and so had heard about the federation, he had never considered working in the Diaspora on a program like this.
Chatting with a NJ Jewish News reporter two days after his arrival in the cafe at the JCC of Central New Jersey in Scotch Plains, downstairs from his office at the federation, he flashed his wide grin, and apologized for his English — though it seemed to get more fluent by the minute. He talked about his family – his father who came to Israel from India, and his mother, whose family came from Morocco, and his two sisters, 27 and 14, and how his life took this unexpected turn.
This past February, as part of a post-army orientation to civilian life, he accompanied friends who wanted to hear about the summer emissary program run by the Jewish Agency for Israel. To his surprise, the recruiter drew Maliyanker aside and asked if he would be interested in a larger assignment — the full-year contract with a federation.
It was a challenge he couldn’t turn down. He had been to the United States before, 10 years ago, when his parents brought him as part of his bar mitzva celebration. They saw Disney World, and visited New York, but he welcomed this chance to get to know the country better.
The prospect of teaching and giving talks doesn’t faze him at all. “I was a commander in the army so I had to do a lot of talking to groups of soldiers,” he said.
In the course of his emissary training, he heard about the Central community — first from Yaniv Tayar, the first one-year emissary to come here, and then from the most recent one, Yisca Shalev. They talked on the phone and met when she visited Israel in August. “She told me it was a fantastic community,” Maliyanker said.
They discussed the programs she did, teaching about Israel’s culture and history and marking events like Yom Ha’atzmaut and Yom Hazikaron. Shalev also told her successor that she thought there should be more programs for adults. “That is something I definitely want to do,” Maliyanker declared.
Working with students — the shlihim’s primary mission — is also a natural for Maliyanker; he worked this year with children in a community near the Gaza border. Part of what he will share is the impact he witnessed of the repeated rocket attacks on the community. “It’s terrible what it does to the children,” he said.
As he sat talking, Adina Abramov, the federation’s director of marketing and communications, stopped by. She and her husband will be Maliyanker’s host family for the year (though he will live in his own apartment). She teased him that he might fall in love with someone in New Jersey and not want to go back. Maliyanker laughed and shook his head; as excited as he is to be in this new environment, it’s clear that is not likely to happen.
He said he loves his hometown, Arad, and loves the Negev even more. He hasn’t decided what he wants to study when he gets back — possibly medicine, like his older sister — but whatever profession he chooses, he wants to live in a small community.
Even Arad, not a major metropolis by any measure, has grown bigger and busier than he likes. “It’s got more places to hang out and there’s more employment — thanks to some of the projects the partnership is involved with,” he said, “but it’s not so quiet as it was when I was a kid.”
For now, however, he said he is happy to get to know New Jersey, from his apartment in Elizabeth and the nearby YM-YWHA of Union County, to the JCC in Scotch Plains, and all the other areas where he will be working. “I have my GPS; I won’t get lost,” he declared, dashing off to his next encounter.