On a mission from Israel, and feeling at home
Summer emissaries teach and learn as camp counselors
As in previous years, a group of young Israelis have come to the Central community to work with children in area summer camps to teach them about the various facets of Israeli culture and society. Selected by the Jewish Agency for Israel and hosted by the Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey, the six shlihim, or emissaries — all women this time, so, shlihot — are part of a larger cohort serving in communities across North America.
They are working with fellow counselors and under the supervision of the Israeli shaliah appointed for the full year, in this case Abir Maliyanker. Two are working at the YM-YWHA of Union County in Union, and four at the JCC of Central New Jersey on the Wilf campus in Scotch Plains. The women are all being housed with families from the local Jewish community in Union County.
Maliyanker told NJ Jewish News: “I think our community is really lucky to have such wonderful Israeli staff for the summer. They are working hard and trying to do things the best they can. The fact that they feel so much at home helps them do their job even better. They really understand why they are here and the importance of their role.”
The counselors replied to questions e-mailed from NJJN.
Union Y counselors
Gal Perlmuter, 21, from Menachamia
Before coming to the United States, Gal Perlmuter worked with the Israeli Defense Forces as a flight instructor, working on a flight simulator, and she is sharing her army expertise with the Y campers.
She said, “As a descendant of Holocaust survivors, I was raised on Israeli patriotism and Zionism. I thought working with Jewish youth in the summer camps would be a fulfilling experience and a chance to share my knowledge of Israeli culture and history.”
She said she finds the Central area “amazing” and the people she has met very connected to Israel. “It’s nice to see that,” she said, “and to know that there are such wonderful people who care so much for Israel.”
Inbal Zlotnik, 20, from Ra’anana
The other Y shliha, Inbal Zlotnick, studied in a seminary in Jerusalem for a year, and then served in army intelligence for two years. Her specialty in the camp is Krav Maga, the self-defense technique developed in Israel, as well as Israeli dancing.
“I want to show people the beautiful side of Israel,” she said. “I want them to understand that our normal life is not terror and war.”
She said she is having a great time in New Jersey, adding, “The people are very nice. And the campers are very cute!”
Dana Goldkorn, 22, from Haifa
Dana Goldkorn, who is an arts and crafts specialist at the JCC camp, served in the Israeli army for three years as a trainer in an unmanned aircraft simulator at the Palmachim Base just south of Tel Aviv. This is her third trip to the United States. The first time, in 1999, she went to Disney World in Florida and to California; on the second trip, in 2003, she visited New England in the fall.
She came on the shlihim program because, she said, “I wanted to have a special and meaningful experience with a lot of fun. Furthermore, I believe that being in the Jewish community and organizing activities about our Jewish heritage and Israel for young kids is important for our Jewish identity.”
Hila Ehrenlieb, 20, from Shoham
Like her colleagues, shliha Hila Ehrenlieb, an arts counselor, served in the army before coming, and on her return plans to study — though she didn’t specify what. She applied for the program, she said, because “it was important for me to know the culture of American Jews, and for me to speak with people who are not from Israel about Israel and the Israeli people.”
And, also like the other shlihot, she is delighted by her experience so far. “Most of the people are very nice,” she said. “And the campers are wonderful and cooperative.”
Itan Halfin, 21, from Tel Aviv
Itan Halfin finished in the army six months before arriving in New Jersey and had been working since her discharge. While in the IDF, she spent time with participants in the Birthright program, and it inspired her to apply for the emissary program. “I saw how important it is to bring Israeli culture to the Jewish community in North America,” she said.
She is impressed with what she has seen so far. “I think that the area has a very high standard and the campers are charming,” she said.
Shira Yehuda, 21, from Arad
Shira Yehuda was an army counselor before coming to the United States. It was her job to visit high schools, explaining the importance of joining the army — “the melting pot of Israeli society” — to students, and to help those having trouble joining the army either because of academic or behavioral problems.
She became a shliha, she said, “to educate Americans about Israel and its people. It was also important for me to connect with the American-Jewish community. Moreover, I wanted to learn about the American society, which I had only seen on TV.”
Coming from Arad in the Negev desert, when she first arrived in New Jersey, she said, “I was in shock! Everything is so green! Instead of the normal sight of camels along the road I was excited to see squirrels for the first time, and even more taken aback when I spotted deer, which we call ‘bambis’ due to the influence of the famous Disney movie.”
As for the campers, she said, “They are very sweet, and we have a lot in common. I have learned so much from them about America, and I feel that they are learning so [much] about the Israeli culture. They are so smart and insightful.”