Hoping to bring a little piece of their home country to the United States, five Israeli emissaries, or shlihim, arrived in the MetroWest area in August.
Noga Maliniak, 51, and Daphna Yizrael, 31, arrived Aug. 16 and will stay for three years. Maliniak succeeds Orli Dudaie, who served for five years, as executive shliha of the Legow Family Israel Program Center of MetroWest NJ.
Yizrael replaces Natasha Gluzman and Yotam Zach, two post-army youth shlihim who served for the past year.
Three “Rishonim,” or volunteer first-time shlihim, arrived Aug. 23. Gal Dafadi and Amitai Edri from Rishon Letzion, and Michal Kfir from Ra’anana, all 18, deferred their army service to come to MetroWest for one year.
The IPC is based on the Aidekman Family Jewish Community Campus in Whippany.
As executive shliha, Maliniak, from Rosh Ha’ayin, will serve as IPC director. Yizrael, who is from Jerusalem, will supervise the Rishonim and organize Israel-oriented teen and youth activities throughout the community.
“To be a shliha, I get to do what I am,” said Maliniak, who previously worked as a shliha in Cincinnati and served for 23 years as a lieutenant colonel in the IDF. “Jews are all part of the same nation and we need to feel that connection. Jews in Israel need to be aware of the Diaspora and vice versa. Not just on a spiritual level — but on a tangible level.”
Yizrael is intent on bringing “amazing things of Israeli culture around the world,” she said. The former IDF educational officer recently spent four years as a project coordinator for the Zalman Shazar Center for Jewish History’s Journey to the Jewish Heritage. Sponsored by the Avi Chai Foundation, the project documents disappearing Jewish communities around the world.
In that position, Yizrael led delegations of Israeli university students — mostly studying architecture and photography — to places like Georgia, Ukraine, and Hungary. The project enabled students to explore the history of the Diaspora and the connection between non-Israeli and Israeli Jews, she said.
“My goal is to create a connection between Jerusalem — a city of 3,000 years — and the modern Jewish world — New York, Tel Aviv, Ukraine,” she said. “Israel is going through huge changes,” and a flourishing Jewish community like that in the United States needs to know.
With the exception of Kfir, who was born in Parsippany, the Rishonim are embarking on their first extended stay in the United States. Living with a few different host families throughout the year, they will each have standing appointments at day schools and with synagogues, and will also work with local Israeli scout groups and seniors.
“The most interesting thing is that we are not here to visit,” said Dafadi. “We are here to live here. We get to know the community, and the community trusts us. They want us to work here.”
So far, their impressions are positive. “Everyone is so nice,” said Dafadi. “People here are really warm and nice. We walk into the building and everyone smiles and says hello.”
For Kfir, American candy has already had an impact. She sampled a York Peppermint Pattie for the first time and said, “There’s nothing like this in Israel!”
“We have a wonderful new delegation,” said IPC chair Ava Kleinman of Morristown. “These new shlihim were already a team when they came over. They were trained under the guidance of Amir Shacham and Michal Zur of MetroWest’s office in Israel, so they worked together and got to know and feel comfortable with each other, which gives them a great advantage as a team.”
In addition, said Kleinman, they are each “so outgoing and friendly and enthusiastic that I am confident and excited that they will enhance the Israeli spirit that we already share in the MetroWest community.”
Less than a week into their stay, the Rishonim were meeting with supervisors, creating activities, and getting to know the community. Synagogues already on their agendas include Temple Beth Shalom in Livingston, Temple B’nai Or in Morristown, Pink Brook Jewish Center in Montville, and Congregation Agudath Israel of West Essex in Caldwell.
“We need as many people in the community to get involved in Israel; that will make this project a success,” said Maliniak.